Jan 17, 2012

[Books] 1984

1984 is definitely high up on that list of "must-read science fiction" for many people, and is often used as required reading in schools around the world. And now that I've finally read it - and I'm somewhat ashamed to admit I had not read it prior, I can totally appreciate why it is considered such a landmark piece of literature by any convention. It's one of those amazing stories that defies temporal restraints given its timeless message and powerful manner of presenting these themes and ideas to the reader.

I can't explain why it took me so long to get around this book. One reason or another delayed me and prioritized other books first. But it wasn't until I had picked up a copy of Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 that I finally had a solid reason to read the book first. With Murakami's work meant as a grand homage to this Orwellian classic, it seemed only appropriate that I first read the inspiring material before moving on to Murakami's latest work of genius.

And what an adventure it has been, to say the least. The story isn't over long but it's certainly very rich and extremely thought-provoking. And perhaps a wee bit traumatic, even as a book.

1984 is a science fiction dystopian novel written by George Orwell and published in 1949. Many of the terms and concepts introduced in this book have already entered modern vocabulary and the book has been repeatedly adapted into other media including movie and television shows and has inspired quite a number of other books covering dystopian futures.

The world of 1984 is very different from our own. There are now three superstates that dominate the world - Oceania, which is roughly Britain, Australia, South Africa and the Americas; Eurasia, which is Russia and Eastern Europe; and finally Eastasia, which is pretty much China and a few nearby territories. Our story takes place in a province known as Airstrip One, which is pretty much where London used to be. It's a harsh totalitarian society where almost every facet of life is strictly controlled and monitored and all is done in order to support the Party and Big Brother, the Party leader.

At the center of our story is Winston Smith, member of the Outer Party, who works at the Ministry of Truth. As ironic as it sounds, his job is to edit past publications in order to align them with current facts such as changing details in newspapers or even reference titles. No books are sacred from this process as no evidence must exist of Big Brother or the Party ever being in the wrong. And while for the most part he tows the Party line, he can't help but harbor some doubts about what they do and how the entire regime operates.

Everything changes when another Ministry employee, whom he later learns to be Julia, manages to slip him a note with three words - I LOVE YOU. Now Winston is faced with unraveling the mystery of Julia, figure out his own feelings about the matter and the whole time continue to avoid detection by the Thought Police.

English: Big Brother Orwell "1984" i...
Image via Wikipedia
The book, despite its relative brevity, is a rather intense and amazing read. Orwell masterfully weaves not just an entirely new world, but one with its own language (Newspeak) and a whole host of other differences that makes Oceania far different from Britain or any other country today. The regime of Big Brother is all encompassing, which systems of monitoring and control built into every telescreen, street corner and perhaps even city park. It takes a particular scope of vision to come up with something like this - a world so complete in terms of its details that the entire picture is significantly staggering and frightening.

And to walk through this world through the eyes of Winston is an interesting one. He raises the most basic of questions - things we would probably ask ourselves had we been in his position. And yet those same questions have staggering implications that will ripple outwards in terms of the narrative. He's not some classic hero who is going to challenge the established social order in some grand way. Instead he's really just a man who's trying to get through life as best as he can and yet struggles with these ideas and realizations of the Party's inconsistencies that continue to eat away at him.

The only other Orwell book that I had read before this one was naturally Animal Farm, which had been part of my required readings in high school. From a point of comparison, you can see that Orwell's understanding of the underlying political philosophies behind governments remains rather keen and definitely impressive. He has a clear case to make her - one against totalitarianism and to some extent socialism / communism as he presents a world that has no ambition, no inspiration and no creativity. Instead everyone is just getting by, living in a world crafted by elaborate lies that just continue to weave more and more complex tapestries of false history to support itself.

I won't go into too much detail when it comes to all the little facets of Orwell's 1984 world - you can always read the Wikipedia entry for that sort of stuff. What is interesting to note, as if everything prior to this did not interest me, is the fact that reading the book really helps you appreciate how much modern science fiction has borrowed concepts and themes from this single title. Orwell quite literally wrote the book on the futuristic totalitarian regime such that the term Orwellian does refer to a cultures and society's the resemble the government of Big Brother. The all-knowing surveillance force that gives fuel to the actual Though Police enforcers, the control of information through revisionism and all these other things were presented altogether in this one book.

I will warn you now that this isn't some happy little book. It's very serious and it was clearly written to educate the reader to some degree of literary trauma or pain. But it does so in a rather elegant manner with an eye for detail that seems to defy the fact it was conceptualized in 1948.

1984 is indeed a must-read for any science fiction fan. If you really want to understand where a lot of the great comic book writers, movie makers and TV show writers got their ideas, many times you're going to end up right back at this book. Thus the novel clearly gets 5 insane events that take place during the 2 Minutes of Hate of out a possible 5.

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