I recently picked up a classic Sci-Fi novel that I’d never read before. After finishing it and pondering its many themes and deep, quotable lines, In My Opinion it should be required reading for high schools. Ladies and gentlemen I give you 1984, by George Orwell.
I’ve heard a lot about this story even before I read it, and I’m sure you have as well. It’s been heavily referenced in our society and pop culture since I was a kid, with commercials and movies giving not-so-subtle nods here and there. Frankly I just never got around to giving it a read. I’d heard enough about it and its concept that I basically knew what happened in the story, so I felt I didn’t need to read it through. That feeling changed recently, and I’m glad it did. The story didn’t throw me for a loop with many surprises, but it did grab my attention and made me examine the world George creates with a level of scrutiny I’ve not had before. I was placing myself in the twisted world of Oceania and wondering if I would be able to survive with double-think against the principles of Ingsoc. I was brought into Winston’s situation and his intense, almost philosophical thoughts to such a degree that I was starting put myself in his shoes by the end of the book.
PLOT: The year is 1983 and the world is absolutely nothing like our society today. The story takes place in what would be the United Kingdom today, but is called the province of Oceania in the book. The world is divided into three major super-powers that are always at war with each other: East Asia, Eurasia, and Oceania. The biggest crime someone can commit in Oceania is not to be a spy or a soldier for the opposition, but to be a thought-criminal against your own party. “The Party”, or what is known as the government in Oceania, has set up monitoring devices in just about every nook and cranny of the country to spy on their citizens to determine if they’re thought-criminals. A thought-criminal is someone who thinks against The Party or has thoughts of attaining a different life.
See, The Party controls everything in Oceania, from food to clothes to razor blades to information. The Party dictates what is to happen tomorrow, and The Party is never wrong. If the Party happens to get a prediction false, then The Party goes back and changes the past to reflect the present. If something happens that makes The Party look wrong or not as in control as they’d like, they manipulate the past and its records to influence the present. But it’s more than just records they alter, they alter people’s minds and memories as well. People don’t remember The Party ever being wrong because The Party isn’t wrong. Ever. And if they are, they change it so that they’re not. See how it can get sort of confusing really fast? People create double-think, the ability to hold two contraindicating thoughts simultaneously in one’s mind, in order to survive. It’s a rough life.
CHARACTERS: At first I wasn’t the biggest fan of Winston. He was timid, a coward, never voicing his true thoughts, and always afraid of consequences. But once I started to grasp the world he lived in, I found that I’d probably act the exact same way Winston does. George Orwell does a fantastic job of explaining the reason and rationality behind each action that Winston takes and his thoughts as he follows out the action. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Julia, but her character was vitally important to the story and made some huge impacts. I really felt for both of them by the end, Julia and Winston. But more than anything I appreciated George’s ability to make the reader feel for a random character in only one scene more than the main characters throughout the entire story. There were single, random characters that you meet only once that stuck in my mind stronger than Winston, Julia, or Obrien, simply because of the power George depicted in the scene.
IMAGERY: Because the novel was written so long ago, some of the techniques George uses are somewhat old and archaic in writing now. He takes his utmost time in painting the full picture of landscapes and every single visual detail that exists about it. Most writers don’t spend entire pages on visual description of a city street, but the attention to detail pays off in George’s case. I found myself drifting at times in his long descriptions… because, okay, I get it, the painting is old and nice, we can move on now. I don’t need more description of its frame, or the texture of the canvas, or the shadow it casts on the floor, or the splinters in one corner, or the wall behind it, or the way it hangs straight, or the color of the- I GET IT. LET’S MOVE ON. At least that’s how I felt sometimes.
VERDICT: Damn good story. Damn good, bloody good, damn good story. Especially the whole last part of the book when it’s Winston and Obrien talking about power and minds and philosophy and, “Power is not a means; it is an end.” I think this book is powerful enough and stirs up the right type of thinking that high schoolers and young college students should have it in their reading classes. Young, budding minds reaching for higher understanding should have this book placed before them. They’d eat it up. There are some concepts that are so powerful, and lines that are so quotable, the story is rightfully a classic and cornerstone of science fiction literature. In My Opinion. However, because of the book’s content I don’t think it’s for everyone. I personally know many people who are, uh, let’s just say not good enough readers to grasp this story fully. People who don’t like to read(heathens!) and people who aren’t very smart(also heathens!) won’t enjoy this book. It’s for people who can hold a thought in their mind for more than a minute without pulling out their phone and flipping through Facebook. If that’s you, read this book. But remember, 2 + 2 = 5.