If you want a review of George Orwell’s 1984, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.
The setting is of no consequence and the characters are irrelevant. Unless, of course the Party deems it to be.
In that case it would take place in London, England part of Oceania around the year of 1984 roughly 30 to 40 years after, what appears to be, a world wide revolution that followed an atomic war. A world that started diverged from our timeline near WWII. We follow the daily life of Winston Smith who’s job is to rewrite history, a younger girl, Julia, who’s rebellion is purely of self interest, a man of privilege and orthodoxy and both ally and adversary, O’Brien, and finally the true protagonist of the story, Big Brother, the omnipresent embodiment of the world in its totality. Or, if it was recast today, a blogger, a millennial in every hipster of the word, a priest (perhaps either Catholic or Scientology), and Steve Jobs.
People have said that Orwell was afraid of our privacy being taken away by force and had no idea that we would willfully give it away with things like Facebook and other social media sharing platforms or through voting and accepting security measures to “keep us safe” that forfeiting privacy and freedom But, I think, THAT was exactly how he thought it would happen. That they would be tricked and rewarded and scared into giving up what they hold dear and not just by their leaders but also by their friends that were duped as well.
For what I think of it as a book, for a deep subject it should be an easy read but that might be because it repeats it’s self a lot. So, if you don’t understand a concept you will have a second chance to wrap your head around it. But if I had do give any big criticism it is that when talk about Winston’s life as it does not relate directly to the rest of the world, it can drag a bit. Lucky, Orwell is more interested in the world than the characters and almost seems to have wanted to write something akin to Plato’s Republic but did not know how to do that so he did it in a more stranded novel form. Or maybe thought Winston, Julia, and O’Brien would be a guise in which the the message could exhibit itself to act as a focusing point for love, fear, and reverence, emotions which are more easily felt towards an individual than towards an idea. I personally like the book within a book style of writing. Something about a fictional nonfiction book really appeals to me. It happens in the book version of Starship Troopers, and in a movie called the Confederate States of America (it is done as a BBC documentary about a the south winning the civil war)
This is part review and part analysis because I do tend to ramble on. So if you do not want that here is your jumping of point.
The world of 1984 would be described by us a totalitarian, but by O’Brien as the exact opposite, English Socialism, and by the writer of a book within this book, Emmanuel Goldstein, as Oligarchical Collectivism, which I personally think is the closest. The politics, morality, and economics of Oceania are the main interest of the story of 1984. So much so that it required there to be another books within it; the above mentioned manifesto of Goldstein. One thing to note is that everything in 1984 is unreliable. Winston’s memories of his childhood before the revolution, news broadcast, O’Brien’s speeches on Party doctrine, and Goldstein’s accounts of the rise of the Party and how it appears to function; there is not outside the Party. Even the Victory Gin is not gin; it is Saké! It is also conceivable that Oceania is not bigger than England and the rest of the world is carrying on in the usual manner, similar to the North Korea situation.
There are three levels of society: the Inner Party about 2% of the population, the Outer Party about 13%, and ’the proles’ about 85%. Only Party members have the constant monitoring by the telescreens (a TV that watches back) and the Inner Party are the only ones “permitted” to turn them off for brief moments. The Party views the proles as energy to run society at best or slaves at worst. But it is not the kind of slavery that has chains. Throughout the book it is said if there is any hope to bring down the Party and Big Brother it lies in the proles, but it is also pointed out that the proles are kept too busy or otherwise entertain and preoccupy to revolt. They just don’t want to because from their view nothing is wrong. They go to work and get paid, come home, read a book or go to the bar, go to sleep and do it all again the next day. They live. Sure the conditions are not that great to our modern day western standards, but its seams that they live about an average life for someone in say, the industrial revelation or, well, Europe in the early ’40.
It actually looks like, to me, that the prole are the most free and it is the Outer Party that is the most oppressed and the Inner Party is somewhere in between. If anything can be believed there is no Capital of Oceania, and other than Big Brother (who I doubt is real) there is no true leader, and there are no laws. But as this is a Dystopia, something is wrong with all this freedom. It is an Idea that is in charge. I think at one time the revolution was a good thing and meant a lot of good for the world, a lot like in Animal Farm , it got perverted and out of hand. I think there is not government at all. I think it is everyone collectively, out of an imagined fear made manifest, doing what they think they have been told to do. Like the Borg or ants they do what they do because of the Collectivism part. I think the early years of the Party were so effective that they did away with there own founders and laws and now the Party only exists to exist.
O’Brien said the Party is “interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power.” I don’t think that is true particularly because of what he says later “the individual is only a cell? The weariness of the cell is the vigour of the organism. Do you die when you cut your fingernails?” it exist to exist and power is a byproduct. Your liver does not have high morals of keeping you alive and functions to do that; your lungs aren’t striving to impress your heart. They all are doing their own thing, oblivious to each other, and it happens to keep you alive. In the same way I think the various Ministries and organization do what they do because that is what they do. The Inner Party is no better off than the Outer Party in any meaningful way. And the proles care just as little about the Party members as the Party cares about them. If they are in hell, it is one of the Twilight Zone ironic hells of their own making.
I know this was long winded (this is actually the shorten version) and I apologies for that. Let’s just say that I am overcompensating for the fact that Cody does all the article and political ramblings on the website. I have more I could say, maybe there will be a tie-in segment in an upcoming episode?
I don’t know what all this says about me but I will leave you with a revelation that Winston had about the book he read that is both profound and one of the best and scariest things to think about when you read a book yourself or hear people talk about books they liked:
” The book fascinated him, or more exactly it reassured him. In a sense it told him nothing that was new, but that was part of the attraction. It said what he would have said, if it had been possible for him to set his scattered thoughts in order. It was the product of a mind similar to his own, but enormously more powerful, more systematic, less fear-ridden. The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.”
Ryan S. Brewer is the co-host and editor of the Bored Shenanigans podcast (when he releases one) available via iTunes and Stitcher. See more of Brewer’s Shitty Writing very sporadically here or as episode descriptions. Also he has nothing else to enjoy anywhere else, but you can find Cody’s poetry blog here or download his e-book here. Be sure to follow Bored Shenanigans on Twitter or the Faceyspace.