I won’t be analysing Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) by George Orwell in any particular depth; it is such a rich, vast and intriguing dystopia that I couldn’t possible do it justice without writing an essay. The stories I’ve analysed so far have been rich in narrative but ultimately very short stories, whereas 1984 has so many compelling political and social aspects that make up the book. It’s also a novel that has been featured in plenty of exam curriculums over the years and one that many would have read and studied whilst at school. Anything I deduce or speculate about the book almost certainly will not be anything new, or revolutionary, or particularly interesting.
What I do want to write about is how 1984 made me feel.
It left me cold and a little depressed. It’s not an easy book to comprehend, certainly not on a single read through, yet it’s highly readable. Orwell uses a style which is both simple but filled with double meaning. It is incredibly different and such an extreme premise that forces you to keep reading, even if you’re not enjoying yourself. It is bleak and desperately hopeless.
Nothing really happens in Part 1 of 1984, and this is in part due to Orwell carefully constructing his vision of the future. We see Winston’s daily routine, his living conditions, the social norms and complete differences to life as we know it. Once the book does start to divulge into the protagonist’s personal life, and thoughts and fears and desires, and further more progresses into a sort of twisted love story, it batters your senses. Even when Winston and Julia begin to establish a connection, and a relationship, in this utterly oppressed world you can never feel comfortable or happy for them, such is the nature of Big Brother and the iron fist that he (or The Ministry of Truth) rules with. There is no escape. The inevitablilty of the final act, where Winston is caught and tortured for his thought crimes, is astonishing. There is no chance of a happy ending. Bleak; a word that kept repeating over and over in my head while I was reading the book, and that stayed in my mind even when I finished and put the book back on the shelf.
The situation becomes more chilling the more you think about it. It is heavily implied in the book that the war between the three main world powers (Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia) is not actually a war, but more a perpetual act, a charade to keep their citizens under control. It is a war in the loosest sense of the word. An agreement to continue to conflict would be more suitable. Or perhaps there is no war at all. Maybe Britain has quarantined itself from the outside, raining bombs down onto the proles to keep the fear and hatred high.
There is truth and belief contained within the picture Orwell has painted. Much of the book is the stuff of nightmares, yet when you consider the time it was was published (four years after the end of World War II) and look at certain aspects of political regimes and the role of the media at present, it becomes a frightening prediction that does not seem so far-fetched after all.
Take the situation in North Korea. As unbelievable a premise containing a government which attempts to rewrite history and brainwash its citizens may be, its happening right now in North Korea. And you will find many blog posts and articles written all over the web of people making parallels to 1984 and our current society; in particular the USA, the media, the war on terror…I won’t go into that, but the very fact the parallels are there are incredible.
And if governments and politicians can lie and deceive their populations, and more importantly, get away with it; what else can they do?
1984 isn’t a happy or uplifting read. But that much should be clear to anyone reading the first chapter, and if you have continued to read further then Orwell already has his hooks in you. You won’t be able to stop, and you won’t enjoy the ride, but it will make you think…and you certainly won’t be forgetting your time in Airstrip One any time soon.