George Orwell, 1949
~ 300 pp. (varies by publisher)
In 1949, on the heels of another literary classic, Animal Farm, George Orwell wrote 1984, his now legendary and terrifying glimpse into the future. His vision of an omni-present and ultra-repressive State is rooted in the ominous world events of Orwell's own time and is given shape and substance by his astute play on our own fears.
As the novel opens, we learn that in year 1984, the world has been divided into three states: Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia, all of which, it is said, are almost continually in battle with one another. This world structure has come about following a nuclear war which took place sometime in the 1950's. In the state of Oceania, a revolution has resulted in the rise of an all-seeing figurehead known only as Big Brother, and a secretive group of individuals referred to as The Party. Under this regime, basic freedoms of expression—even thought—are strictly forbidden. History and memory are actively erased and rewritten so as to support the omnipotence and infallibility of The Party and its pronouncements. To this end, the State even employs its own language, Newspeak, and its own thought process, Doublethink.
It's against this background that we are introduced to Winston Smith, a low-level Party member (not to be confused with the elite group which surrounds Big Brother) who works in the Ministry of Truth. His job here, paradoxically, is to destroy and rewrite news articles and State facts and figures so as to align them with the most current views of The Party. A resident of Airstrip One—formerly London, England—Smith lives in a world devoid of even the simplest liberties. In this repressive society, where thoughts themselves can be ascertained and monitored, Winston finds himself alone and in quiet "revolution" against Big Brother. Boldly, he even goes as far as to write his own thoughts down on paper— a crime worthy of abduction by the Thought Police.
Early in the novel, Winston meets Julia, another worker at the Ministry of Truth, whom he has been watching from afar. Secretly, the two begin a love affair. This liaison inspires Winston to indulge his ever-growing obsession with revolution, and he and Julia begin to discuss, however implausible, ideas for the overthrow of The Party. Winston's eventual (and inevitable) capture at the hands of the Thought Police leads to his purification and re-education by inner Party members
Orwell's strict attention to detail and realistic description of a world thirty-five years ahead of his own add validity to 1984, and make its larger conclusions all the more frightening. Even today, the novel remains a bleak and shadowy forewarning of what might someday occur. (From Penguin Classics—cover image, top-right.)
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