In “1984″, London is a grim city in the totalitarian state of Oceania where Big Brother is always watching you and the Thought Police can practically read your mind. Winston Smith is in grave danger because he still has a functioning memory.
Amidst a forbidden love affair, Winston joins a secret revolutionary organization called The Brotherhood, dedicated to the destruction of the Party. With Julia by his side, he takes a deadly stand against tyrants.
Lionel Trilling said of Orwell’s masterpiece, “1984 is a profound, terrifying, and wholly fascinating book. It is a fantasy of the political future, and like any such fantasy, serves its author as a magnifying device for an examination of the present.” While the year 1984 now exists in the past, Orwell’s novel remains relevant for anyone who is willing to speak truth to power.
You may still be wondering if you should read the book. This book review will tell you everything about this book so you can decide if it is worth your time.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
Table of Contents
A man loses his battle to remain free and sane in a futuristic police state.
“It was a bright, cold day in April , and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Winston Smith arrives at his apartment in London’s Victory Mansions and finds that the elevators are out of order again.
This happens frequently in Airstrip One, the new name for England, which is now a province of Oceania—one of three great Powers (along with Eurasia and Eastasia) perpetually at war with one another. Buildings are covered with posters of Big Brother, the leader of the Party that rules Oceania and whose signs say, BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.
As Winston climbs the stairs, he is aware of the telescreens that monitor his every movement. Inside his apartment, he moves to a corner where the telescreen cannot see him and begins to write in his diary—an offence punishable by death in Oceania, the police-state society governed by the rules of Ingsoc (English socialism).
Winston works at the Ministry of Truth as a writer whose job it is to rewrite history in newspapers, books, and magazines that predate the Revolution, the time when the Party came into power. It troubles him that he must rewrite history in order to suit the needs of the Party. He has grown dissatisfied with the Party and, without knowing it, is in the early stages of rebellion.
Writing in diaries is outlawed in Oceania, since it is an expression of independent thinking—a potentially dangerous act in this society, where everyone is conditioned to think and behave according to Party wishes, and to speak the same neutral language of Newspeak.
In the diary, Winston records his reactions to a movie about the bombing of a refugee ship. Party members had applauded, but a prole (i.e., proletariat) had objected—not surprising for a lower-class worker who was considered an inferior being and who might be expected to have this “human” reaction.
Unlike anyone else in Oceania, proles had maintained their link with the past and remained spontaneous people. Members of the ruling class, known as the Inner Party, are indifferent to the proles, who make up the largest segment of the society. Between the proles and the Inner
Party there is a group called the Outer Party, all of whose members are programmed by thought control. Winston is a member of this group, which includes civil servants and white-collar workers.
Winston puts down his pen and thinks about the “Two Minutes Hate” period at work, when workers are roused to scream violently at telescreen images of Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the People, who was a former Party member but whose revolutionary ideas now conflict with those of Big Brother.
At the Hate sessions, Party slogans such as WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH are followed by the face of Big Brother. In this morning’s period, Winston caught sight of an attractive woman to whom he has never spoken, and a man named O’Brien, a member of the Inner Party who, Winston suspects, has the same feelings of hatred for the Party as he does.
In the diary—an old one purchased in the off-limits antique shop of Mr. Charrington—Winston prints “Down with Big Brother,” then scribbles furious protests about the regime.
While helping his neighbor Mrs. Parsons unplug her sink, Winston is attacked by her children, who are playing a game of capturing people found guilty of Thoughtcrime.
That night, Winston dreams of his mother and sister, who sink in a ship as he watches; he believes they are dying because of his rebellious acts. Awakened by the telescreen, he arises to do the required Physical Jerks and is reprimanded by the telescreen for not exercising hard enough. He tries to recall the origins of the Party, and cannot remember a time when Oceania was not at war.
Though the Party claims many of the achievements from the past for its own—such as the invention of airplanes—Winston remembers times in his childhood when the Party did not exist. He also remembers that the Party has not always been at war with Eurasia, and that Eastasia, now an ally, was once the enemy.
At work, a researcher named Syme explains that it is the aim of Newspeak to destroy old words in order to “narrow the range of thought” and to eliminate knowledge of Oldspeak by the year 2050. The telescreen announces that chocolate rations will be raised to 20 grams a week, though Winston remembers yesterday’s announcement that they would be reduced to 20 grams.
