173 of 183 people found the following review helpful
Worthy literature that transcends the genre of political fable,
This review is from: Animal Farm and 1984 (Hardcover)
This is a handsome republication of Orwell's two most renowned works, Animal Farm and 1984. Even if you're just looking for 1984, this edition is to be commended; it comes with a fine introduction by today's leading Orwell enthusiast, Christopher Hitchens, and the reward of including Animal Farm requires very little in the way of additional effort or expense on your part. At 80-odd pages, you may as well pick it up in the same volume, and you're virtually certain to be glad that you did.
I'm not alone in being of a generation that was first required to read Orwell in my student days (Middle School, in my case.) It seems that there was a lot of literature churned out then, accessible to if not directly aimed at children, with the horrors of totalitarianism as its theme. In addition to reading Orwell, we were also reading Huxley, Bradbury, and Verne -- the youth-oriented John Christopher books being yet another example. The generation that lived through Nazism and Stalinism clearly wanted the younger set to be aware of the horrors that could be, and to remain on guard against them.
It doesn't seem to be quite that way anymore. Orwell's name is invoked today, but often in trivializing contexts: "Big Brother" is now a brain-numbing reality show, and "Orwellian" is a convenient and often hysterically-applied charge to political opponents. Some complaceny does seem to be inevitable: we are now further removed from the days when the likes of Hitler and Stalin killed tens of millions. Still, regimes arise that are nearly as horrific on a local scale, from Pol Pot to Saddam Hussein to the Taliban, and are real enough that Orwell's book is no joke. Orwell deserves attention if for no other reason than to sensitize us to the bad form associated with invoking his name in a trivializing context. There was a political ad on Youtube last year from an Obama supporter that cast Hillary Clinton on a giant Big Brother-like screen. I'm not in the least a fan of Senator Clinton, but associating her image with those of 1984 -- as was also done in an infamous Apple Computer ad -- trivializes Orwell's message in a deplorable way. Orwell wrote his novel to warn against real dangers that his generation lived through, and which others might yet, not as a marketing ploy to be used in selling either computers or nearly indistinguishable democratic political candidacies.
The main reason I am writing this review, however, is that re-reading Orwell in my 40's is a stark reminder that his novels are more than political parables, but are worthy literature. I hope that those reading these reviews will be aware of this, and not shut their minds to a rewarding literary experience.
As a kid, I was able to perceive the pedagogical intent of these books, but less so was I able to appreciate the literary artistry. 1984 in particular passes the Nabokovian test of creating a fully believable, if terrifying, alternate world. Beyond that, on nearly every page, Orwell leaves an image that just might stay with you forever. Small wonder that so many of the terms in 1984 ("Big Brother," "Newspeak") have burrowed their way into our lexicography.
Orwell was a man of the left who understood something that many of his compatriots did not; that what had arisen in the Soviet Union was a regime unprecedented in its horror (arriving before, and ultimately outlasting, its horrific mirror image, Hitler's Third Reich.) At a time when others on the left simply refused to believe in the reality of the USSR, he looked at it unflinchingly and wrote what it was really about.
Also, in childhood, I was not able to fully appreciate that Orwell's books simply weren't negative-utopian nightmare-fantasies, but paralleled actual events in the USSR with chilling accuracy. I knew, at some level, that he was satirizing certain events and characters in the Russian Revolution, but only in adulthood was I able to closely recognize nearly every episode and character in Animal Farm. Those familiar with USSR history will find it all here in the two books: the rewriting of the past to reaffirm the infallibility of the Party, the sudden reorienting of national propaganda to suit the latest twist of foreign policy, and the complete elimination of all references to those unfortunate souls decreed never to have existed.
Truly, the thing that makes 1984 terrifying now, is not what was imagined in the novel's construction, but what was real in its sources. It exaggerates even relative to the Stalinist state -- but not by much. It is this recognition that makes it a chilling read today.
1984 is the more vivid and evocative of the two novels. Excepting one passage (Goldstein's dreary history lesson about 2/3 of the way through) it is riveting almost throughout its 300 pages.
