George Orwell (real name Eric Blair) is one of those authors that I have an overwhelmingly positive view of, even though I’ve only read one of his books: Animal Farm. He wrote during a time where there was universal upheaval around the world. He was born in 1903 and died in 1950, which means he lived through both world wars. Many of his stories, while they are technically fiction, are metaphorical and examine real political and psychological problems happening in the world during his life. They are also, many might argue, also relevant to things happening in politics today.
Even though I grew up constantly hearing about this book, and the multiple phrases coined for this book which are used in modern society today (Big Brother, the Thought Police, etc.), I actually knew very little about the plot and story itself. A couple months ago, I happened across a copy of this at the Goodwill and finally sat down to read it.
And, to be honest, I finished the book with very mixed feelings.
Synopsis: Winston Smith lives in a very different London. Big Brother listens to everyone, regulating what people think, say, and do, with the Thought Police arresting anyone who dares to have a unique thought. But Winston feels a sense of rebellion, and as he digs deeper into true history and the current state of the world, he meets Julia, falls in love, and ultimately must face his deepest fears.
There are many things to love about this book: the fascinating world, the connection to real-life society, and the psychological examination of different characters. But, to be honest, there were many times in this book where I hated it. I didn’t like the romance, and Winston (though a product of his society) isn’t an extremely likeable protagonist. Unlike some reviews I read, I didn’t mind the unhappy ending or the cynical outlook on society. In fact, those were my favorite parts. But the ending did leave me unsatisfied, which I’ll get into it further in my spoiler section.
My least favorite part of this book was its weird examination of sexuality. In this society, sex is used purely as a baby-making machine and affection and love is discouraged. When Winston meets Julia (who passes him a note one day which merely says, “I love you”), he becomes more obsessed with the passion of the relationship and less of the care and sacrifice of love. Meaning, their relationship is highly unhealthy, though I can’t really blame them considering the world they’ve grown up in. But any scene with their budding romance was a scene I hated.
Many of the characters, outside of Julia and Winston, we don’t actually learn that much about. This is probably because this is a society which doesn’t encourage personal interactions of any kind, and in fact forbids it. Every kind of relationship is very shallow. It reminded me of social media a bit. How we put shallow relationships above real, meaningful ones (of course, ours is by choice and not be force, unlike in this book).
Learning about the world, though, is the most interesting thing about this book. England is now part of a larger country called “Oceania,” which is constantly at war (either with Eurasia or Eastasia). Society is ruled by a totalitarian party, which persecutes free speech and individuality (which is so true to current American politics that it’s creepy). The only speech allowed is “Newspeak” and even history is changed to agree with what the ruling government wants (which is also eerily relevant, considering so many history books lie about certain historical facts to follow an agenda). Only what the government says is right, and facts no longer exist.
This is a terrifying view of the world, and one which is surprisingly relevant and closer to reality than I want to admit. I’m not going to get into current politics in this review, however, so let’s move on.
The main thing I wanted to know more about is how the top of the system works. Because we see everything from Winston’s perspective, we don’t learn a lot of things. For example, is there one dictator of Oceania or is it a group of ruling people? Will the rebellion win ever, or is it doomed? And what about the Americas? Are they part of Oceania? Or are they separate? So many questions about the bigger story, outside of Winston’s narrative, were never answered.
So, in the end, Winston is captured and tortured by the Thought Police until he succumbs and becomes a lemming like everyone else around him. He and Julia hate each other now.
I didn’t hate this ending, but it also didn’t resolve anything. We start the story with Winston going through a boring life, and we end it with the same. Nothing has changed or been resolved. The story is more an examination of the world and less of a story progression. The only difference is that, by the end, Winston no longer wishes to rebel (because of the brainwashing during his torture) and is content in his life. If he has a thought against Big Brother, he immediately puts it out of his mind as a “false memory.”
I prefer stories where there is more character growth, and I didn’t see it in this one. The story, instead, is more of a warning against letting this happen to our world. But as a story, for me, it wasn’t as good as I was hoping.
Have you read this book? Or have any views about it? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,