So, I just finished reading 1984, by George Orwell. It is the fourth in a project I began a short while back; read as many of the formative and recent classics of the science fiction and fantasy genre. By most any standards, 1984 is a must read for the genre. From an age where science fiction was really in its nascence, I could not agree more with the assessment.
The beginning of this book starts relatively slowly. It introduces the reader to Winston, who lives in a world of totalitarianism, where the Party, led by the figurehead of Big Brother, defines and directs the lives of the citizens of Oceania. As we explore Winston’s questioning of the world order, we are gradually introduced in the results of this level of control. We don’t know the why or the how, just the net results, which in an odd way is a mirror of the Party’s control of its populace.
Winston meets Julia and begins a relationship with a kindred spirit, beginning to buck against the rules, the chafing that Big Brother and his cronies have inflicted upon them. As things progress, they diverge more and more from the fold until Winston is given the book of revolution, the manifesto of the Resistance leader, Goldberg. As Winston inducts himself into the revolutionary ideas of Goldberg, we are finally served with the world building that led to the creation of the Party and Big Brother’s control, a parallel I found quite inventive and infinitely satisfying.
Then they get caught. Big Brother’s Thought Police capture them. In a concussive and outstanding piece of literature, Winston is bombarded with physical and emotion torture that breaks his body and spirit. He is reintroduced into the collective mind of the Party, but only after a prolonged series of tortures. His resistance is broken and he accepts the system as just, as the way it should be. Without giving it away, I found the very last line of the book to be a gob-smacking finale that literally left my jaw dropped.
As is likely done, this book is compared to the current state of world affairs and the parallels that Wells draws. What I found interesting was the way this still translates into today’s current worldviews. Particularly in North America, mainstream media is bitterly divided by party lines and their politics: MSNBC and the liberal press for the Democrats and small ‘L’ liberals; Fox News and the associated right-wing media with the Republicans and small ‘C’ conservatives. What I found interesting was the relationship between the Party in 1984 and how things are portrayed. Today, both extremes are provided as fact, with sometimes completely divergent interpretations of the same events; the middle ground is often the sacrifice at the altar of truth. Heck, there are too many times where the truth is completely abandoned to further exploit a turn of phrase or a fact to fit the extreme’s narrative, something Big Brother would approve of. The selective cognizance of the past we now face n North America might as well be the equivalent as Winston’s edition of the past to fit the current narrative of the Party’s worldview. As an example, I cite the case of the US Supreme Court upholding a closely held company’s right to decide what types of birth control to fund for their employees. Here is a rather comical assessment from a Fox Host, with a definitively pendulum swung the other way response from MSNBC.
That the idea a political party could hold that much power and influence over the population, as conceived in the time Orwell’s penned the novel, is a rather profound and frightening premonition of our current state. With such an information overload through instant communications, often with the unfiltered eye and untrustworthiness of social media, the idea that people would simply follow the current, accepting their political leaders’ opinion as gospel is chilling.
Orwell doesn’t pull any punches, something I enjoyed and appreciated; the book was superb and beat any expectations I had. The info dump after Winston starts to read Goldberg was a surprise; the near thesis interpretation of the system the Party and Big Brother took me on a tangent I wasn’t expecting. To be honest, I was relived when it returned to Winston’s perspective, yet the impact of the last chapter would have been completely lacking if we had not a complete understanding of the world dynamic.
As a political science fiction novel, I was stunned and mesmerized by the execution and appreciated the complexity of the system behind the story presented herein. The novel 1984 has a definite place on my bookshelf of Classics, and a definite 10 out of 10.