Friday, June 1, 2012

Classic Fiction: 1984 by George Orwell

I decided to do yet another one of those summer reading classics that I somehow was never forced to read. George Orwell's 1984 is a dystopian novel in which he puts forth a prediction of what 1984 was going to look like while he was living in 1948. The result is a chilling representation of a future that, while much harsher than the one we actually live in, still has some unsettling similarities that we could really do without. 

The Situation: Winston Smith lives in London, which is part of what is now known as Oceania. Presently, at the beginning of the novel, Oceania is at war with Eurasia, and they have always been at war with Eurasia. Winston works for the Ministry of Truth in the Records department. His job, more or less, is to literally alter and change the past. Because Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia, every record and article ever must say as much. And later, when it is realized that Oceania is actually at war with Eastasia, and has always been at war with Eastasia, Winston's department must work hard at making the past reflect this. He isn't part of society's elite, but he isn't a "prole" either. He is a Party member with a Party job and Party housing. He had a wife once, no kids, and mostly lives a mundane existence obeying Big Brother. Until he no longer decides to. 

The Problem: Big Brother is watching. Big Brother is always watching. But Winston starts to take small liberties and break the rules in small ways anyway, at first. Even with the simple act of buying a diary and writing his true thoughts in it, Winston becomes convinced that he has already signed his own death certificate, but he keeps going anyway. Eventually he is hanging out with proles, looking to start a revolution. He even begins having an affair with a coworker from another department who shares his desire for change. And when they both sign up with a group that barely identifies themselves as "The Brotherhood," they soon realize they have reached the point of no return. Capture by the Thought Police seems inevitable, and everyone acknowledges that it will eventually happen. There is no escaping it. 

Genre, Themes, History: 1984 is a dystopian novel. Issues that are presented in contemporary novels such as The Hunger Games and Ready Player One are really nothing new, but man are the find to explore and read about (and I imagine write about). For some weird and kind of sick reasons, human beings love to imagine all the different ways this world can go horribly horribly wrong. And this novel goes to a pretty dark place and imagines a pretty horrifying situation. We're talking government control at its worst, but they're really good at it, which makes it even more devastating. There is also the theme of desperation and the human condition under torture and utter hopelessness. Keep in mind, Orwell wrote this in 1948...and somehow that makes it creepier for me. 

My Verdict: Pretty much a must read. I see why teenagers have been forced to read it for so long and will continue to be for years to come. It starts out as disturbing, and then things are so scary, and then in the third part we are shown why we were fools to think that things weren't so scary in the first part, and that the characters failed to head the warnings from the first part. I can see readers wanting to dismiss it as paranoid musings from the post World War II era, but this story has survived long after the actual year 1984 has come and gone for a reason. But I really don't want to look into what that reason might be. 

Favorite Moment: When, during the Two Minute Hate, Winston finds himself shouting with rage at the images on the screen even though he doesn't really believe or support a word of it. That's the power of both suggestion and mob mentality for you. 

Favorite Character: Yeah, this is another one of those books where it is going to be hard to pick a "favorite." Everyone is pretty messed up, but it isn't their fault necessarily. 

Recommended Reading: I will have to go with a book I have already mentioned, and that is Ernest Cline's Ready Player One. Cline's book is set even further into the future, but because it was written today will include many things we are used to having in the present day, such as the Internet, while using mostly references from the 80s. I highly recommend it.

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