Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review: Nineteen Eighty-Four

Nineteen Eighty-Four is one of those classics that’s been on my reading list for a while. I finally read it, and currently the book is about two weeks overdue at the library because I’m only now finding time to write my review. C’est la vie

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell tells the story of Winston Smith, a sheeple in a futuristic totalitarian society. The government in this society is known simply as “The Party,” whose moniker is Big Brother, and posters bearing a stern, mustached face with the words “Big Brother is watching you” are omnipresent. Winston, at first by himself and later with Julia, a second protagonist, attempt to join a resistance movement rumored to exist. I will refrain from describing how events unfold in case you haven’t yet read it for yourself. 

The Party has gained such control over its subjects that they are afraid of their thoughts being found out: indeed, there is an entity called the Thought Police, whose job it is to persecute those who have disagreeable feelings about The Party. 

So in control is The Party that they have a whole government division dedicated to rewriting history to conform to the present as they wish it to be. It is no problem for The Party to change the outcome of a war or write an individual right out of history, as if they never existed. Winston is employed in this “ministry,” as it is called, and spends his days “bringing up to date” past newspaper articles as instructed by unseen supervisors.

Edmond O'Brien as Winston Smith in the movie.
The Party’s goal appears to be total and complete domination of its subjects, including mental control. Personal relationships among citizens are discouraged; marriages must be approved by The Party and are only necessary to propagate children so that The Party may continue to have subjects. Children are schooled in a way that brings to mind the Nazi Youth, and are encouraged to tattle on their parents (or anyone else) whom they observe saying or doing anything anti-Party.

Love is not acceptable, except when one expresses love for The Party. Accordingly, hate is encouraged toward the enemies of The Party. Something called “Two Minutes Hate” is employed, whereby all citizens are to stop what they are doing and come together near a “telescreen,” where they are subjected to images of the enemy and other disturbing phenomena, and are expected to work themselves into a frenzy of anger and hatred for two minutes. 

A slogan of The Party.
Most disturbing to me (because it seems totally plausible) was the plan to dumb down the language. A new language called newspeak is gradually being implemented. This impoverished language reduces ideas to simple contrasts, minimizing the ability to express complicated thoughts or feelings. Negative words are eliminated under the guise of being “redundant.” Thus, “bad” becomes “ungood,” etc. Similarly, superlative words are erased and replaced with prefixes or suffixes attached to root words, so that “great” becomes “plusgood,” and “excellent” becomes “doubleplusgood.” Words and ideas are abbreviated into simplified one- or two-syllable new words, such as “upsub” (to get approval from a superior) and “oldspeak” (standard English). By limiting the number of words available, and keeping the available words as simple as possible, the ability and desire to express thoughts or ideas other than what is spoonfed to the sheeple by The Party would depreciate with each new generation. The ultimate goal of newspeak appears to be to reduce all thoughts to an assenting of some sort, training the citizens into obedience.  

Scary stuff. 

About his own work, Orwell says, “I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily WILL arrive, but I believe…that something resembling it COULD arrive. I believe also that totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere.”

Nineteen Eighty-Four was written during the Cold War, when anti-communism was at its height. But even if communism was Orwell’s muse, so to speak, the concepts depicted can be applied to much of what is commonplace in today’s societies. For example, excessive power has been handed to governments and to the main stream media, and both entities are using said power to attempt to control the masses to their benefit. Nineteen Eighty-Four should serve as a warning to us all about the ability of power to corrupt, and how impossible it can be to take back that power once corruption has gained control.  


  1. The Complete Patriot's Guide to Oligarchical Collectivism.

  2. Hmmm anon, that purports to be a study guide for 1984, but I also found it included in a list of conspiracy-type books. Interesting.