Review: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

“Being in a minority, even in a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”
― George Orwell, 1984

When a book is so well-referred and famous, I tend to be a bit reluctant to give it a go. 1984 was one of those books that I chose to ignore for years. Moreover, knowing that the book talks about social issues in a dystopian setting makes me even less interested. The past two years, however, this book became a trending topic since Trump was elected. Many made references to Orwell’s ideas from his book to Trump’s government. Even that did not make me pick up the book. Somehow, political situations both international and in my home country tire me, and reading a book about social injustice was the last thing I wanted to do.

However, when I was given the book, the smart designed Penguin edition, I decided that I would read it soon. I’d been avoiding 1984 and now 1984 came to me.  So, I opened the book, read the first page, and could not stop reading it. I finished it satisfied. I felt that I had paid my debt and I gained something, now I know why this book is important.

Winston Smith is a 39-year-old man who lives a lonely life. He doesn’t have anyone and he is constantly in fear of his own thoughts. He feels that he will be executed if people can read his mind and he knows that they can read his mind. After work, he avoids television because that is how the government spies on the people, he hides in a little alcove and he secretly writes his thoughts in a diary he got illegally. This is his thoughts: he doesn’t believe in the government and he believes that the government has been deceiving the people. He is against the leader of the party and he is sure history has been altered to fit the present situation. He knows life wasn’t like this before and that people’s freedom was taken from them. His frustration is getting bigger as he realises that he’s alone in feeling this way. Everyone else, his friends (or comrades), his neighbours, his neighbours’ children, do not feel the way he feels. Is he crazy?

“I hate purity, I hate goodness! I don’t want virtue to exist anywhere. I want everyone to be corrupt to the bones.”
― George Orwell, 1984

This sounds like a premise of a story of someone who suffers from schizophrenia, however, what happens to Winston is real. London does not belong to Great Britain anymore, it is now part of Oceania. Oceania (this is what it’s called after the US took over the country) is always at war with Eastasia and Eurasia. The war has been going on for almost fifty years and people have lost reasons for why they are always in war. The younger generations don’t have knowledge of their country before it became Oceania. Everything about the past has been changed by the government and they really take the effort and time to do it. Winston knows because he works for the ministry.

“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”
― George Orwell, 1984

Reading this after my stay in London made me sad. People in London in the book, even Winston, don’t know what pubs are, don’t recognise famous landmarks such as St.Martin-in-the-field church (it has been used now as a war museum), in doubt whether top hats existed, and don’t use ‘pint’ anymore but ‘litre’.

The government gives fake news, false records, and threats to those in the party who are against them. People turn others to the government, saying that their neighbours, their parents, their husbands, have a thoughtcrime. Thoughtcrime, just like its name, is a thought that is categorised as a crime, exactly what Winston has been thinking about. He hates the government, he hates the party, and he hates the party leader, the Big Brother. However, he believes that there is an underground organisation called the Brotherhood who plot a movement against the government. He just needs to find them or wait for them to find him.

One thing I can say about the book that it is brilliant and important. I found it so relevant to nowadays issues. The fact that it’s so easy for those in power to tell a make-believe story to their people is baffling but true. I have seen many people easily believe a propaganda and willingly give their body and soul to a party or organisation. Obviously, things aren’t as bad as the world Orwell described in 1984 but there are some uncanny resemblance to the dystopian world in 1984 and our world today.

Language is also an important role in the book. In their effort to erase history, Oceania government changed the way English is used each year and called the new language Newspeak. Everytime s Newspeak dictionary is published, the editors always try to erase as many English words as possible. For example, ‘bad’ will be omitted because ‘ungood’ is enough to describe the opposite of ‘good’, adjectives that have synonymous meanings, such as ‘splendid’ and ‘excellent’, will also be erased. Although it seems impossible, changing language is the most effective way for people to be ignorant about their own country history. Young people won’t be bothered reading ‘old text’ books because there would be vocabulary unknown to them. This practice was done by my country when the new government, desperately wanting to erase the history of the country, changed the spelling of our national language. As a result, younger generations after the 1970s are reluctant to read classic literature and poems, campaigns, propaganda and political ideas before that era.

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
― George Orwell, 1984

The important message this book carries is probably to keep vigilant and always be resistant to a bigger power when you know that it is getting too much. The question is when do we know if we are Winston or the party people? Are we part of something bigger or are we crazy to think differently from others?

 

“Confession is not betrayal. What you say or do doesn’t matter; only feelings matter. If they could make me stop loving you-that would be the real betrayal.”
― George Orwell, 1984


This edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four is published by Penguin. Cover design by David Pearson.

Given to me by E when we were at Bath, England in April 2018.

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