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Do we think for ourselves?
Nineteen Eighty-four - George Orwell
Member Name: broxi3781
Nineteen Eighty-four - George Orwell
Date: 03/07/13, updated on 03/07/13 (58 review reads)
Advantages: Very well written, makes you think,
Disadvantages: Doesn't offer any solutions.
The protagonist is this story is Winston Smith, a very plain ordinary civil servant. Winston is never alone, he never has a moments privacy. Nearly every moment of his life is under the gaze of the two- way tele-screen or hidden cameras and mikes. Even the toilet is not a place a privacy. Every conversation, every movement, even intimate relations between married couples is watched and monitored for any deviation from the party line. There is no crime, there is no opportunity to commit crime. There is only thought crime, and to even think anything other than what the party has told the citizen to think is a crime which warrants complete annihilation, not just of the body, but of the soul itself. The individual no longer exists, members of the party exist only to serve the party, like ants in a giant hive controlled by some unseen swarm intelligence.
The paradox to this constant state of observation and lack of any privacy whatsoever, is deep and horrible sense of isolation. Party members are part of the collective, but they are also completely alone. The family has been broken down, and the party intends to degrade family relationships further, envisioning a time when children would be taken at birth and raised by the state. The bond between husband and wife is destroyed with any intimacy carefully monitored to ensure that no closeness or joy is found in the relationship, only the fulfilment of one's duty to create more party members.
The civilisation Winston lives in is called Oceania. It consists of three social classes. The elite members of the inner party hold all the power. Winston is a member of the outer party, an intellectual. His job is to rewrite any past media release article or event to make sure the party looks good. The party changes history daily, altering the past to suit their own agenda. They say that "He who controls the past controls the future" and the party controls past present and future in 1984. The Proles represent the lowest classes, kept in abject poverty and ignorance, they exist only as workers, but amongst this slave class, there is more happiness than in the middle class. They are not as closely monitored, and may still have some family life, although even in this class one wrong word can lead to disappearance or a life in the forced labour camps.
Winston's life is irrevocably altered when he comes across a document proving that three famous criminals , executed for crimes against the state were innocent. He destroys this, as he is meant to, but it plays on his mind for years to come, eventually leading him into rebellion. He is encouraged by a forbidden relationship with another party member, Julia, but I found this character flat and vapid. Julia, as Winston says is a only "a rebel from the waist down". She has no interest in philosophy or revolution, only in forbidden sex. There are a couple of others characters, but I found them all insignificant. This book concerns Winston's struggles with his own thoughts, his since of truth or lie, of right and wrong, of who he is, and what the party is.
I can't say that I particularly enjoyed this book. This is not a story of the triumph of the human spirit, but of its destruction. It is a story of despair and darkness and the complete extinction of hope. It is thankfully a story of a future that never came to pass, although one must bear in mind that many aspects of this book are obviously taken from real political movements of the time. Big Brother seems to bear a certain resemblance to Stalin, concentration camps and forced labour camps were common enough in Orwell's lifetime. The Party's ideal of blond haired blue eyed athletic individuals certainly takes something from the Nazi era as well. Rations would still have been a fact of life when Orwell wrote this, as would the fear of war. Propaganda must have existed in some for from the first civilisations, but the advent of the printing press, radio and television brought propaganda to the forefront. The pen truly is mightier than the sword and propaganda today raises and destroys political movements.
I don't believe this book is truly prophetic. It is a story, a parable, told in the extreme to get one's attention. But I do see many aspects of this as relevant today. One character talks of the gradual conversion to party ideals, rather like boiling a lobster in a pot. Humans would not give up their history, their culture , their freedoms and beliefs all at once. Instead Big Brother has little by little eroded all human rights including the most basic of rights such as freedom of conscience, the right to a family, and form relationships. We believe ourselves a democratic society, and yet we are willing to suspend democracy when it suits, such as the freedom of protest. We may not have cameras in our homes, but the second I step outside my door- I am in the sights of one camera as I move around the corner, another takes over. In all honesty, I'd have been happy enough for these cameras if they were used as they should be, to identify crimes, but they are not. So why are they there?
The most terrible aspect of 1984 to me though was the erosion of the family. Just today I listened to a report on the governments desire to create more state funded boarding schools, and to fund poorer children to be boarded full time. The report was lovely and cheery, with children who no longer miss home, and in fact openly stated they do like their parents. How delightful. The school is now the family. I found the prospect terrifying. I've also read quite a bit on the current regime's plans for education, including a desire for school hours to be extended and government intervention is childcare to begin earlier to break the influence of the lower classes on their children. If you don't believe me, look for a book called "The Tail" endorsed by Gove.
There is an old saying, those who are ignorant of history being doomed to repeat it. I could only wish those in charge would read about the fall of Rome after the disintegration of the family. Strong families built this nation. A lack of them will destroy it.
Thankfully I do not ever see Britain descending into the state of affairs in this novel. But I do think people need to be aware of that with every freedom we relinquish, we fall further down a very slippery slope. Most of all, I think we need to seriously examine the use of doublethink and newspeak in todays politics and be aware of the power of propaganda. I also think we need to ask ourselves - do we teach our children to memorise the facts as they are given - or to think for themselves? Finally there is quite a lot about history being used as weapon. Do we teach our children to see all sides - or only our own? Is history taught so that we can learn from it, or so that we can keep on making the same mistakes? This book is not dated because it has failed to be prophetic. Instead this is perhaps more relevant today than it was in 1949.
My only complaint with this book is that it does not give any answers . It leaves with a lot of questions, but no solutions. But perhaps that is the point. Perhaps we are meant to find our own.
Summary: Not the most enjoyable book to read, but one of the most thought provoking.