June 19, 2012

Book: Nineteen Eighty Four (1984) by George Orwell

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:40 pm

You have heard of Tony Blair but have you heard of Eric Arthur Blair? No? Nor had I until about a month ago. I would have, like you probably would, said that I know nothing about the latter. But if someone told me that Eric Arthur Blair is the real name of George
Orwell, then suddenly you do know a lot about that man!

It is interesting to see that he was born in India, that he fought for the Republicans in Spain and was wounded in the war. It is also
interesting to note that he wrote his two most famous novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four after he went technically mentally unstable – in fact just before his death.

George Orwell was admitted briefly into a Sanatorium in 1938. He was discharged shortly thereafter “but never really recovered” according to most sources.

His Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four are both brilliant critiques of the communist or socialist regimes and tell the story of the
extremes to which this thinking can lead, if taken to their extreme logical conclusion. (To see a real world example of what an extremely idealistic implementation can do to people, read `Pol Pot: A History of a Nightmare‘ by Phillip Short reviewed earlier here.

This book is such a classic that many of the terminology has passed into common lore like NewSpeak, Big Brother, and ThoughtCrime, just to name a few things.

The story follows the life of Winston Smith. He is stuck in a “future” society in 1984, where Big Brother sees everything and there are telescreens in every house and every place, and every member of the family has been turned into potential spies who can rat on their own family members. The child bearing and rearing is a planned activity, and you are even taught how to think by eliminating all undesirable words from English and turning it into NewSpeak. For example, if there is really no word in the language for rebellion, how can you even think of it, let alone plan and execute it?

And all countries in the World are combined into three Mega States, called Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. These mega states are perpetually at war with each other, alliances changing by the day.

Even showing displeasure by face (a grimace or insufficient happiness at a news being telecast) can land you in prison or cost you your

All Ministries have been named according to NewSpeak Principles: MiniPlenty is the Ministry of Agriculture (where there is always shortage of food), MiniPeace is Ministry of War, IngSoc is the new version of English Socialism, MiniLove is the Ministry of Punishment and so on.

The narration is chilling. One can see why it is a classic. The language is exquisite and the story flows smoothly from scene to scene. The attention to detail is amazing and really transports you into the place and “time” to give you a real feel for the story.

In the midst of all these chaos, Winston manages to cheat a little by buying a diary from an unregulated area (a crime) and recording his thoughts on it (a bigger crime). When he realizes that there is an attractive girl called Julia who seems to think like him, and what is more, there are fellow employees (like, for instance, O’Brien) who dare to think that the existing system is wrong, he contacts them at a great risk to himself. He even manages to hire a hideaway apartment, away from the cameras and meets Julia there.

The first part of the book is about Hope, which builds on his discoveries and creates an atmosphere of resistance, giving hope that one can take on established order, however much it imposes controls on the society at large.

He learns the truth about the supposedly evil resistance leader called Goldstein. He discovers that there is a quiet hatred against
the suppressive regime.

The second part of the book is about the Disappointment, where his plans go awry, and he discovers what happens to the people who dare to resist the ideology in place. This part is brilliantly narrated as well. In fact, the despair, the hopelessness introduced by the regimen, the dirigisme in almost every walk of life, and the lack of even moving space in daily life, is all brought out by the colour and texture of description, rather than in so many words.

You know why it is a classic when you read it, and it carries you along effortlessly in its flow, a hallmark of truly great writing.

It sounds exaggerated in many places but that is the whole point of the story. It is a satire told in a very somber mood.

I would give it a 8/10

— Krishna


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