on August 7, 2004
Eric Arthur Blair was an important English writer that you probably already know by the pseudonym of George Orwell. He wrote quite a few books, but many believe that his more influential ones were "Animal farm" (1944) and "1984" (1948).In those two books he conveyed, metaphorically and not always obviously, what Soviet Russia meant to him.
I would like to make some comments about the second book, "1984". That book was written near his death, when he was suffering from tuberculosis, what might have had a lot to do with the gloominess that is one of the essential characteristics of "1984". The story is set in London, in a nightmarish 1984 that for Orwell might well have been a possibility, writting as he was many years before that date. Or maybe, he was just trying to warn his contemporaries of the dangers of not opposing the Soviet threat, a threat that involved a new way of life that was in conflict with all that the English held dear.
Orwell tried to depict a totalitarian state, where the truth didn't exist as such, but was merely what the "Big Brother" said it was. Freedom was only total obedience to the Party, and love an alien concept, unless it was love for the Party. The story is told from the point of view of Winston Smith, a functionary of the Ministry of Truth whose work involved the "correction" of all records each time the "Big Brother" decided that the truth had changed. The Party slogan said that "Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past", and they applied it constantly by "bringing up to date" the past so as to make it coincide with whatever the Party wanted.
From Winston Smith's point of view, many things that scare us are normal. For example, the omnipresence of the "Big Brother", always watching you, and the "Thought Police" that punishes treacherous thoughts against the Party. The reader feels the inevitability of doom that pervades the book many times, in phrases like "Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you".
Little by little, Winston begins to realize that things are not right, and that they should change. We accompany him in his attempt at subversion, and are unwilling witnesses of what that attempt brings about. This book is marked by hopelessness, but at the same time it is the kind of distressing book we all NEED to read...
Why do we need to read "1984"?. In my opinion, basically for two reasons. To start with, Orwell made in this book many observations that are no more merely fiction, but already things that manage to reduce our freedom. Secondly, and closelly linked to my first reason, this is a book that only gets better with the passing of time, as you can read in it more and more implications. One of Orwell's main reasons for writting this "negative utopia" might have been to warn his readers against communism, but many years after his death and the fall of communism, we can also interpret it as a caution against the excessive power of mass media, or the immoderate power of any government (even those who don't defend communism).
Technological innovation should be at the service of men, and allow them to live better lives, but it can be used against them. I guess that is one of Orwell's lessons, probably the most important one. All in all, I think you can benefit from reading this book. Because of that, I highly recommend it to you :)
on March 3, 1998
George Orwell's final novel, 1984, was written amidst the anti-communist hysteria of the cold war. But unlike Orwell's other famous political satire, Animal Farm, this novel is filled with bleak cynicism and grim pessimism about the human race. When it was written, 1984 stood as a warning against the dangerous probabilities of communism. And now today, after communism has crumbled with the Berlin Wall; 1984 has come back to tell us a tale of mass media, data mining, and their harrowing consequences.
It's 1984 in London, a city in the new überstate of Oceania, which contains what was once England, Western Europe and North America. Our hero, Winston Smith works in the Ministry of Truth altering documents that contradict current government statements and opinions. Winston begins to remember the past that he has worked so hard to destroy, and turns against The Party. Even Winston's quiet, practically undetectable form of anarchism is dangerous in a world filled with thought police and the omnipresent two-way telescreen. He fears his inevitable capture and punishment, but feels no compulsion to change his ways.
Winston's dismal observations about human nature are accompanied by the hope that good will triumph over evil; a hope that Orwell does not appear to share. The people of Oceania are in the process of stripping down the English language to its bones. Creating Newspeak, which Orwell uses only for examples and ideas which exist only in the novel. The integration of Newspeak into the conversation of the book. One of the new words created is doublethink, the act of believing that two conflicting realities exist. Such as when Winston sees a photograph of a non-person, but must reason that that person does not, nor ever has, existed.
The inspiration for Winston's work ,may have come from Russia. Where Stalin's right-hand man, Trotzky was erased from all tangible records after his dissention from the party. And the fear of telescreens harks back to the days when Stasi bugs were hooked to every bedpost, phone line and light bulb in Eastern Europe.
His reference to Hitler Youth, the Junior Spies, which trains children to keep an eye out for thought criminals- even if they are their parents; provides evidence for Orwell's continuing presence in pop culture. "Where men can't walk, or freely talk, And sons turn their fathers in." is a line from U2's 1993 song titled "The Wanderer".
Orwell assumes that we will pick up on these political allusions. But the average grade 11 student will probably only have a vague understanding of these due to lack of knowledge. It is even less likely that they will pick up on the universality of these happenings, like the fact that people still "disappear" without a trace every day in Latin America.
