Rating: 5 out of 5
BEWARE: SPOILER ALERT!
Published in 1949, 1984 was George Orwell’s final novel–a masterful foreboding of what could come should the world continue its thirst for power and hegemony. While many critics might write off the book as merely an allegory for the totalitarian regimes of Hitler and Stalin, it is so much more than that because it warns that it only takes enough torture and brainwashing to turn a man into an empty shell devoid of emotion and independent thought.
Winston Smith lives in London, which has been absolved into the great superpower of Oceania. Given that he’s not even sure if it’s really the year 1984, his memory of the past is sparse: after the nuclear war of 1950, science and prosperity have been abandoned in exchange for militarized mass production.
As an employee of the ironically-titled Ministry of Truth, he must change the facts of historical documents so that the past always matches the present. Oceania is, has always been, and will always be at war with Eurasia (unless it decides to fight Eastasia instead).
And Big Brother, the ubiquitous face of the Party, exists, has always existed, and will always exist. Anyone who denies this or disapproves of the Party will simply disappear, vaporized by the Thought Police.
It’s not the ever-watchful telescreens or the mob mentality behind the Two Minutes Hate that’s most terrifying about 1984. It’s the concept of “doublethink:” the psychological contradiction that can make you believe that war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength, and two plus two equals five. Not only can the Party control your every movement, they can also re-program your mind.
You go in knowing that Winston and his lover Julia can never break free of the Party’s despotism, that all their secret rendezvouses will only lead to capture, but you still remain foolishly optimistic just like them.
So when the inevitable happens, and they are broken down into submission in Room 101, you feel just as broken. Their hope is your hope, their pain your pain, and their nothingness your nothingness. I find it hard to think of a more cathartic reading experience.
This is the dystopian masterpiece. Everyone owes it to themselves to read 1984. Absorb it, love it, and–most importantly–learn from it. Because if we don’t wake up and band together to preserve individuality, encourage critical thinking, and further scientific progress, we will succumb to the same inhuman fate.
“To hang on from day to day and from week to week, spinning out a present that had no future, seemed an unconquerable instinct, just as one’s lungs will always draw the next breath so long as there is air available.” (Part II, Chapter 5)
“The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.” (Part II, Chapter 9)