See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.
(Contains spoilers, if you wish to read this unspoilt, look away now!)
The year is 1984, and thirty-nine year old Winston Smith has just committed a thought crime. Hiding from the ever watching and listening telescreen in his home, Winston begins to write in a dairy describing the thoughts that could get him killed by the government: his hatred of Big Brother, the knowledge that news stories and facts are being altered, and that poverty exists despite everything the Party would have people believe. Soon Winston begins looking for the rebellion he desperately hopes is out there, and begins an affair with young woman called Julia, would hates the Party as much as himself and uses sex as an act of defiance. Hiding from the Thought Police, Winston and Julia both know that their days are numbered, before they are discovered and removed from all existence – no-one can hide from the Party forever…
The original dystopia novel, 1984 is a great example of a dictatorship who has taken control so fully they don’t even need to be subtle about their actions against their people. Winston is in the fairly unique position of working for the Party in the Ministry of Truth, thus being able to see how they alter news given to the public, but is not high up enough to be exempt from the hash realities of the country, like rations and living under constant surveillance. 1984 questions the nature of reality through Winston’s struggles to deal with the knowledge of the facts he changes, whilst also pretending that he never saw them and swallow everything the Party says as truth. What exactly is reality? Does your reality differ from other peoples’, especially if they believe in a different past than you? The Party’s motto “he who controls the present controls the past, he who controls the past controls the future” is true, as they use their power to manipulate the public getting them to believe whatever they say, and through this ensure the public’s loyalty to the government. Struggling with questions like this and knowing you can’t think them without being hunted down by your own government, it’s easy to understand why Winston throws himself into his relationship with Julia, even knowing that it would almost certainly get him killed. The character of Julia is also an example of a common stereotype, especially in young people - the rebel who doesn’t know exactly what they are rebelling against as they can’t be bothered to fully educate themselves. They just know that the government is evil, and believes that everything they say is “bloody rot".
This novel is excellent in providing a terrifying example of what the world could become. With increases in CCTV cameras and surveillance through technology like GPS in smartphones, it’s easy to see why 1984 is often referenced by people when talking about how much we are being watched by the powers that be. This in itself earns the novel four stars in my eyes. However, upon finishing the novel my first thought was “well, that was depressing!”. After all that Winston goes through, discovering a man he thought was his friend was actually working for the Party, he and Julia being arrested by the Thought Police, Julia betraying him, and being tortured until he “loved Big Brother”, the only options left to Winston were to either become indoctrinated or die. Though indoctrination is the only way for George Orwell to keep his character alive, and to show the absolute power of the government, in the end this message was almost too depressing to read, and left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
Since this is such a difference in feelings between these two aspects in the novel, I’m cheating with my ratings here. As a comment on the power the government can have over its people and would life could be life if we’re not careful, this novel is excellent. As a novel about characters rebelling and trying to find peace, it is just plain depressing.
Intellectual Rating: 4 stars
Emotional Rating: 2 stars