Overall, however, the book could not have been better written. Orwell has created characters and events that are scarily realistic. Winston's narration brings the reader inside his head, and sympathetic with the cause of the would-be-rebels. There are no clear answers in the book, and it's often the reader who has to decide what to believe. But despite a slightly unresolved plot, the book serves its purpose. Orwell wrote this book to raise questions; and the sort of questions he raised have no easy answer. This aspect can make the novel somewhat of a disappointment for someone in search of a light read. But anyone prepared to not just read, but think about a novel, will get a lot out of 1984.
1984, is not a novel for the faint of heart, it is a gruesome, saddening portrait of humanity, with it's pitfalls garishly highlighted. Its historic importance has never been underestimated; and it's reemergence as a political warning for the 21st century makes it deserving of a second look. Winston's world of paranoia and inconsistent realities is an eloquently worded account of a future we thought we buried in our past; but in truth may be waiting just around the corner.
George Orwell's classic was incredibly visionary. It is hardly fathomable that this book was written in 1948. Things that we take for granted today - cameras everywhere we go, phones being tapped, bodies being scanned for weapons remotely - all of these things were described in graphic detail in Orwell's book.
Now that we have the Internet and people spying on other people w/ webcams and people purposely setting up their own webcams to let others "anonymously" watch them, you can see how this culture can develop into the Orwellian future described in "1984."
If you've heard such phrases as "Big Brother," "Newspeak," and "thought crime" and wondered where these phrases came from, they came from this incredible, vivid and disturbing book.
Winston Smith, the main character of the book is a vibrant, thinking man hiding within the plain mindless behavior he has to go through each day to not be considered a thought criminal. Everything is politically correct, children defy their parents (and are encouraged by the government to do so) and everyone pays constant allegiance to "Big Brother" - the government that watches everyone and knows what everyone is doing at all times - watching you shower, watching you having sex, watching you eat, watching you go to the bathroom and ultimately watching you die.
This is a must-read for everyone.
on November 7, 2010
Nothing needs to be said about 1984 as a story - it's an excellent read.
However, the publisher should be ashamed of the "Kindle edition" of this great novel. Page numbers (which mean nothing on a Kindle) frequently show up in the middle of sentences. It seems that the publisher scanned the paper text, ran it through some OCR software, and published the work without a human reviewing it for quality.
on November 17, 1999
Six years ago I was in a bookshop and on the shelf I saw a copy of George Orwell's "1984". I had often heard people mention this novel on TV in political discussions and so on without really knowing what they mean't. Out of curiosity I decided to buy the book and see what it was like. I quite enjoyed it, and later that year we had to read it for Year 12 English. What I found interesting were the reactions of the other kids. Some liked it, others found it boring, uneventful or irrelevant. I remember one boy saying: "But 1984 was nothing like that!" The point about this novel is that it isn't supposed to be like a Nostradamus prophecy. George Orwell was writing about the social conditions that existed at the time in which he was living. Shortages, censorship, government red tape and the manipulation of popular opinion. I'm not overly concerned with the book's issues of politics or whether it's been proved inacurrate or not. I like to think of this as the story of an "alternative" 1984, a look at how different the world might be if history went in a different direction. Other books that explore this theme are "The Man In The High Castle" and "Fatherland" which are both set in worlds where the Nazis had won the Second World War. These books revel in historical inaccuracy. I think "1984" still has some relevance though. Especially the way the media alter people's view of the world by deciding what we should and shouldn't see, or the way newspapers "enhance" photographs. An example that comes to mind is when a newspaper altered a photo of the killer Martin Bryant by putting more shadow around his eyes to make this ordianary-looking man look psychotic. George Orwell was right about the idea of people being under constant surveillance, now that hidden cameras abound, a device more subtle and unobtrusive than the telescreen. Even though we're not all wearing blue overalls and worshipping a demi god, free will is being undermined in a more insidious way. This novel has made an impact on other writers, particularly Anthony Burgess. He wrote a novel called "1985". The beginning of that novel descibes his version of how the world of Big Bother, Ingsoc and the Thought Police came about. This isn't a sequel, more of a reaction to the former book. In conclusion "1984" is an interesting book of a world that might have been, and might still be.
on June 14, 2013
Note to US Congress and house of representatives:
This is a fictional book, not an instruction manual.
I suggest you read this one instead:
Bill of Rights
on April 12, 2005
Here is the book that first got me thinking about politics and philosophy.
This is Orwell's dystopia of how he feared the world would become run by a group of cahooting despots by 1984.
