Book Review: 1984

1984

Your parents complain that Facebook and other online technologies are making the world like, "Big Brother." You might think that they're bashing your uncle, but really they're referring to George Orwell's 1949 novel, 1984. It's a warning that governments could turn into totalitarian states that control all media, education, and societal behavior.

What it's about

Oceania is the distopian oppressive nation of George Orwell's 1984. Don't go there if you're looking for a good time.

Everywhere you go, the ruling Party knows where you are. No matter where you look, you can see the all-powerful face of the ultimate leader, Big Brother. If you like individuality, this isn't the place for you. You can't say what you want to say, love who you want to love, or do the type of job you want to do.

Winston Smith seems like just a low-ranking member of the Party, but secretly, he's a dissident who has committed the most horrible offense possible: a thoughtcrime (thinking something that goes against the Party).

Even as he dutifully performs his job at the Ministry of Truth, Winston is constantly doubting the wisdom of the Party, and, in his mind, defying its rules. He has lustful thoughts about a female co-worker, spends his evenings walking through poor, un-monitored neighborhoods, and questions the facts of history that the Party has so carefully crafted.

For a while, Winston doesn't do anything that the Party can catch, and he stays out of trouble. That changes when he buys a diary and starts cataloging his ideas. With that, he embarks on a dangerous path that ultimately leads to his destruction. In Oceania, we discover, the individual, no matter how determined, is no match for the establishment.

Your favorite part will be...

Fellow Oceania citizen Julia slips Winston a note that reads, "I love you," their covert romance begins. You feel happy that they have found each other against the odds, and that they are able to find some comfort in such a dreary world. Together, they even manage to contact O'Brien, a Party insider, and learn more about the secret political resistance movement.

Unfortunately, O'Brien turns out not to be who he seems and the relationship does not last long. As we know well by now, it's hard to keep something a secret in Oceania.

The Cause-y Angles

Human rights

When Winston enters the Ministry of Love, he is tortured for what seems like an eternity until he finally cracks. Though 1984 is fiction, people in the real world are treated similarly in some countries. George Orwell's book serves as a condemnation of any country or group that would engage in this treatment.

Education

The government is pushes a new language, called Newspeak, that limits peoples' vocabulary and makes it impossible to talk about anything that goes against its interests. The government also attempts to re-write history and block people from reading or learning about anything outside of what has been prescribed. Orwell is saying that an oppressive regime's most effective way of maintaining power is by depriving people of a real education.

Voting

In Oceana, the people have no way to choose their leaders or influence what those leaders do. There is one executive power and one party, and no other options. Voting is non-existent. By showing this type of society as oppressive, 1984 stands as a strong endorsement of a society that allows freedom and choice of political representation.