Hidden in the depths of a dystopian version of the 1980’s is a middle aged man named Winston Smith, riddled with worry as he scrawls on a page words that he knows will lead to his eventual death. He is 39 years old and aching with age, but he knows that the Thought Police care not for his ailments – he is a thought-traitor, and what he writes now in this journal is proof of his defiance.
1984 is the story of Winston, who unwillingly lives in a world where Big Brother – the all-powerful, controlling dictator of Oceania – is always watching. Members of the Party are expected to loyally follow his every word, not just by action but also by thought, even if what is going on around them goes completely against their common sense, even if the newspapers and media refer to a past that has been altered from what they remember. Winston knows that he is a thought traitor, unable to conform to double-think as he is too aware of how out of order the Party is. He knows that it is only a matter of time before he is caught, but all he can do is act like everyone else around him.
I found that this novel was interesting, as it differed massively from the modern dystopian novels I’d read before. The world is so thoroughly thought out, and the characters defined in a way that makes the story seem so real that it is jumping off the page, along with a dark and dreary atmosphere that fits all too well with the themes of the book. Whilst reading it, every scene I read I imagined to be in black and white, not just since the book was written in the late 1940s but also due to the somber haze that seems to follow Winston wherever he goes – everything is portrayed in such a dark way, only adding to the dystopian setting.
The whole society of Oceania and the Party works only due to the dictatorship of Big Brother, and neither Winston nor the reader ever really figure out whether he is real or just a fictional embodiment of the Party. But in a brilliant way, it doesn’t matter, as the Party embodies the idea of a dictatorship to the very core, and Big Brother, whether real or not, is just a face to put the dictatorship to. Who knows who really created the Party and sustains its values, since the members of the Party are so convinced by the values that are forced upon them that they would continue to run in the same efficient, utterly loyal manner according to whatever the Party tells them. Even in a fictional setting, the manipulation that George Orwell shows is immense, and its frightening to think that people can be forced to believe anything if convinced in the right way.
Another idea that stuck out to me was the idea of double-think, which is a concept whereby people consciously forget things that the Party doesn’t want them to know. Winston himself works as someone who alters the archived newspapers so they correlate with the present, such as who the country is at war with or erasing the existence of someone who has been executed by the Party. They work to make it seem as though the present extends both into the past and future indefinitely, refusing to acknowledge any change that happens and instead shifting their thoughts and ideas as if the current state is how it has always been. The system is in place so that the idea of the Party ever having not existed or the possibility of it ending is eradicated – another form of control to make people believe that they can’t possibly overthrow the Party. Every person is aware of the government deceiving them, but through double-think they convince themselves of what the Party want them to believe. In 1984, it’s not enough to merely act the part – you must think correctly too.
Winston, throughout the whole novel, seems to be the only voice of reason, but living in a society where he is a criminal for just thinking differently, he at the same time feels like someone who is crazy to the world around him, and is constantly wondering if he is in fact just mad. The way his thoughts and emotions change throughout the book is a roller coaster – at the being, he is weak and aching, hopelessly convinced that he will soon be caught and killed, but as circumstances change he starts to wonder whether maybe he has a chance, only to be thrown back down again at the most unexpected moment possible. Orwell is brilliant at taking the reader on a similar journey to the characters they follow, and I found myself wondering whether Winston could escape the Party even though I knew that rationally there was no way out for him.
I would give 1984 a solid four out of five stars, for it is well written and the setting in particular is the most greatly thought out I’ve ever read about. However, the only limitation from it being a five star is the ending, as I felt that the anti-climax was a let down compared to the rest of the book. Although I realise that the anti-climax was intentional, I felt that it could have been altered slightly to make the ending feel a little more rounded. Otherwise, I would recommend this book to almost anyone, especially those who have an interest in unique dystopian settings.