No one else notices this manipulation of information, an example of doublethink. Winston believes that the only hope for revolution lies with the proles.
Wandering through the prole section of London, he asks an old man about pre-Party days, but the man can recall only fragments. Winston then goes to the antique shop where he had bought the diary. Charrington shows Winston his upstairs room furnished with antiques from before the Revolution. It has no telescreen.
Winston meets Julia, the woman from the Pornosec division of the Ministry of Truth whom he had seen in the Hate Sessions. At first, he thinks she is an avid supporter of the Party, but when she trips in the hallway and Winston helps her up, she gives him a message that reads, “I love you.”
Since no emotions other than hate and fear are allowed in Oceania, her note shows that she, too, has rejected the Party’s ideas. They arrange to meet in a tree-enclosed sanctuary safe from microphones, where they begin a series of sexual encounters of almost animal-like passion. Winston had been married to a woman who belonged to the Anti-Sex League and who permitted sex only as a means of procreation.
She abandoned him when their relationship produced no children, and Winston has been celibate ever since. They rent the room over Charrington’s shop so that they can enjoy their love-making in private, and Winston reveals his horror of rats when one crawls across the floor.
O’Brien compliments Winston on his knowledge of Newspeak and gives him a copy of the new Newspeak dictionary. Winston is sure this unusual gesture of friendliness is a signal of a conspiracy against the Party.
A dream prompts Winston to remember his mother and sister again. He was 11 or 12 when his father disappeared during England’s civil war. Though his mother was poor, Winston had selfishly demanded more food than she could provide. When a meager chocolate ration was distributed, Winston seized it all, then stole his sister’s portion and left. When he returned, his mother and sister were gone—perhaps sent to a labor camp—and he never saw them again.
He realizes that the Party suppresses family and individual relationships, and he insists that he and Julia promise not to betray one another.
Winston and Julia visit O’Brien, who lives comfortably in a clean apartment with a servant and good food. As a member of the Inner Party, he can even turn off his telescreen. Winston confesses his opposition to the Party, and together they toast Goldstein.
The lovers claim that they are prepared to commit murder, suicide, or treachery in order to defeat the Party. O’Brien is certain that Goldstein heads a conspiracy that will one day overthrow the Party, and he promises to give Winston a copy of Goldstein’s book.
It is called The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, but is referred to as “the book.”
One afternoon, when Winston and Julia are in bed at Charrington’s, Winston reads aloud from Goldstein’s book. It explains how war keeps the Party in power by holding people in a state of ignorance and poverty. Suddenly, a voice calls out to the lovers, “You are the dead.” It is Charrington, who turns out to be a member of the Thought Police and who has been monitoring them since they rented his room. Uniformed men rush in and take Julia away.
In a cell inside Miniluv (the Ministry of Love), Winston watches other prisoners come and go, including a neighbor whose daughter reported him for saying “Down with Big Brother” in his sleep.
A starving prisoner scheduled to be taken to Room 101 is terrified by what awaits him; he begs the guards to take anyone else in his place—even his children. Beaten continuously, Winston is interrogated by Party members and confesses to numerous fabricated crimes.
O’Brien, who Winston now realizes is a Party fanatic and not a revolutionary, questions him, using electric shocks. O’Brien holds up four fingers, but insists that the Party says there are five, and shocks Winston each time he says there are only four. Electroshock deadens Winston’s mind, and he remembers only what O’Brien tells him.
O’Brien reports that Julia has betrayed Winston and that Big Brother does indeed exist. It is Winston, says O’Brien, who does not exist. O’Brien admits to having collaborated in writing the fictitious Goldsteins book and confesses that the Party wants power for its own sake, not for the good of the people.
Winston surrenders to the Party, but refuses to stop loving Julia. With this, O’Brien takes him to Room 101, straps him to a chair, then brings in two hungry rats in a cage that will be attached to Winston’s head as mental torture (the authorities know about Winston’s fear of rats).
Just before they strap the rats on, Winston breaks down and screams in terror, “Do it to Julia!” Later, when he is released, Winston is seated in the Chestnut Tree bar, a broken man drinking gin, confused about the past.