A few notes for younger readers: The moral of Animal Farm is not that Napoleon was simply a bad apple, but rather that the system adopted by the Animals ensured that ultimately such a tyrant would dominate. (I find the end of Animal Farm to be something of a false note; in the end the pigs prove no better than, and resemble, the humans they replaced, but this understates the tragic reality that the USSR was worse still than that which it replaced.)
As I close, I leave you with one random question about 1984: how come it never occurs to Eastasia and Eurasia to combine against Oeania? Given that Oceania keeps flipping its allegiance from one to the other, you'd think they'd ultimately catch on and both decide to attack Oceania at the same time.
Silly questions aside, this book is highly commended. Worth re-reading again, especially if you only have read Orwell when as immature as was I.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 30, 2008 2:40:47 PM PDT
Amazon Customer says:
I am very pleased with this review because it is by someone who appreciates the way Orwell and some of the terms he introduced have been trivialized into mere brickbats to accuse political enemies. If one were to ask 1000 people who have evoked 1984 as a catchword for some modern political triviality what the book is about, I wonder how many would observe that an important theme is the nature of reality and the stability of the human mind?
Posted on Oct 8, 2008 5:31:31 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Oct 9, 2008 4:56:52 AM PDT]
Posted on Oct 8, 2008 5:33:06 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Oct 9, 2008 4:56:52 AM PDT]
Posted on Oct 26, 2008 4:36:28 PM PDT
Nazarat Man says:
Same with me. Some very good points were raised in this commentary. The book is indeed a wonderful literary work, and to observe it like that is just as important and rewarding as reading it as the political mind arouser that it is.
Posted on Jan 28, 2009 8:23:30 PM PST
Steven D. Fletcher says:
In reply to your random question: what makes you think that the war is real?
Posted on Dec 1, 2009 12:28:49 PM PST
A. J. Beach says:
"As I close, I leave you with one random question about 1984: how come it never occurs to Eastasia and Eurasia to combine against Oeania? Given that Oceania keeps flipping its allegiance from one to the other, you'd think they'd ultimately catch on and both decide to attack Oceania at the same time."
If you had read the lengthy excerpt from Goldstein's book, you would know the answer to the question. While I, too, found that part to be positively glacial in its pacing, it did serve a valuable purpose as what was perhaps the only peek throughout the entire novel at what was going on outside Oceania. All the superstates -- Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia -- are roughly identical in their governance and their populations bound by similar pressures. They have engaged in this "perpetual war" not to necessarily seize new territory (though land does pass from one owner to the next) but to consume excess goods, provide a patriotic focus for the public, and sedate the masses while keeping them in abject poverty. In effect, it's a PR move, not a political one.
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 26, 2010 5:17:44 AM PDT
Exactly, I've always understood it as neither even existed and it was just a thought control mechanism.
Posted on Nov 15, 2014 8:38:52 AM PST
Laura B. says:
The false flag mass murders of 9/11 prove that Orwell's terrible prophesy has come to pass after all.
The following was written by Winston Churchill and published in the "Illustrated Sunday Herald" on February 8, 1920.
"In violent opposition to all this sphere of Jewish effort rise the schemes of the International Jews. The adherents of this sinister confederacy are mostly men reared up among the unhappy populations of countries where the Jews are persecuted on account of their race. Most, if not all, of them have forsaken the faith of their forefathers and divorced from their minds all spiritual hopes of the next world. This movement among the Jews is not new. From the days of Spartacus-Weishaupt to those of Karl Marx, and down to Trotsky (Russia), Bela Kun (Hungary), Rosa Luxembourg (Germany), and Emma Goldman (United States), this world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality, has been steadily growing...and now at last this band of extraordinary personalities from the underworld of the great cities of Europe and America have gripped the Russian people by the hair of their heads and have become practically the undisputed masters of that enormous empire.
There is no need to exaggerate the part played in the creation of Bolshevism and in the actual bringing about of the Russian Revolution by these international and for the most part atheistic Jews..."
Google Orwell could not have been unaware of this.
I'll give you one guess who the pigs are in "Animal Farm."
"History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme."
Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth
9/11 Missing Links
Dr. Alan Sabrosky, former Director of Studies at the US Army War College
All on youtube
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