Book Review: 1984 by George Orwell

1964

Rating: B/ Good, but over-rated. Those are the words I’d use to describe George Orwell’s hugely influential dystopian novel, 1984. There’s plenty of bright spots here, and many moments of  brilliance, but parts of this book can be hard to read due to heavy info-dumping and scenes that hit you over the head with it’s themes. It’s definitely worth reading, to ponder, as well as to see what all the fuss was about, but it definitely pales compared to Fahrenheit 451, one of my favorite books.

If you do read it (which you should, definitely) I’d highly recommend skimming the ninth chapter, which is incredibly dry. Other than occasional interminable passages and a torture-slash-‘killer talks’ scenes that goes on forever (it was not the torture, which was crucial to the story, that bothered me so much as the villain’s tendency to ramble on and on for pages while he was torturing the protagonist,)  1984 is very much worth your time and energy.

It’s extremely well-written, imaginative, and while it is almost unrelentingly bleak, there is a method behind the madness. Orwell knows what he is doing, though some of the elements of the story seem dated/ don’t hold up. Winston Smith isn’t your typical science fiction hero. In fact, he’s not much of a hero at all, except in the sense that he drives the plot forward.

A office drone and beleaguered resident of the dystopian society Oceania, Winston tries his best to think for himself in a mass of mindless brainwashed morons. He is a small, quiet man with a varicose ulcer who tries to keep his violent urges, particularly against women, who he dislikes, in check. He doesn’t really seem to have any friends and he enjoys his work of destroying old records and thus ‘rewriting the past,’ all for the personal gain of the government, although he doesn’t agree with society’s systematic brainwashing of the entire population.

The residents of Oceania are kind of like sheep, or horses with blinders. And a good thing too, the people who think for themselves always manage to disappear and are erased from history as if they never existed. The city of futuristic London is surrounded by telescreens that pick up on it if you look at someone wrong, and people place all their trust in Big Brother, a public figure who might or might not exist. Winston bucks the system and engages in an affair with the coquettish Julia (I don’t know what she sees in him, but I’m telling you, that girl’s a player) thus setting into motion a series of perhaps inevitable disasters.

The dystopia which Orwell created is supposed to be based on Soviet Russia, a supposedly idyllic society where everything is allegedly shared yet great divides exist, and apparently there are no laws, though people go missing for making the slightest misstep. I’m no expert on these things, but you don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy this book. The best part? The five minutes hate, easily. Classic.

There are definitely some things in this book that are cringe-worthy at best, appalling at worst and would not fly today (Winston admits to Julia that he fantasized about raping and murdering her and contemplated smashing her head with a rock and she laughs- just before having sex with him!) though the female character Julia is also pretty progressive for the most part, bucking the system and doing what she likes (at least until her and Winston’s inevitable downfall), and being good at building and fixing things with her hands (this seems not to be considered by Orwell to be an ‘unladylike’ pursuit, but is simply an extension of her character, which is in of itself promising.)

Simply put, Winston is more of a thinker, Julia is more of a doer, although Julia certainly isn’t a dumb broad without a thought in her head either, at least compared to the astonishingly stupid general populace of Oceania. They make an odd couple, united more by boredom and loathing of the system than anything, which makes Winston’s final defining act of cowardice sad, but believable. Although it is mostly a very bleak and depressing read, 1984 is not without it’s moments of humor, albeit of the dark variety. Anyone who likes Dystopian fiction and wants to know where half these kinds of books got their ideas needs to read this novel.

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