He sees Julia and they admit to having betrayed each other. The telescreen plays the tune, “Under the spreading chestnut tree / I sold you and you sold me.” Now believing that 2 + 2 = 5, Winston finally loves, not Julia, but Big Brother.
Employee of the Ministry of Truth; member of the Outer Party; age 39. Disillusioned with the Party, but afraid of punishment for open disagreement. His memory keeps him from accepting contradictory or false Party statements. He values human feelings and individual thoughts. Hopes for a better future whenever the Party can be overthrown.
Employee of the Fiction Department; member of the Outer Party; Winston’s lover; age 26. Her last name is never mentioned; this suggests the one-dimensional aspect of her character. She pretends to be an enthusiastic Party member but breaks the rules and defies the Party, though for personal, not political reasons. Views the Party policies as game strategies that she can elude if clever; she does not share Winston’s deeper dissatisfaction with the beliefs or methods of the Party.
Older member of the Inner Party. Winston first believes O’Brien shares his hatred of the Party, but later discovers O’Brien is a fanatic supporter of the Party. Strong, decisive, intelligent.
Disguised as the aging owner of an antique shop but is later revealed to be a member of the Thought Police. Lures Winston into a trap with memories and objects from the past.
Former Party member, now believed to head an underground revolutionary Brotherhood that attempts to destroy the Party; proclaimed an Enemy of the People. Unknown if he is dead or alive, real or imagined. Does not appear in the novel. Represents individual freedom, rights, and the promise of a different future. The daily “Two Minutes Hate” is directed against him.
Head of the Party. It is not known if he exists or not, since he does not appear in the novel, except on posters. Represents the power of the Party, with its violence, denial of freedom, and repression of the individual.
Themes and Ideas
1. Individual vs. Society
The party’s power depends on its ability to keep people ignorant of history, current affairs, and party operations—that is, ignorant of the truth. Without knowledge, people lack the information necessary for making choices in their lives.
“1984” vividly portrays the destructive consequences of individuals surrendering responsibility for their decisions, opinions, and ideas to an outside group like the party, which controls citizens through media programming and a powerful police network.
The party maintains its power by suppressing all human feelings, except hatred and fear. This results in a lack of genuine connection and intimacy between individuals. Winston rebels against this oppressive regime by writing in his diary, actively remembering his mother’s love and protection, and engaging in a forbidden love affair with Julia.
In this bleak society, genuine emotions like pity, kindness, love, friendship, and generosity pose the greatest threats to the party’s power. These emotions define people as unique individuals, setting them apart from those who are merely conforming to the party’s demands.
Individuality is replaced by imposed social beliefs and actions that citizens must adopt: everyone looks identical due to party uniforms, artistic expression is monopolized by machines that reproduce the party’s messages, sexual desires are regimented and controlled by the party, and emotions are manipulated through events like the “Two Minutes Hate.” Differences of opinion are rendered impossible by the restrictions of Newspeak, the party’s language.
2. Importance of Remembering the Past
Orwell emphasizes that without knowledge of history and a recollection of past conditions and feelings, the present will be controlled by power rather than truth. Altering the past, such as Winston’s rewriting of history books, effectively erases any standards for comparison to the present or possibilities for the future.
The party manipulates its members by denying any existence of the past while simultaneously fabricating historical events to justify its actions, decisions, and achievements. It systematically destroys any evidence that contradicts party goals, whether in books, films, newspapers, or individual minds.
Only those who possess a memory can recognize the flaws in the party’s reasoning and challenge its power. Eradicating individual memory is one of the party’s primary objectives, as it aims to control people’s thoughts and shape their thinking according to its will.
As the party slogan states, “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” In other words, if you control the present, you have the power to rewrite the past and determine the course of the future.
3. Newspeak and Thought Control
Newspeak, Orwell’s most innovative and unforgettable creation in “1984,” is the party-approved language that eliminates all other modes of thought.
By removing words from the language that allow for the expression of independent or politically challenging ideas, Newspeak reinforces the party’s ideology. The older form of language, known as Oldspeak, gradually disappears as younger generations are taught Newspeak.
With a limited and narrow vocabulary at their disposal, people have little opportunity to voice controversial opinions or original ideas, aligning with Newspeak’s fundamental goal of suppressing free thought.
