I participated in 2 swaps this month that ended up having me read George Orwell’s 1984. The first was called “Pick My Next Read” and the second was one where the genre changes each month. This month? Dystopias.
Originally, I was going to read The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau for the dystopia swap. However, it got close to the send by date, and I hadn’t even cracked the cover of it. I’d been tasked with reading a combo novel of Animal Farm & 1984 for the other swap, and so I am going to end up using 1984 for both. Sorry for being lazy.
Ultimatey, I can sum up my review of 1984 (and to a lesser extent, Animal Farm) this way:
Okay, that’s not the entire review. There’s a lot of anti-Communist commentary in 1984. To be fair, when the novel was written, 1949, the world had just come out of a major war, and the United States and the Soviet Union were starting their Cold War as a result. War was on everyone’s mind, as well as Communism. And from what I could read, Orwell was a Marxist, which was more socialist than communist.
1984 is written in such a way that you can’t help but notice it’s communist. Everyone calls everyone “Comrade”, property isn’t owned by anyone, and everything that’s accomplished is implied, or outright stated, to be for the good of the Party. Also, the Party members have a class to look down upon, the “proles.” Also, a piece I found telling, is that almost no one living in Oceania remembers what life was like before “The Revolution.” That means that it’s nearly impossible for an average person to determine if life really is better than it was pre revolution.
I didn’t enjoy 1984. The last part is a slog. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Winston Smith is a boring everyman in Oceania, with a job he doesn’t like. He spends his days re-writing speeches, articles, and other bits of information to make Big Brother, and the Party, look like they’re accurately predicting the future. In the event the ever lasting war changes, and Oceania switched from fighting Eastasia to Eurasia (or vice versa), Winston and his colleagues have days of editing and rewriting ahead of them.
Winston remembers things that have changed such as when Oceania was at was with Eastasia, and a newspaper clipping that provides an alibi for three men who were later executed for war crimes they confessed to. He hates that the Party wants all the news redacted and made current, he hates the 2 Minutes Hate, and he thinks he can’t be the only one.
The rest of the book details his desires to rebel against the Party, afraid of what happens when he rebels, and how his relationship with Julia, another Party member, goes. Winston wants to rebel, and join the rebellion, and eventually finds a way.
And then the book falls apart. To be fair, it’s a boring book. Most of the book takes place in Winston’s head, or in his apartment, where he writes in a diary, even though it’s not expressly permitted. We get a small glimpse of his life at work, including what he does, a glimpse into lunch at the cafeteria, a glimpse into rations, a morning exercise routine where he’s called out to show he’s being watched, doublethink going on, crimethink, and a little bit about Big Brother, but ultimately the bulk of it is Winston’s musings.
The last section of the book starts Winston reading a book, and rather than paraphrase it, or anything useful like that, we get the book. We only get chapters 1 and 3, but they’re boring. And they’re a slog to get through, because it’s big paragraphs of texts that read like a textbook on communism, socialism, or another sort of social doctrine. I ended up skipping big chunks of it.
And then, the last part is torturous, both to Winston and to the reader. I’ll skip the details, but Winston undergoes an ordeal that’s not pleasant, for him, or for us to read about. All it does is reinforce that The Party and Big Brother are going to make sure no one’s ever happy, and no one ever wants to rebel.
The end of the book has Winston sitting in a cafe, drinking gin and trying to puzzle out some chess moves, a completely different person than he was before. I know it’s to portray that in Oceania, there’s no escaping Big Brother, but it’s such a downer ending. I think it would be better if he had died, because at least then you could be assured he was free. No such luck.