Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)
There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always—do not forget this, Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.
One-sentence summary: In a world of perpetual war, a totalitarian regime rules absolutely, crushing any dissent; Winston Smith, a civil servant, grows disillusioned with his task of falsifying historical records and attempts a modest rebellion against the system that leads to his arrest and torture.
When read: Sometime during high school.
Why read: It is a classic of dystopian literature, probably the essential dystopian novel.
Impressions: Like most people who have read 1984, it profoundly affected my way of thinking about power and political systems. Orwell introduced concepts and language into the general consciousness, such as “doublethink,” “Thought Police” and “Big Brother.” It also gave us the term “Orwellian” to describe any government that attempts to totally control and subjugate its people.
In my opinion, 1984 is required reading for all members of the human race. Orwell describes in an unforgettable way the dangers of totalitarianism. The struggle against political oppression and the tyranny of the powerful few over the many seems to be a never-ending one, but I think Orwell’s masterpiece has become a great weapon in that struggle, by making us more aware of the forms oppression can take and helping us recognize when it may be happening in our own society. Orwell illuminates the worst of what human beings can be to one another, and in doing so, he calls on us to be ever vigilant.
Certainly, Orwell’s full bleak, dystopian vision hasn’t come to pass. Perhaps total control of the people through surveillance and torture isn’t very realistic. Yet, it frightens me to recognize how pervasive propaganda, misinformation and historical revision have become in our current political climate, just as Orwell depicted it. I can turn on my TV and see it happening every day. I see people blithely accepting fabrications even in the face of contradictory evidence and eagerly supporting measures that run contrary to their self-interests. I wonder if Orwell would laugh at the irony of the propagandists twisting his words into their own form of double speak.
Even more than 50 years later, Orwell’s 1984 is as relevant as when it was first published. We should never stop reading Orwell or learning lessons from it.
Current status: I do not have a copy, although I would like one. However, I am unsure if I would reread this book. It was so disturbing, especially the torture scenes; even so many years later, I still remember them vividly. I don’t think I need to reread 1984 for it to continue to affect me.
If you liked this book, then you might also like:
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
- We by Yevgeny Zamyatin* (I have not read this but it inspired 1984 and is on my “to read” list.)