Hidden away in the Record Department of the sprawling Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith skilfully rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Yet he inwardly rebels against the totalitarian world he lives in, which demands absolute obedience and controls him through the all-seeing telescreens and the watchful eye of Big Brother, symbolic head of the Party. In his longing for truth and liberty, Smith begins a secret love affair with a fellow-worker Julia, but soon discovers the true price of freedom is betrayal.
So this is my first Orwell novel and ironically his last, and it was clogging up my to-be-read list for some time now. It seems that the majority of books I read are of the dystopian genre having read Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel, The Handmaid's Tale earlier on this month which sets the high watermark for me for this genre. I feel that Nineteen Eighty-Four isn't far behind it!
We meet the protagonist, Winston Smith a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in London- now a nation of Oceania. The Party watches him through telescreens, everywhere he goes he sees the face of the Party's "omniscient" leader known as Big Brother. The Party controls everything within the region, even the people's history and language. A new language invented called Newspeak, attempts to prevent political rebellion by getting rid of all words related to it. Thinking rebellious thoughts is also illegal, such thoughtcrime is the worst of all crimes.
What I love about reading old dystopian books is how different and unique they are. With Nineteen Eighty-Four I actually found it quite scary probably due to the fact I'm familiar with where its set- in London and Winston describing different areas of London made it easy for me to imagine.
Orwell goes into great depths of how oppressed the characters were, everything seemed silent throughout the novel so that whatever was viewed on the telescreens wouldn't be incriminating. Wherever Winston went, even at home he was being watched. I felt saddened that he was alone because of his wife leaving him, having no companionship in such an environment I can't even imagine how frustrating and lonely it could have been.
I was excited that Winston had an affair with Julia, despite me not liking her character much. She seemed awfully full of herself and proud that she had bedded so many men, although I understand that for her it was an act of rebellion against the Party to show that she couldn't be fully restrained from living. I disliked the fact she was happy to do this with more than one man, even after her telling Winston she loved him I couldn't see her truly meaning it. Again, like Winston she was seeking company from someone else to make life more bearable.
What struck me hard was how those controlling the population could manipulate mentally, by changing history records and using technology to not only keep an eye on them but to repeatedly remind them that "BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU". Suppressing people's desires and brainwashing children from the moment they start school, that leads them to betraying their own parents. It's just unimaginable and yet so believable- if that makes sense? Even convincing them of the sum 2+2=5 seemed so ridiculous and yet they really believed it to be true.
I found it clever how Orwell thought that changing the dictionary and removing words related to rebellion, would prevent a rebellion from happening- its so logical. It made me think of words that if they weren't invented, would other words replace them in time eventually? Would 'War is Peace' also mean 'Peace is War'?
What made this novel a little disappointing for me was perhaps waiting for Winston and Julia to find a way of escaping or overthrowing the Party. In realistic terms I guess this wouldn't have happened anyway, so I loved and hated that this wasn't the case. I won't spoil the ending for anyone but its what you would expect from a dystopian novel without all the heroes fighting the villains. I think that's a great comparison to old and modern day dystopian novels, the older one's tend to be a lot more realistic!
Overall I really enjoyed this novel, it brought out the "survivor" character in me. I imagined if this ever happened to me I wouldn't trust anyone, not even my own family for that matter. The historical context definitely contributes in making this novel feeling like this kind of occurrence could happen today. It brought out the dangers of totalitarianism amongst western cultures and the fear of communism at this point in time. Even Orwell naming the book "Nineteen Eighty-Four" made the readers believe that his oppression in the world could develop, and brought out a sense of fear of the people reading this book at the time.
I can't wait to read another novel from Orwell, his writing style is easy to keep up with and I enjoyed how much it made me think not just one scenario but several. All the double meanings were so clever and in a way enlightened me, and as daft as this sounds I feel a lot more wise from reading this novel haha.