Review: 1984 by George Orwell 4


1984.

I was five in 1984. The Berlin Wall still stood. Thatcher was busy castrating the unions, Reagan eyeballed Chernenko and the world teetered on the brink of a few atoms. Oh and Tommy Cooper died live on telly. Another taff bites the dust.

But the world survived even if Tommy didn’t. And there was no Oceania.

So Orwell’s masterpiece wasn’t that accurate a forecast? A redundant warning by a dying man and No Big Deal. Well, no. Indeed the most chilling parts of Orwell’s masterpiece are not where he skips over the nuclear war that proceeds the events of the novel. Nor is it the relatively tight timescale over which he unravels the world or the horror of room 101.

No.

The real horror, and this book is a horror in my opinion, are the echoes of right now, of our own culture – remember this book is over fifty years old. The slow seepage of state control into everyday life, from use of media to produce a culture of perpetual fear, the enthusiasm for conflict within the ruling class, the erosion of rights and freedom to perpetuate the system, the end of personal privacy. The list goes on.

The notion that ultimately the individual cannot win. That the system is all.

For those that haven’t read the book: it charts Winston Smith’s small acts of rebellion against Big Brother and The Party – the ruling system of Oceania, the country he lives in. And ultimately his fall. It is a startling, unflinching look into the danger of totalitarianism.

In terms of structure and style you can definitely tell Orwell was not a hundred percent (he was ill during much of the time he was writing the novel), it has flaws including over lengthy periods of exposition. Yet Orwell on a bad day is still sickeningly better than most other writers, it is his ideas, his observations, his insight that make this novel.

In pretty much every review or essay on 1984 people cite the novel’s influence on our culture. This is wrong, cheap and dare I say it like laying the blame at Orwell’s door. The novel has not influenced our culture. Like Animal Farm before it 1984 is an astute and chilling analysis of the dark side of humanity, it is a warning about the most dangerous creature to walk this lump of rock.

Us.


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4 thoughts on “Review: 1984 by George Orwell

  • Reply
    strugglingwriter

    I read this book a few years ago for the first time and it got to me more than any other piece of fiction I have ever read.

    “The notion that ultimately the individual cannot win. That the system is all.”

    “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength.” – could there words not be spoken by a current day right-winger?

  • Reply
    Greg O'Byrne

    I had an interesting discussion with an economics professor of mine back in 1983 after watching the movie 1984 and reading the book as part of the class.

    I asked her how she interpreted the similarities between the book and the current state of the Soviet Union: State control of the media, 5 year plans that never met quota, lying about said 5 year plans, state propoganda, state secret police that interrogate and kill dissidents, state built on fear, etc. etc. etc.

    She looked at me and with a straight face said, “No it was a reflection on our capitalistic society.”

    I was stunned how someone could be so blinded by their politics as to not see the truth.

    We live in an era of unparallelled communication, freedom, wealth, health, technology and potential. Where wars are in decline, middle classness is in the increase worldwide. Where you as an individual can get your thoughts published with no middle man between you and readers.

    And yet…and yet we’re DOOMED.

    No we’re not.

    …and creeping statism by the LEFT is much more worrisome to me than any threat from the right. For one key example of the left’s creeping Orwelling control peruse on over to here: http://ezralevant.com/2008/01/kangaroo-court.html

    Sorry for the bit of a rant.

  • Reply
    Neil

    Interesting view Greg. And I don’t mind passionate debate.

    For the record I am neither pro right nor pro left. Indeed my political viewpoint could be best expressed angrily apathetic. In the UK we don’t really have a political right or left.

    Orwell’s pretty well documented thrust with 1984 was indeed a warning against Stalinist Russia, he was however a committed and passionate social democrat, a leftie for want of a better term.

    There is also a secondary thread running through both Animal Farm and 1984: the warning about power corrupting, that marxism’s fundamental flaw is its inability to appreciate human nature as being made up of light and dark in equal measure.

    My point was not that we’re doomed. Yet. Just that humanity was a dangerous beast and frankly we are. We’re also artistic, destructive, compassionate, violent, intelligent, stupid, fat, thin, the list goes on. It’s really just depends on your point of view.

    For example: I don’t think people in Afghanistan, Darfur, Iraq, Somalia, Kenya, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon and Pakistan would argue that war is in decline. Three billion people (half the estimated global population) live on less than two dollars a day. And arguably Russia is once again under the yoke of someone with dictatorial bent.

    Struggling writer is right. There are sections of 1984 that sound like a modern day Neocon particularly those parts where O’Brien talks about the party defining reality. A member of the Bush administration actually used that terminology in a press conference on Iraq in 2003.

    But you’re also right. Extreme leftism is deeply worrying. Extremism of any kind is worrying – the first thing that leaves the building is reason shortly followed by empathy.

    Anyway I’m pleased we got a mini debate going here. Makes me feel like a proper blogger.
    :)