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‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’
Winston Smith works for the Ministry of truth in London, chief city of Airstrip One. Big Brother stares out from every poster, the Thought Police uncover every act of betrayal. When Winston finds love with Julia, he discovers that life does not have to be dull and deadening, and awakens to new possibilities. Despite the police helicopters that hover and circle overhead, Winston and Julia begin to question the Party; they are drawn towards conspiracy. Yet Big Brother will not tolerate dissent – even in the mind. For those with original thoughts they invented Room 101 . . .
Nineteen Eighty-Four is George Orwell’s terrifying vision of a totalitarian future in which everything and everyone is slave to a tyrannical regime.
I think this book is better approached by an adult than a high school freshman. The philosophical undertones are much more difficult to relate to as a hopeful 14-year-old than a cynical adult. I’m glad I revisited this one.
You have three characters that really matter: Winston, Julia, and O’Brien. None of them are likable – Winston is the perfect vision of a disgruntled middle-aged man; Julia is a sex-crazed, flighty young woman; and O’Brien is a shadowy figure who is utterly deluded. While I don’t expect to like all the characters, it certainly helps to find at least one likable.
The story takes place in London, 1984. The flats have been turned into tenements and Oceania (there are three countries now – Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia) is constantly at war with… someone. Written in 1949, this story certainly gives a chill about what the world could look like 40 years in the future. With the exception of fashion choices (overalls) the world is described well enough to feel real, while leaving much to the reader’s imagination.
The dystopia element of the tale is where the book shines. A successful dystopia chooses one aspect – in this case, freedom – and threatens it to show what a future would look like if something changed this aspect. There is usually a disaster involved (war) and there is usually governmental interference (Big Brother). Winston starts as a traditional “my life sucks” kinda guy, but it’s not the first half of the story that I find impressive. It’s the second half, with the breaking of Winston. I won’t go into too much detail for those who haven’t read it, but the torture techniques are interesting (in a horrifying way) and the lack of happy ending is important. Far too many dystopias have happy endings, and that sort of defies the point.
I don’t mind Orwell’s writing style, which surprised me considering the genre and age of the book. A lot of older science fiction I personally find monotonous, but the balance of detail and directness was perfect and it didn’t drag too terribly. I think the length is perfect – if anything, it could be a little shorter. It feels a bit rushed in places, by retrospectively, I think that pacing works in the situations presented.
I still don’t love this book. I can’t get past how little I like Winston. And Julia. O’Brien is… alright, but overall I feel I need to love at least one character to love the book. I did find the philosophy of the book intriguing, especially with the current state of our country and the fear that’s running rampant… but this book didn’t live up to my expectations. I wanted it to feel revolutionary, but it felt like a small glimpse into a bigger, darker story.
The world of 1984 is scary relatable, even 60+ years later, but the characters are dull.
I first read this book as a freshman in high school in an English Honors class. I found it boring and detested it. All I remembered about the book prior to the reread was the Moment of Hate, Julia and her chocolate bar, and the fact it was an “important dystopia”. A couple years ago, I picked up a copy from ThriftBooks, determined to add it to my collection as a classic. Last month, I was suddenly overcome with the desire to revisit it.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
Some of My Favorite Quotes
“All the confessions that are uttered here are true. We make them true. And, above all, we do not allow the dead to rise up against us.”
“I think I exist,” he said wearily. “I am conscious of my own identity. I was born, and I shall die. I have arms and legs. I occupy a particular point in space. No other solid object can occupy the same point simultaneously.”
“We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull.”