Monday, December 13, 2010

Nineteen Eighty-Four

[This review originally appeared on]

19841984 by George Orwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the definitive dystopian novel and one that everybody should read. Big Brother and the Party rule Oceania, a supernation composed of the former United States and Britain. Citizens are constantly being watched for signs of incorrect thought or "thoughtcrime". The official truth is revised on a regular basis and, since human thought is based on language, the Party is subtly trying to alter citizens' minds by gradually replacing English with the highly limited "Newspeak". Truth is defined as what the government says; it is never objective or independent. Anyone who has a problem with this just might find himself confronted by the Thought Police and taken to the dreaded "Ministry of Love".

Winston, a worker in the Ministry of Truth (i.e., the propaganda ministry), begins to question the status quo and starts to seek out the resistance movement that the Party constantly vilifies. But is the resistance movement real or is it another one of the Party's "truths"? And with 24/7 surveillance, can Winston hide his thoughtcrimes from Big Brother?

Orwell, a socialist who nonetheless opposed communism as practiced by the Stalinist Soviet Union, deftly conveys his idea of a degenerate and tyrannical communist society. The bleakness of Oceania and the hopelessness of the society of Nineteen Eighty-Four is palpable. The reader is made to sympathize with Winston's desperate attempts to quietly defy Big Brother and the Party. However, from early on in the story it seems unlikely that there can be a happy ending in Winston's future.

Although we don't face the brutality of Oceania, many may notice similarities between Orwell's concept of thoughtcrime and modern-day political correctness or the ever-shifting definition of hate crime.

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