Book Review: 1984 by George Orwell

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.

Release: 1949

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.

Non-Spoiler Review

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.

Spoiler Review

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,

Madame Writer

25 thoughts on “Book Review: 1984 by George Orwell

  1. An incredible book I thought. I get what you mean about the protagonist not being a very likeable character but I also like the idea that he is just an average person, almost a product of the nasty system in which he lives.

    Still yet to read Animal Farm though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He is a product of his world, I agree! And I think he wasn’t supposed to be likeable, so I didn’t mind not liking him. And I highly recommend Animal Farm, if you get a chance to read it!

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  2. It’s funny because I saw your review and was happy that my sister was also getting a chance to read it! I’ll be sure to pass along your review to her because it was excellent. I read it in high school but of course, with the nitpicking of each chapter it lost its luster. I decided to pick it up on my own again and found a deeper meaning to it. I love the points you make and I’m so glad you got to pick up this classic as well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I find it’s definitely different to read a book for school and then read it for fun. I actually prefer reading a book on my own, because, like you said, analyzing it in detail can lessen the enjoyment. I hope your sister finds my review helpful!

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  3. I haven’t read 1984, but I certainly heard a lot about it. A lot of things that are “literary” or written with a point in mind don’t focus on character development, sometimes to the detriment of the plot, so I can definitely see how that would be the case. Great to see a review of a classic!

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    1. Thank you! Actually, the character development was beautiful in this book, and I was happy that the character development wasn’t effected badly by the themes/messages. However, because the characters were products of their society, I didn’t like them. On one hand, I could understand them, but I also couldn’t root for them. It was a strange book to read!

      Liked by 1 person

          1. Oh I do too… I struggled with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry for exactly that reason. But I remember reading classics and modern classics at uni, and it seemed to be a common theme that the characters were unlikeable to make a point (or just underdeveloped and got somewhat lost in the author’s world).

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  4. This book is at once the most depressing and one of the greatest of all time. (Who says you have to have a happy ending?) But despite its bleakness, I don’t think it can be lumped in with its many nihilistic knock-offs or the crap produced by the ‘grimdark’ genre. These lesser works take a dim view of human nature which we (the sane) categorically dismiss, whereas 1984 is critiquing socialism, ripping the altruistic mask off the ideology and exposing its hideous totalitarian mug.

    The sexuality is creepy and mostly sad really, but the souls of the people grown up in this system have been twisted nearly out of human shape. I find it interesting to compare 1984’s sexuality with that of Huxley’s Brave New World. The latter totalitarian state’s sexuality is just as creepy but it is stamped with a hedonistic happy face.

    I believe 1984 would have been a lesser work if Orwell had not ended it as he had. There is a character arc, a progression. It’s a negative progression. The arc, one might say, is inverted. Yes, Smith is living the same dull, dominated life at the end of the book that he was living at its start, but by the end of the book, he is living it willingly. And most chillingly, he now loves Big Brother.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved reading your thoughts, and I could not agree more. Even though the book is serious, it’s so brilliantly written. It’s creepy because it’s real, unlike so many novels that came after it which try to capture it’s themes and fail miserably. I want to read Brave New World as well, and compare the two.

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  5. Great review! Thank you for reminding me of this great book!
    I almost forgot its ending. All I can remember is the creepy, disgusting, cold and hopeless atomosphere through the novel.
    I don’t like the romantic relationship either. Like what you’ve said, however, it’s understandable. According to the few dystopia novels I’ve read, relationship and sex are very functional in the novels. Generally, relationship and sex are most private, but in an abnormal society, even the most private part of life can be controlled, which is so horrible. And the authors usually use relationship, especially sex to rebel against dictatorial society where everything is controled and freedom is extremely lacked, which I suppose could partly explain why relationship and sex are really politically, ideologically functional in those novels, rather than romantic, warm and pleasant.

    Also, it’s so weird that once an idea which seems wonderful was put into practice, it was always took advantage of by some people in a horrible way, and then everything went really bad… Human is so complicated…

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  6. Interesting. I’ve read your review and the subsequent comments on this post as well.
    I really enjoyed 1984 when I read it… Like you I struggled with the “romance” (if we can even call it that) element, but I put this down to how the characters had been brought up and the fictional society in which they lived.
    However, this is the only George Orwell novel I’ve read. Reading your review has made me keen to purchase Animal Farm and read that too, so thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yes, I agree with you about the romance. Though I didn’t enjoy it, I could understand it. Both Winston and Julia were products of their society. And I hope you do get a chance to read Animal Farm, because it’s such an interesting book!

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  7. I first read 1984 for a high school assignment, but I came to love it along with his other works. This was also a time in my life where I was learning more about the rise of totalitarianism in Europe, which is what inspire Orwell to write this and Animal Farm. Orwell was a devout leftist who was disgusted by the regimes of men like Josef Stalin’s Russia. Animal Farm is in many ways an allegory about the “betrayal” of the Bolshevik Revolution by men like Stalin, and there are some hidden nods to Stalinism in 1984 as well (Emmanuel Goldstein for example is a direct allegory of Leon Trotsky, who was Stalin’s most fiercest critic). However, in today’s society where we have things like 24/7 CCTV, cameras on every street corner, and political correctness, 1984 can be applied to just about every authoritarian ideology.

    If you ever read Orwell again, I would suggest reading his book Homage to Catalonia, which is about his time serving in the Spanish Civil War with the International Brigades. Many of the same themes found in 1984 and Animal Farm can be found there, and it’s easy to tell how his experiences like those in Spain and during the World Wars affected his view on politics and society.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Homage to Catalonia. I’ve never heard of that book. I’ll have to check it out. Thank you for the recommendation. And, yes, as I talked about in my review, one of the most interesting thing about this book is it’s similarity to Stalin’s Russia (and the modern day). I didn’t know Orwell was a leftist, but I suppose the word ‘leftist’ has changed definitions since he was around. After all, Stalin was leftist too and the two men had extremely different ideologies. But 1984 was an interesting book to read and I want to read more books by Orwell.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I guess I should qualify: Orwell generally frequented left-leaning circles and even called himself a socialist at one point. But things like his experiences in the Spanish Civil War and the direction Stalin took Russia made him sour towards the ideologies. He never did a complete 180 politically, but he just disliked how others in his sphere made excuses for Stalin and the like.

        Homage to Catalonia is a great book, and it’s very different from a lot of his other works. I used it a lot in my research when I wrote my Spanish Civil War novel, as it provides an insider’s look at the war and all the political complexities behind it. Hope you enjoy it, whenever you get to read it!

        Liked by 3 people

  8. I did Animal Farm for school and liked both the story and the message behind it.
    Somehow I never managed to read 1984 despite the fact that it is quoted more often.
    Thanks for the in depth review. Now I know that I probably won’t like it so I won’t ibother

    Liked by 1 person

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