1984 – George Orwell
Recently i have been tackling some of the old classics in an effort to build up my knowledge base and expose myself to a broader range of writing styles. Nineteen Eighty-Four has been on my list for quite some time now so i feel proud when finally i find myself ticking it off!
Written in 1949 depicting a dystopian future set in 1984, it tells the first hand account of Winston Smith – somewhat an unlikeable anti-hero – who is struggling to live out his existence in an oppressive societal structure. A fusion between Nazi Fascism and Stalinist Communism, Oceania (the fictional continent encompassing the Americas and Britain) is besieged from the inside out by the Thought Police and the outside in by world war with the other two heavy-weights in the world circuit (Eurasia and Eastasia) making for quite a grim world for poor old Smith to live in. When he begins to test the boundaries of what he can get away with he tumbles down the rabbit hole of political/spiritual/emotional resistance, sparking a secret romantic affair with the younger woman Julia. As he keeps telling himself throughout the bulk of the narrative, “it is only a matter of time until we are found out.”
Exploring issues of Nationalism, Sexual Repression, Censorship, Surveillance and Basic Human Rights, this science-fiction novel was like opening a time capsule to another period of time in our world’s history. When the threat of Fascism was still very much evident in the mind of the public, the future undetermined both politically and socially.
I feel this book is somewhat dated now. It is still important for it to be on the list of classics though for it is almost like a warning cry of what our society could potentially become.
I was captivated by the story of Winston and Julia although bored out of my mind when the trivialities of Ingsoc (English Socialism) was detailed so meticulously in large sections of the book. Clearly this was his greatest interest when writing this book, however, i feel it has bogged down the entire narrative in unnecessary political detail. What is so great about War Of The Worlds and many apocalyptic (ie. zombie – The Walking Dead) narratives is the personalization of the narrative. You are experiencing the effects of the environment from a fist person, visceral perspective rather than getting caught up in the entire context of the environment itself. Does it really need to be explained in such great detail? Perhaps for a scholarly, academic audience – but for the common consumer? I doubt it. I am more interested in the immediate ramifications for the characters we are sharing this journey with. That’s where the connection is, not in the political manifesto where complex jargon and wordplay dwell on the inner workings of legislation and so forth.
I feel i have got a handle on Orwell now and feel i can just skip to the animated version of Animal Farm instead of diving into his novel.
PS. I love the fact that Orwell coined the term “Big Brother Is Watching You” when we now understand this phrase through our experience of reality television.