Friday, May 12, 2017

Nineteen Eighty-Four

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) is a thought-provoking dystopia by George Orwell set in the year of it's title.

It tells the story of two members of a society that aim to fight back against the repressive and overbearing governmental regime they live under.  It has proved to stand the test of time, and disturbingly, many of the terms and concepts that Orwell coined have resurged in our culture and are applicable today.  Examples of this phenomenon include things like the "thought police", "big brother", etc.

I had really high hopes for this story, because I really like political science, and am obviously not a fan of totalitarian governments, so I was enthused by the idea of a story about characters sort of rejecting this idea.
Image result for 1984 book cover

Overall, I thought the story was pretty good.  The world that it occurred in was probably the best part, and the characters and their specific story faded a bit into the background just for me because I was trying to absorb all the intricacies of the world they were in.

The characters and their unique story stood out more in 1984 than they did in A Brave New World for sure though.  I particularly adored the ending of the book, which has just a glorious twist.  Minor spoiler alert, but the ending is not a positive one.  I think this ending really drives the point that the story was trying to drive home.  If Winston had just been able to reject Big Brother and everything, then it makes Big Brother not seem like a relevant threat, if anyone can just shake him off.  Surely if Winston can do it, we can too?  But seen, Winston can't.  And that's the best part because it makes everything more desperate in the story.

I also liked the rumors of Goldstein, who (I was proud that I caught on very early after his introduction) clearly resembles Jesus and may even be a direct metaphor.  It says he was
"engaged in counterrevolutionary activities, had been condemned to death, and had mysteriously escaped and disappeared", "It [Goldestein's] was a Jewish face [...] it resembled the face of a sheep, and the voice, too, had a sheeplike quality [...] he was advocating freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of thought [...] But what was strange was that although Goldstein was hated and despised by everybody, although every day, and a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in the newspapers, in books, his theories were refuted, smashed ridiculed, held up to the general gaze for the pitiful rubbish that they were--in spite of this, his influence never seemed to grow less [...] There were also whispers of stories of a terrible book, a compendium of all the heresies, of which Goldstein was the author and which circulated clandestinely here and there.  It was a book without a title.  People referred to it simply as the book..." (12-13)

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A counterrevolution sounds just like Jesus' mission to kind of quietly revolt against the past pagan ideologies and evil practices going on in the ancient world and to turn everyone away from that kind of thing.  He obviously was condemned to death and did mysteriously escape through his resurrection.

Of course, Jesus was Jewish, and he is The Lamb Of God, so it would make sense that Winston visualizes Goldstein's face as rather sheeplike.  He advocates all the freedoms of the Western world that sprang up from a Christian sentiment in almost the exact same language they are in the U.S. Constitution.

It is very true that Christianity and Jesus in particular are hated by a lot of the world and people desperately try to foil his theories and claim they hate him, and yet his span of influence is great.

The "compendium of all the heresies" written by Goldstein without a title, just called "the book" which is what Bible means (the books) is a thinly veiled reference.

As much as I relate with authors like Tolkien about not liking allegory or direct metaphors, I adore picking apart little phrases and piecing together what or who an author is referencing.

I also like how "'Mrs.' was a word somewhat discountenanced by the Party--you were supposed to call everyone 'comrade" (20).  I like this inclusion because it definitely hearkens back to Soviet Russia and conjures up some ideas of dictatorship and totalitarianism.

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This story reminds of V for Vendetta which is a great film which you would probably like if you liked 1984.  It's quality and stars Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman.

George Orwell is really good at hinting at the awful quality of things without showing his hand.  He builds the suspense so that your mind creates the most awful thing it can imagine without his having to give you certainty of what it is.  I always say that the unknown is far more frightening, and he showcases this ability in the following passage:

"Do anything to me!' he yelled.  'You've been starving me for weeks.  Finish it off and let me die.  Shoot me.  Hang me.  Sentence me to twenty-five years.  Is there somebody else you want me to give away?  Just say who it is and I'll tell you anything you want.  I don't care who it is or what you do to them.  I've got a wife and three children.  The biggest of them isn't six years old.  You can take the whole lot of them and cut their throats in front of my eyes, and I'll stand by and watch it.  But not Room 101!" (237)

I recommend 1984.  It's very culturally relevant, it's a spur for conversation, and it is well written.

Here are some of my favorite quotes I saved as I read:

"He fell asleep murmuring 'Sanity is not statistical,' with the feeling that this remark contained in it a profound wisdom." (218)

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"War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength." (4)

"There is no possibility that any perceptible change will happen within our own lifetime.  We are the dead.  Our only true live is in the future.  We shall take part in it as handfuls of dust and splinters of bone.  But how far away that future may be, there is no knowing.  It might be a thousand years.  At present nothing is possible except to extend the area of sanity little by little.  We cannot act collectively.  We can only spread our knowledge outwards from individual to individual, generation after generation.  In the face of the Thought Police, there is no other way.' [...] 'To the confusion of the Thought Police?  To the death of Big Brother?  To humanity?  To the future?' 'To the past,' said Winston.  'The past is more important,' agreed O'Brien gravely." (176)

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