by George Orwell
Publisher: Secker and Warburg
Length: 328 pages
About the Author: George Orwell (pseudonym for Eric Blair [1903-50]) was born in Bengal and educated at Eton; after service with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, he returned to Europe to earn his living penning novels and essays. He was essentially a political writer who focused his attention on his own times, a man of intense feelings and intense hates. An opponent of totalitarianism, he served in the Loyalist forces in the Spanish Civil War. Besides his classic Animal Farm, his works include a novel based on his experiences as a colonial policeman, Burmese Days, two firsthand studies of poverty, Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier, an account of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia; and the extraordinary novel of political prophecy whose title became part of our language, 1984.
Summary: Big Brother is always watching Winston Smith, and with each passing day, he grows more and more angry with The Party. His job is to re-write history, and with each lie written in Newspeakhe is driven further and further toward committing thoughtcrimes. Though he is starting to think for himself, Winston is hindered by the eyes on him, and what he is allowed, and not allowed, to do. Throughout the book, Winston toes the line of freedom, but will he need to pay the cost for his crimes?
1984 speaks to the political turmoil totalitarian rule can cause on society, and comments on the implications of media and the perception of events for the general public. Orwell masterfully paints the picture of Oceania, constantly at war with Eurasia and Eastasia, as his main character changes headlines to reflect Oceania favorably. While facts change constantly in Orwell’s 1984, the reader is pulled instantly into the disheartening idea of the government controlling all aspects of society through the media and how people consume content. Though written in 1949, Orwell’s grasp on the issues of the future don’t do much to comfort readers, as parallels can be drawn throughout history to the messages Orwell is speaking about—so much so, that Orwell’s book had trouble finding a publisher to work with, and is banned reading in a number of different places. While the reason the book was banned does vary from sexual content to its seemingly pro-communistic stance, it is clear that Orwell’s message is to stop big brother before big brother stops you.
While some of the ideas of Orwell’s 1984 may seem far-fetched or outdated, his grasp on the way political structures move to defend themselves can still be seen today through the way the media takes and manipulates stories. While not constituted as propaganda in many of these cases, it is evident that between different news networks, “facts” change. Orwell’s depiction of this in 1984 only further proves the constant struggle we all face as the world Orwell created becomes more and more of a reality. We see some of the very things that Big Brother is known for every day, including, but not limited to, censorship of language, fickle media coverage, abortion rights, and other social issues. The importance of Orwell’s beautifully constructed novel can’t be dismissed, nor deemed irrelevant, when these are issues prevalent today–some 70 years later. If not for the importance (though this cannot be disputed), Orwell at least deserves credit for taking inspiration and not being afraid of the consequences of speaking out against tyrannical power structures.
As a lover of dystopian fiction, 1984 is one you can’t miss. Not only is its influence found across the genre, but Orwell speaks to political topics that are still of importance and relevance today. If all of that is not convincing enough, the fear of the slogans, War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength should be enough to convince you. Read it (and be sure to vote for the freedoms you believe in), before Big Brother tells you that you can’t.