Pros: Makes you think, for sure.
Cons: Slow pace; an obvious outlet for exposition by Orwell; discouraging ending.
The Bottom Line: If society ever bans or rations chocolate, I'm going to riot. Who's with me?
I’d first heard about Nineteen Eighty-Four in college. People commented on how good it was, how close our society was coming to the one in the book, how impressive it was for Orwell to create something that resonates so soundly, even today.
When I had to choose five novels to read for my graduate term, I made a point to put this one on the list. I wanted to see what was so great about it. In fact, I was excited to finally read it. I was expecting something along the lines of Fahrenheit 451 or even The Giver. Not quite.
The year is 1984. Or at least, that’s what the Party says it is. Winston lives in a world where Big Brother is always watching you; telescreens put up in rooms can observe and listen to just about everything that goes on in your home. Winston’s job is to falsify information of the past, so that the Party is always right. Sex should be joyless. War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. But Winston doesn’t believe in these things. He’s staring to think down with Big Brother, and when a girl hands him a piece of paper that says “I love you” he finally makes some decisions he knows will ultimately lead to his death.
You’ve been plopped into a futuristic setting almost similar to that of V for Vendetta (if you’ve seen that movie). Nothing is truly illegal, but if you do something the Party doesn’t like, you’re vaporized. You never existed. I went into this book thinking something was going to change, even on a small scale. I was disappointed. No, I’m not saying Winston was killed or something, but while in other dystopian novels I’ve read at least the hero has some semblance of a decent ending to his story, there is none here.
As you read, you may find yourself bored at times. Much of this novel is Winston thinking, considering, and going over memories that in some ways have nothing to do with everything else that is going on (at least not that I could see – if someone wants to enlighten me, please do). The rest of the action is Winston at work, moving from place A to place B, and hanging out with the girl, Julia. At one point you even end up reading a part of a book that Winston is reading, which is nothing more than expository writing that, while it does have some interesting information, can begin to drag. Even when something finally does happen near the end, you get a lot of dialogue that is essentially rhetoric.
Now I know what Orwell was trying to do when he wrote this. I’m sure pretty much everyone does. He was already ticked at his present with the class divisions and control certain levels had over others. This book amplifies that to a frightening degree, and the scary part is that some countries freaked out and banned this book because of its political implications, among other reasons. Well, I got mine at a library not too long ago so I think the U.S. is still okay.
Despite the way the book is constructed, as well as the fact that the ending is a huge letdown and quite depressing (though you can look at what some critics have said about the appendix that deals with a language called Newspeak in the book, and get some lighter feelings about things that way), it is good ad evokes plenty of emotions in you. You automatically rebel against the things presented, such as constant monitoring, the robotic manner in which people live, the suppression of sex and the use of all that pent up frustration to be transformed into hatred (and holy crap does that remind me of Jim Breuer and his reason why terrorists are so angry! Haha!), and so forth.
This is a book I think you should read on your own time as opposed to being assigned to, mostly in cases like kids in high school. It’s not for everyone and I can easily see high school kids throwing their books and yelling “Down with Big Brother!” I mean, it would be rather ironic for this book to become canon, you know? Either way, it’s bound to get your juices flowing and you’ll want to start up a conversation with a friend about government/class control. And that’s a good thing.
Originally published on Epinions.com.