4. War and Violence
In Oceania, a state perpetually at war, the party uses constant warfare to instill hatred towards its enemies and employs violence to control dissenting individuals. This system aims to prevent citizens from experiencing emotions that aren’t directed or approved by the party.
Living in a perpetual state of fear, fueled by constant threats of annihilation through war, people willingly relinquish their decision-making powers to an apparently confident and all-powerful authority. This is how the party maintains its absolute control.
As explained in Goldstein’s book, war serves the purpose of sustaining consumption and ensuring employment for the population. It is beneficial for the party because it prevents excessive comfort and intelligence among the masses, which could potentially threaten the party’s rule in the long run. Some have drawn parallels between the fictional Oceania and real-world entities, suggesting that Oceania represents America and Western Europe, Eurasia symbolizes the now-defunct Soviet bloc, and Eastasia represents Communist China and its neighboring countries.
Emmanuel Goldstein, a character in the novel, bears similarities to Lev Davidovich Bronstein, better known as Leon Trotsky, the leader of the Russian Revolution. Similarly, Big Brother, the enigmatic figurehead, resembles Joseph Stalin, who was an adversary of Trotsky and the leader of the Communist Party. Stalin famously labeled Trotsky the “Enemy of the People.”
The ruling members of Orwell’s three powers do not desire an end to war; they perpetuate conflict to ensure scarcity, maintain economic prosperity, and secure their positions as dictators. War serves as a means to consume excess resources that might otherwise lead to the population becoming too comfortable and intelligent, posing a threat to the party’s authority.
In “1984,” Orwell illuminates the oppressive control exerted by the party, emphasizing the importance of individuality, memory, language, and the consequences of perpetual war. The novel serves as a stark warning against the dangers of totalitarianism and the erosion of fundamental human freedoms.
1. Winston’s Sores
Symbols of Winston’s growing dissatisfaction with the Party. His festering ankle sore begins itching when he first writes in his diary, then heals while he feels safe with Julia, only to become worse again when he is tortured by O’Brien.
If he scratches the sore, “it always [becomes] inflamed,” just as the repressions of freedom inflame his hatred of the Party.
Symbolize authoritarian invasion of privacy and violation of freedom. The screens enable the Party to control the thoughts and actions of Outer Party members at all times; this also enables the Party to safeguard its future power by preventing individual activity.
When Orwell wrote 1984 in 1949, such telescreens seemed futuristic; now they are a reality in offices, stores, factories, and banks.
3. Big Brother
Represents attempts by modern societies to control individual life. Oversize posters are designed so that “the eyes follow you about when you move.” Since the people believe in Big Brother, it does not matter if he exists or if the Party merely invented him. It’s the belief in him that counts.
Members of the labor force who show human emotions, remember the past, continue to have families, and live without fear of telescreens and Big Brother. Prole is derived from proletariat. Represent Winston’s hopes for challenging the Party’s power.
5. Winston’s Diary
A symbol of one man’s individuality and connection with the past. Winston records his rebellious thoughts, personal dreams, recollections of childhood, and mother. Party’s invasion of privacy is shown when the Party confiscates and reads the diary.
6. Goldstein’s Book
Symbol of rebellion against totalitarian government; probably written by the Party as a way of entrapping dissidents and as a symbolic object of hatred for the Party’s loyalists.
1. Mind-blowing portrayal of government manipulation
George Orwell skillfully portrays the manipulative tactics of government in his novel “1984.” The all-powerful Party exercises complete control over its citizens, distorting reality through rewriting history and bombarding the population with propaganda. The Party’s slogans, such as “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength,” are chilling reminders of how governments can manipulate people’s beliefs and maintain their own dominance.
In our present society, concerns about government surveillance and propaganda are widespread. The similarities between the Party’s methods and contemporary issues, such as rewriting historical accounts or using targeted advertisements to shape public opinion, cannot be overlooked. Orwell’s depiction of government manipulation in “1984” serves as a wake-up call, prompting readers to critically examine the practices and ideologies that exist in their own lives.
2. Depiction of social class issues
The portrayal of social class issues in “1984” adds complexity to the story. Orwell divides society into the “Inner Party,” the “Outer Party,” and the “Proles.” The Inner Party’s control over the other classes highlights the social inequality in the dystopian world.
