May contain spoilers, so be aware if you’ve yet to read this gem.
I enjoy talking to you. Your mind appeals to me. It resembles my own mind except that you happen to be insane.
George Orwell, 1984.
George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel takes place in a dark, dreary version of London. It’s protagonist, Winston, is a questionable character as best – not in his construction, but in his morals and general likeability as a character. But then, that’s the idea, the whole book from start to finish is supposed to be repugnant. You’d be hard pushed to find a redeemable character in here, except perhaps Winston’s rarely mentioned mother, who seems to have struggled to raise a terror of a young Winston (stealing chocolate from the hands of his baby sister), and the only thanks she receives is being snatched, quite suddenly, and presumably killed by Big Brother or the dreaded Thought Police.
This isn’t Orwell’s only attempt at political satire, fans of his will be well aware of Animal Farm, a contemptuous damnation of Stalinism and one of my all-time favourite books. 1984 is as much a political commentary as it is a dystopian science fiction novel, perhaps even more so. Throughout there are themes that continually crop up, from the Records Department open censorship and doctoring of history – Winston himself comes into possession of a photograph that exonerates 3 supposed thought-criminals, but almost unthinkingly he destroys it as quickly as it came upon his desk. Later, while undergoing interrogation, he is shown the photograph again and once more, it is destroyed. This is supposed to drive the point home, that whoever controls the present controls the past.
Sex plays a big part in the political undertones of the story, the first time Winston and Julia have sex it isn’t for love, or even particularly because of their attraction to one another. They sleep together to defy the laws of their society, a big middle finger to Big Brother. Hell, a few days earlier in the story and Winston had thoughts of murdering Julia, he openly tells her this too and she laughs, delighted by the admission. There is no happy ending for the lovers either, they betray one another when faced with the terrors of the infamous Room 101 and with that undeniable desire of the other to take their place, their supposed love is broken.
Big Brother, as always, has won.
On the whole, I greatly enjoyed this, though at times I felt it a little unnecessary for us to read Goldstein’s book as Winston did – there are various comments made by characters that it doesn’t say anything they don’t already know. If that’s the case, then why force is to read it as well? It’s interesting as well to read a novel like this, one that makes such a heavy-handed political statement, and see things that mirror these things in our real lives. Telescreens and hidden microphones are everywhere in Winston’s 1984, and now we carry powerful computers in our pockets at all times – never not connected to the powers that be, drones deliver our mail, the television tells us the news and always we are never too far from our own Big Brother.
This week I’m reading Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of the World’s Most Mysterious Continent by Gabrielle Walker.
Til next time!