Everyman’s Library, 1992; first published, 1949
A story of a dismal future, 1984 is of the dystopian genre before it became popular. Taking place more or less in 1984, although one can never be sure, the globe has been divided into 3 super states: Eastasia, Eurasia and Oceania. These 3 super states are in a constant state of war with one another and life in London, Airstrip One (formerly Great Britain), Oceania is a miserable existence for those dissatisfied with the Party. The Party revolves around its leader, Big Brother and a strict code of conduct. For Party members their lives are constantly monitored through telescreens, assigned work and leisure times. There is no ‘me’ or ‘self’; there is only ‘we’. There are two divisions of the Party, Inner and Outer. Outer Party members live in wretched squalor while Inner Party members live in luxury. For non-Party members, or ‘proles’ life is worse because they are considered to not exist at all. The struggle for the main character, Winston, is to remain human in a de-humanizing society.
Winston Smith, 39-years-old, works at the Ministry of Truth rewriting history. When a person is vaporized or disappeared, Winston has to search in all available records for that person and rewrite the article or record to wipe out that person’s life. When suddenly in the middle of Hate Week, when all anger is directed toward Eurasia, the Party switches enemies and goes to war with Eastasia, within a few days the Ministry of Truth has wiped out all records of war with Eurasia and replaced it with Eastasia so that it seems Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia and was never at war with Eurasia. Confusing. Anyway, Winston is very secretly dissatisfied with the Party and embarks on a forbidden love affair with a young woman and goes to work for the Brotherhood – an underground movement to undermine the Party and Big Brother.
Julia – a young woman who works at the Ministry of Truth writing novels. Julia was born after the Revolution and accepts the Party as a fact of life but rebels against it whenever she can. She starts the affair with Winston and they go to great lengths to spend time with one another out of the ever-present eye of Big Brother.
O’Brien, an Inner Party member who may or may not be a part of the Brotherhood.
Mr. Charrington, an old man who owns a junk shop in a prole neighborhood. Winston purchases forbidden items from him and rents a room above the shop where he and Julia spend their precious few hours together. He, too, is not what he seems to be.
So I read this book as a part of Banned Books Week and because it is an Classic of Literature. I didn’t like it at all. From a purely literary point of view, it was astounding the world George Orwell created. I feel like I was reading the grandfather of the dystopian genre. I was frequently reminded of a series I read a while ago – but didn’t review- (Matched) – the world in that book eerily similar to Orwell’s. (If Orwell’s novel is the grandfather then Huxley’s A Brave New World is the great grandfather!)
It is certainly a well written book and one that needs to be read. However, I didn’t like it and will not read again. Mainly because there is no hope. That’s not quite right. There is hope throughout the book. Winston hopes the Party will one day be dismantled. The reader hopes Winston and Julia don’t get caught. They hope they don’t get caught. But in the end they do. And it is devastating. The book ends with one main message – and that is there is no hope for the people who live in that society. Big Brother is Watching and He always will be. War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.
Rating: 4 out of 5 paws. I rated it 4 because if I rated based on my visceral reaction and feelings, it would have been a 2 paw rating. But a book of this imagination, importance and warnings against complacency deserves a higher rating.
Banned/Challenged book – According to the ALA this book was challenged in 1981 in Jackson County, Florida School Board because Orwell’s novel is “pro-communist and contains explicit sexual matter.”