This depiction reflects the divisions in our own society between the elite, the middle class, and the marginalized. Orwell’s vision encourages readers to consider the socio-economic disparities and their potential impact on social harmony. Furthermore, the hope placed on the Proles to initiate change reminds us of the power held by the majority and the importance of unity.
3. Theme of individualism
Amidst the despair and darkness of George Orwell’s “1984,” the theme of individualism stands out as a ray of hope. The main character, Winston Smith, embodies the struggle to maintain his own identity and defy conformity in a repressive regime. His quest for self-expression and resistance against the oppressive government resonates deeply with readers.
Orwell’s focus on the significance of individualism prompts us to contemplate our own lives and the degree to which we allow external influences to shape our thoughts and actions. In a world where it often feels easier to conform rather than resist, “1984” serves as a reminder of the enduring strength of individuality and the necessity of protecting our freedom to think and express ourselves.
1. The missing human essence of the proles
One aspect that leaves a sense of dissatisfaction in “1984” is the portrayal of the proles. While the novel delves into the lives of the inner and outer party members, the proles, representing the majority of the population, are left relatively unexplored. Their culture, values, and the potential for change within them remain largely untouched.
In a world where every aspect of society is controlled and manipulated, the proles could have served as a source of hope and resistance. It would have been fascinating to witness their struggles, their resilience, and their potential to challenge the oppressive regime. Unfortunately, the proles are presented as a neglected component, leaving readers craving a deeper understanding of their humanity.
2. Absence of tangible hope
While the somber tone and dystopian setting of “1984” are integral to its message, the lack of tangible hope or inspiration can be disheartening for some readers, especially the younger ones. The story offers little in terms of uplifting moments or glimpses of a brighter future.
While it is essential to convey the oppressive nature of the totalitarian regime, introducing moments of inspiration, resilience, or acts of defiance could have provided readers with a more balanced emotional experience. A touch of hope or a few springboards for optimism would have resonated with readers and sparked meaningful discussions about the power of resistance in the face of tyranny.
3. Overlooking contemporary issues and potential solutions
Although “1984” presents a powerful critique of totalitarianism and government manipulation, its focus on the fictional world limits its exploration of contemporary issues and potential solutions. The book does not delve into real-life examples or examine how individuals are working towards a better future in our present society.
With the current global challenges we face, including issues of government control, technological surveillance, and societal divisions, a more expanded perspective would have been valuable. By incorporating elements of contemporary struggles and exploring how people are actively combating injustice and oppression, the book could have offered readers relevant and actionable insights.
George Orwell’s 1984 is an absolutely mind-blowing book that will leave you questioning the very essence of reality. Set in a dystopian society where free thought is forbidden and history is easily manipulated, Orwell skillfully weaves a narrative that keeps you captivated from start to finish. While the story begins by introducing you to the unsettling premise, it gradually escalates into mind-expanding territory, leaving you in a state of awe and disbelief.
Orwell’s ability to take the reader on an intellectual rollercoaster ride is truly remarkable. Just when you think you have a handle on the concepts presented, he effortlessly catapults them to unimaginable heights, shattering your perceptions and forcing you to reassess everything you thought you knew. It’s this profound impact that makes the book all the more extraordinary.
Beyond its gripping plot, 1984 offers an abundance of thought-provoking ideas. Orwell cleverly draws parallels to historical events, such as Stalin’s erasure of individuals and Karl Marx’s political theories, adding depth and nuance to the narrative. The book not only entertains but also challenges readers to contemplate the nature of power, manipulation, and the importance of preserving individual thought.
Collins has an impressive background in academia, having taught at esteemed institutions such as Stanford University Graduate School of Business, BusinessWeek, and Harvard Business Review. In addition to his teaching roles, he is a prolific author, engaging lecturer, and sought-after consultant. Notably, his book “Built to Last” achieved tremendous success as a best seller.
The genesis of Collins’ book “1984” stems from an enlightening conversation with an acquaintance. This individual astutely observed that Collins’ previous work exclusively focused on the attributes that help already great companies maintain their greatness, overlooking the crucial aspect of how companies can initially attain greatness.
Buy The Book: 1984
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