The main character, Winston Smith, lives in London in a dictatoeship run by "big brother". In this state there is no love but love for big brother. There is no excitment but patriotism. Chocolate is rationed and orgasms are banned. In this world smith somehow manages to fall in love.. and that's just the start of his problems.
1984 warns us to be wary of those who might take our freedom whilst trying to convince us we are actually gaining extra liberty. Buy it.
on December 23, 2006
That is what George Orwell warns us against in his bone-chilling and now increasingly accurate description of a world of revisionist history and massive invasion of privacy, abetted by technology to produce a society of conformity and fear.
Borne out of Orwell's personal experiences in Burma (the present day, repressive Myanmar) and his observations of totalitarianism at mid-Twentieth Century, "1984" is the story of an average bureaucrat of middling intelligence who seeks no more than to be a whole man who can think and speak his mind, display passion outwardly, and not lie awake wondering who may be watching him. Paranoia rules. Orwell gives us a riveting, sometimes grotesque explanation of what it finally takes in "1984" for one man to try to restore whatever remains of his genuine identity and self-respect.
Since the first publication of this timeless work around 1948 (reverse the digits, you're through the looking glass), Orwell's philosophical sentries have made a point of looking for examples in recent history to prove how prescient he was, and those signposts abound. For example, in the U.S., the Department of War was renamed the Department of Defense (Newspeak), a soldier in Vietnam had to "destroy the village to save it" (Doublethink), certain municipal hate crime legislation was enacted to curb the utterance of mean-spirited language short of action, and law enforcement officials began publicly naming so-called "persons of interest" and spending years tracking their activities under the microscope of media coverage. Later, opponents of the Iraq War were branded by the government as unpatriotic (Thought Police). Overseas, Europe and Iran continue to feud over the existence of the Holocaust, with one government staging a conference to help prove it didn't exist while Austria threatens an anti-Semite with prison, raising the nettlesome issue of to what degree free speech should be curtailed in the name of community stability as defined by government.
"1984" does not have a happy ending. Its last four words slam the book shut on freedom. Orwell hoped to foment enough concern with his masterpiece to influence the course of history, and he has to some degree succeeded. There are millions of people around the world who have yet to taste true freedom and who will not relent until they have acquired it. There are others who constantly observe Big Brother, latter-day Orwells who gird each day for a fight to defend individual liberty.
A quarter-century after the real 1984, the public and private sectors, enabled by technology, have made it easier to know what the public is saying, thinking, and feeling. And in our own discourse as individual citizens, some of us have taken to playing fast and loose with the facts, or retreating from the world of terra-firma into a make-believe electronic neighborhood.
Will we, as a people, accept the "truthiness" of a Web posting, manufactured definitions on Wikipedia, or be content to have high-powered computer algorithms track our Web footprint in the name of consumerism? Will we retreat to our iPods and virtual reality games? How well will we pay attention? How much do we read? What do we read? And when are we willing to speak up, and to whom?
"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance". - Jefferson
on May 10, 2004
For as long as I live I will always remember the day I finished "1984," the first time I read it, while seated in the back of my high school trigonometry class. Inconsolable, I gazed over the last five words - completely devastated - and sobbed uncontrollably.
In the ten or more times I have reread it since, I was no less shocked and shattered by the book's conclusion. Ostensibly a cautionary tale about a midlevel bureaucrat assigned to help reduce the number of words in the dictionary, "1984" is the tragic story of Winston Smith, a freethinking, middle aged man, who through glimmers of a childhood memories and clandestine visits to "prole" neighborhoods (newspeak for poor), radically tries to reconcile life in a totalitarian nanny state.
With the omnipresent hum of the tele-screen always present, Winston is the perfect party patsy, saluting the authorities and seething with anger at the daily "two minutes hate" that secretly leave our hero wondering who is the Emmanuel M. Goldstein, the object of the government's loathing.
When despite medical problems too gruesome to recount and enough secret spies to fill a Le Carre novel, Winston Smith conjures up enough optimism to pursue a romantic relationship with Julia, "1984" takes on a frightening turn. A devoted (or maybe not)? member of the Junior Anti-Sex League, whose signature emblem is the form-fitting sash that hugs seductively around her waistline, Julia is perhaps not the refuge Winston seeks. Or is she?
Without destroying the truly devastating ending, I would wholeheartedly recommend 1984 to anyone who is interested in politics, language, romance and government.
Yes, you may be left devastated by the book's last five words, but you will certainly be left with more to think about than drying your tears. - Regina McMenamin
on March 22, 2009
Just so you know, the Penguin Readers series was created for readers whose whose first language is not English (ESL students) and for young readers. Don't expect the full version. These are great books for ESL students and I have my students read them. Level 4 is approximately intermediate level.