Book Review of 1984 (5/97)
One year before his death in 1950, George Orwell published a book entitled 1984. Since then, the novel has become a bible to people all over the world. The enthusiasm is not only due to the fact that the novel is written so eloquently, and with such foresight, but also because it makes a bold statement about humanity.
1984’s main character is Winston Smith, a man who doubts the righteousness of the totalitarian government (Big Brother) that rules Oceania, one of three superstates in the world of 1984. We begin the book with Winston, and learn that Big Brother is quite fictional. The government has developed its own language, is at constant war with the other two superstates, and watches its citizens at all times. As Winston’s rebellion progresses, we notice that Big Brother is not as unrealistic as we think.
Oceania, Eastasia, and Eurasia are the three battling superstates. Each has an identical government?one that is at perpetual war in order to gain complete power over its inhabitants. The process used to gain absolute power is one used by past, present, and future dictators, such as Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler. Big Brother manipulates its citizens into convenient modes of thinking. However, instead of only using propaganda techniques, Big Brother also uses Newspeak and telescreens. Newspeak is the official language of Oceania, and has its sole purpose in abolishing all unorthodox thought. (Example: the word bad is replaced by the word ?ungood.’) The telescreens monitor each citizen that is allowed to be educated, at all times, watching for any action, word, or possible thought that could be unorthodox.
These two Orwell inventions were foretelling?we see the equivalent of Newspeak every day in present day society when we are politically correct. Telescreens are present in nearly every commercial institution, and sometimes in our own homes. Orwell was obviously warning America and all other countries about the control of totalitarian governments.
When Winston is secretly approached by a coworker, he learns that he is not alone in his belief that Big Brother is ?ungood.’ Winston and Julia become lovers and eventually confess their feelings of rebelliousness to O’Brien, a fellow coworker who is believed to be a member of a rebel group, the Brotherhood.
Two weeks later comes the shocking and disturbing climax. It is here that the reader is definitely introduced to the metaphysical philosophy behind 1984. Orwell brings terror into the story when he shows us what is really behind Big Brother; Oceania’s government sends a representative into the plot. A government not unlike ones in present-day society is at the head of Oceania, and that is where the stark reality of 1984 becomes evident. The sole manipulative technique used by Big Brother is one that is virtually unrecognizable?mental manipulation. Metaphysics, or the belief that there is existence beyond our comprehension, is represented by Big Brother when the reader learns about doublethink, the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and fully accepting both. Doublethink and metaphysics are the engines behind the three world governments, and is defined by O’Brien.
Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else, says O’Brien. . . . In the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth.
Political tragedies, such as this, are published constantly, but 1984 is one of the few that has remained timeless and will always be regarded as not only historical, but also prophetic. The book reminds us of what has gone wrong, what can go wrong, and what will go wrong when government becomes all-powerful. It is because of this political and social insight that 1984
is one of the best books of all time.