Monday, December 27, 2010


George Orwell
Signet Classic, 1949 (my copy is from 1991)
Size: Average (my copy has 312 pages)
Theme: Futuristic space war
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Winston Smith
Quote: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.“
Recommended minimum age: Young adult
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

This book follows Winston Smith as he lives in a society where actions and thoughts are monitored and oppressed, and where the government controls the population through technological means (all of which fictional at the time the book was written, but currently common and most even outdated) as well as psychological warfare. Information on the media is released only by the government, and any citizen can be arrested and kept incarcerated for as long as needed.

The book has a strong pace and compelling story, with a crescendo in intensity. We feel some empathy with the main character as he tries to pass under the radar of the government, while acting as he thinks is right. We share of his perspective on the society in general and how others behave. There is some character development, but not to the extent you could expect for a psychological drama, particularly for all other characters. The plot revolves very centrally around Winston, and the cast of characters is very small. This is not a negative aspect, since it allows dwelling deeply into his mind. However, a couple other characters also seem interesting but end up rather shallow, since we do not entirely understand their motivations or know of their inner thoughts.

It should be noted that George Orwell actually invented many terms that have become pervasive in our language, such as “Big Brother”, “Doublethink” (and doublespeak), or “Thought crime”. The entire book is filled with symbolism and ideals, but the strongest is definitely censure. Much of the plot derives from Winston’s refusal to embrace doublethink, which relates to the social psychology effect termed cognitive dissonance.

1984 has been described over the past couple of decades as a visionary perspective of our current global society, and indeed, there are many aspects of the story which ring too close for comfort. Current laws such as the Patriot Act in the USA have considerably widen the grey area where governments can act supposedly for National interest but actually reducing, if not entirely negating, individual rights. Historically, such paths have always led to oppression and a larger gap between those with control/power and those without. It has mostly served the interests of particular groups and helps to cover up governments’ blunders, plots, and even powerful politicians’ crimes.

Overall, it was an excellent read. Since I was in my late 20’s when I read it, I was able to appreciate several of the book’s subtle aspects which I possibly would have missed had I read it earlier in my life. Even though there is some torture in the book, it is depicted rather softly.

Spoilers (warning: the following text contains information that may hamper/ruin how much you enjoy the book):
Winston develops a romance and sexual relationship with a woman throughout the book, which eventually leads to his demise (being identified by “Big Brother”). The motives of the ruling inner party are known to be simply the conservation of power. At the end of the book, Winston is arrested due to his corrupted mind, so the government can modify his behavior. He is subjected to torture until he breaks, which he eventually does by renouncing on his believes and feelings, truly becoming another pawn of the system. The book ends with the narrator describing Winston Smith’s thoughts: “He loved big brother”. 

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