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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Roussel

Review: 1984 by George Orwell

George Orwell

War is Peace Freedom is Slavery Ignorance is Strength

Mild spoilers for a 70-year-old book!


I hadn't read this book before this year. At school, I could have read it or Animal Farm - I chose Animal Farm, because animals are fun, right? Like Charlotte's Web? Bit of a steep learning curve, that was.


I'm almost glad I left it until now as it has a meaning and a poignancy that twenty years ago, I would have been too young to understand.


Plot


Winston Smith, a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in Oceania (Great Britain), is starting to question the Party - the all-powerful, tyrannical leaders of his world. From his position at the Ministry of Truth, where he rewrites historical records, he discovers something which knocks his blind belief in the world. Simply by having this thought, he is already a thought criminal and likely to be arrested, tortured and killed. As he's already doomed, he starts to search out the Brotherhood, an organisation intent on overthrowing the Party.


1984 today


Perhaps enviably, being both a millennial and a British citizen, the fears around CCTV and mass surveillance are old news. Between my phone, the camera in my computer and your eavesdropping smart tv, we're no strangers to Big Brother. Ironically, here in the UK, the Telecommunications Act 1984 was revealed in 2015 to have been collecting our phone data in bulk for years.


No, for me, the horror of 1984 wasn't so much the surveillance as it was the systematic destruction of the English language.


Doublespeak


In light of certain current politicians and the onslaught of fake media, doublespeak seems terrifyingly relevant today, where truth is up for debate.

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. 1984

In our world, as described by Kellyanne Conway's, it's known as "alternative facts". Rudy Giuliani famously explained, "Truth isn't truth." I'm not a political blog so I won't devel deep into this particular snake pit, but if you've been reading the news at any point over the last three years, you'll have noticed what I'm talking about. Here's a good article on it if you're interested.


And forgive my momentary Trekkie-ness, but now I see the illusion made to 1984 in the Next Generation episode 'In Chain of Command, Part II' where Captain Picard is tortured by Madred, forcing him to say there are five lights when there are four.


Shout out for Berkhamsted!


I have to mention this - the little town I grew up in (which would have been a village when Orwell was writing) is referenced in the book. Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire. We're a tiny town, not famous and have little to visit other than a totem pole and a castle which isn't a castle.


Conclusion


This is a solid four-star book for me.


It drives a political point down your throat and has a tragic and somewhat frustrating ending, but it's a clear work of genius. Any book which can resonate for more than fifty years has tapped into an aspect of humanity which isn't easily escaped.


It's a must-read if you haven't found the time yet!

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