The last time I started reading this book, I left it incomplete. Now, I finally finished reading it, and in retrospect, I can’t remember why I left it back then in the first place. 1984 is a dystopian novel by George Orwell. It was published in 1949, and mainly, it is a political book about the post-war world.
The book is set in the future, in 1984. The geography of this world is different from ours with three superpowers – Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. These states are constantly in war with each other. Oceania is ruled by a political group simply known as The Party. Apart from the inner members and outer circle members of the party, everyone else is proles, who live in poverty and mostly ignored. The people here live under constant surveillance, conform to rules, and pledge complete loyalty to Big Brother (Head of The Party).
Winston Smith is a member of the outer party who works in the Ministry of Truth. He is a talented writer, but his job is to edit news articles to fit the ideals of the Party. Winston is the protagonist of the story and we see his world through his eyes. He is often described as frail and quiet, but he is curious and introspective. Winston starts maintaining a diary in which he writes his true thoughts about the world he lives in, which is a punishable offense. He imagines he is writing it for an inner member who is secretly against The Party, named O’Brien. Winston has an affair with Julia; their desire for each other is also like a rebellion.
This book is a commentary against communism because Orwell was worried about Stalin’s USSR and how other countries were turning a blind eye to it. The atmosphere created in the book where the Party doesn’t want people to have any individuality, and the focus is on collective identity. There is a branch called the Thought Police, who keeps an eye out for people who think in unorthodox ways or might rebel. These people are taken away by the Thought Police for committing thoughtcrimes.
This book was written more than 70 years ago, yet it is significant even today. The constant surveillance of people in the story is eerie, but it is also a concept we can relate to in our society. There is a reality that has been created and controlled by the Party. The rewriting of history to show how things are better under their rule, news that is edited to match Party ideologies; it is like a propaganda machine shaping your reality. As you read, you realize the political connotations throughout the story, and it is reminiscent of the Soviet Union and Nazi era.
There are many aspects of the story that surprised me. Winston and Julia are meeting in secret. They start going to a room above a shop where Winston bought the diary. Winston believes that proles are their only hope for a revolution against the Party. The lovers are practically led to a trap by the people they trusted who turned out to be members of the Thought Police. Desire, love, and loyalty should only be for The Party and the Big Brother which Winston accepts at the end.
Some aspects of the book are disturbingly similar to our reality. The surveillance of people, certain specific narratives of history or narratives by the media, and even the propagandas to some extent. These are the concepts that are familiar to us today though not to the level shown in the story. Political undertones are throughout the story, and it is a known fact that George Orwell was against totalitarian and communist ideologies. It took some time for me to get into the story especially at the beginning. Once the setting and the world of the story was established; it changed the pace of the plot. The story is told from a third-person omnipresent narrative, but the focus in on Winston. The character of Winston is introspective, so that helped me understand the gravity of the situation.
I don’t know I kept the book aside that first time because 1984 is a wonderful book. I wasn’t sure about it when I started reading it, but it gets interesting, and then you can’t wait to find out what happens next. It gets a little disturbing and heavy, but that adds to the plot. It has relevance in today’s world, and in a way, it is eye-opening. It is a must read.
*Get a copy by clicking on the image above.