Orwell’s despondent view of an evil utopia hits all the right notes. His vision into a near-possible future is stunning, depressing and all too understandable. A warning, a final prophesy written by a spirited visionary in the final stage of his life.
Many have read this book early in their youth, most likely as part of their educational upbringing. 1984 and Animal Farm are standard, pedantic texts battle ready for disaffected youth to sink their teeth into. This book, among the greats, seems boundless in the echoes and touchstones resounding within its tome. In revisiting the text many years later, one will find that Orwell’s words seem strangely even more relevant than they were at first blanch. Perhaps even more so than they were when original meted out and scratched into paper during the author’s self-imposed exile in the Scottish isle that was his final home so many years ago.
There are so many elements here that have such deep and broad depth that will keep this work of literature relevant for many more years. Orwell invented the terms “Big Brother” and “Thought Crime” and dove unrepentantly into issues of privacy, personal freedom and individualism. All this before the revolution of the internet! He also fretted over the degradation of language (OMG!) and the breakdown and bastardization of society’s communal bonds, family bonds, bonds of friendship and the abolishment of simple love. His vision of a mechanized society (one that even turns books out by machines), is more than a decry by a luddite so much as it concerns the debasement or obliteration of the individual and sense of self.
Orwell’s main thrust seems to be right at the heart of man and the core inner lust for domination and power, simply for its own sake. That ever-present evolutionary tendency to thrive at all costs without purpose or direction, and the ability of that singular impetus to take over and distort all else toward its own end. He digs that up out of the blackest parts of the human heart and disgorges it upon the shoreline of society receding tide as if to say, “This too is what you are. Do not kid yourself.”
For me, this book was rough. The tone was bleak. Throughout. Unflinchingly somber and hopeless. Yet, the story of the protagonist and his struggle amid this world turned upside down, is relatable and believable. Despite the obvious despair and immeasurable odds, we do feel for Winston Smith (the protagonist) and we do root for him. We follow him in his desperation to find something, some way to express himself and make a dent in the impenetrable wall that has become the totalitarian society which he is a part. We feel his constant fear and ever present distrust of everything—almost. The little glimmers of possibilities, even when they are squashed, keep your interest and balance the grim-gray that pervades everything.
One thing that struck me was that the female character Julia, is an interesting addition. She has a good amount of gumption and serves more than just a goal or love interest. She is fleshed out pretty well and adds a lot of dimension to the story by sharing the protagonist’s goals, but also coming from a slightly different more realistic viewpoint.
Another thing I found interesting in reading this book in present time was how insular the story is. We are just as stuck as the protagonist. All news of the outside world and the society is filtered to the reader through the regime in power. We never really know who to trust or when something might be real or made up or mere speculation. Nothing ever really seems certain. The story never ever escapes this – there is never an Oz-like “Man behind the Curtain” moment. Not really. We are told how some things work, and sometimes by sources that are deemed more reliable than others, but we don’t truly find out.
This tight view point, keeps up a claustrophobic feeling that forces the storyline to remain connected to the protagonist’s individual struggle. Even though Winston Smith is concerned with larger concepts and a revolutionary struggle on a society level–the story remains individualistic. However, the tale is not a man’s struggle with himself, it is a man’s struggle to find himself among others; the interrelatedness of things and how important that is. The totalitarian regime in power has distorted this effect and is manifesting control by continually putting up road blocks and pseudo-constructed, societal norms to hamper true progress and growth.
Even still, the individual struggles to find their place in society. As the story goes on, I think it is clear that most of this doomed society continues to struggle with this. And the powers that be, must expend an immense amount of effort and expense to constantly suppress this. In the end, can that really work? Have a care. Big Brother is watching.