Publisher: Penguin Books
Author: George Orwell
Release Date: First published June 8th 1948; 2013
Pages: 368 pages
Genre(s): Fiction, Classic, Science Fiction, Dystopian
Reviewed by: anumit
In the future world of 1984, the world is divided up into three superstates—Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia—that are deadlocked in a permanent war. The superpowers are so evenly matched that a decisive victory is impossible, but the real reason for the war is to keep their economies productive without adding to the wealth of their citizens, who live, with the exception of a privileged few, in a state of fear and poverty. Oceania, made up of the English-speaking nations, is ruled by a group known simply as the Party, a despotic oligarchical collective that is ideologically very similar to the regimes in power in the other two superstates, though each claims that their system is superior to the others. The Inner Party, whose members make up 2% of the population, effectively govern, while the Outer Party, who number about 13% of the population, unquestioningly carry out their orders. The remaining 85% of the population are proles, who are largely ignored because they are judged intellectually incapable of organized revolt. In order to maintain its power, the Party keeps its citizens under constant surveillance, monitoring even their thoughts, and arresting and “vaporizing” individuals if they show signs of discontent or nonconformity. The Party’s figurehead is Big Brother, whose mustachioed face is displayed on posters and coins, and toward whom every citizen is compelled to feel love and allegiance. Organized hate rallies keep patriotism at a fever pitch, and public executions of prisoners of war increase support for the regime and for the war itself.
Winston Smith, a quiet and frail Outer Party member who lives alone in a one-room flat squalid apartment complex called Victory Mansions, is disturbed by the Party’s willingness to alter history in order to present its regime as infallible and just. He is a gifted writer whose job at the Ministry of Truth is to rewrite news articles in order to make them comply with Party ideology, Winston begins keeping a diary, an activity which is not illegal, since there are no laws in Oceania, but which he knows is punishable by death. Since every room is outfitted with a telescreen that can both transmit and receive sounds and images, Winston must be extremely careful to disguise his subversive activities. He imagines he is writing the diary to O’Brien, a charismatic Inner Party bureaucrat whom Winston believes is a member of a fabled underground counterrevolutionary organization known as the Brotherhood. Winston is also writing in order to stay sane, because the Party controls reality to the extent of requiring its subjects to deny the evidence of their own senses, a practice known as doublethink, and Winston knows of no one else who shares his feelings of loathing and outrage.
One day at work, a dark-haired girl whom Winston mistakenly suspects of being a spy for the Thought Police, an organization that hunts out and punishes unorthodox thinking (known as thoughtcrime), slips him a note that says “I love you…
Orwell published Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949, not as a prediction of actual future events, but to warn the world against what he feared would be the fate of humanity if totalitarian regimes were allowed to seize power as they had done recently in Germany under Hitler and in the Soviet Union under Stalin. In the aftermath of World War II, Anglo-American intellectuals were reluctant to criticize the Soviet regime, despite evidence of Stalin’s despotism, because Russia had been an ally against Germany and Japan. Orwell, who witnessed firsthand the Soviet-backed Communists’ brutal suppression of rival political groups during the Spanish Civil War, returned from the war an outspoken critic of Communism.
Through Winston’s eyes, the reader can actually experience what it’s like to live under a suppressive regime. Winston, nonetheless, seeks to understand the motives behind the Party’s oppressive policies, and takes considerable personal risks not only to experience forbidden feelings and relationships but to contact others who share his skepticism and desire to rebel against Ingsoc (English Socialism).
The novel gets the reader completely hooked to it with Orwell’s simple yet neat technique of narration. Orwell wrote this book with keeping every class of people in mind, so they can relate to it.
The experience, while reading the book, was both emotional and terrifying. To summarize a great book like this in one sentence is difficult, it’s suffice to say that upon finishing the novel, it’d make the reader, get up and do a thorough search of his house for bugs and hidden cameras!
Read it to witness Orwell at his best. The book is a must read for the ones who hold their privacy sacred, and seeing it being compromised with every step they take.