Sunday, June 26, 2011

ReView of '1984: Nineteen Nighty-Four' by George Orwell

Science Fiction - 328pgs
Signet Classics (first published in 1984)


This novel is one for every possible generation, and each generation should be dedicated to reading it.  Orwell wasn't just a writer; he is a genius of his own category whether due to his psychological, philosophical or anthropological genius.  "No one can deny the novel's hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions-a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time."  I was often thinking, as I was reading this novel, how much it sounds like the world we live in today and then I wondered a little bit about whether that's always been the case.  Has it always reflected the 'present,' regardless of which present we're talking about?

 I was advised by someone really close to me to read this book BUT to read it in a certain setting because the book carries a tone to it, carries a spirit that has to be fully grabbed, and that can only be done with the right setting, or so I was told.  Of course, that didn't really happen. I have my own method and process when it comes to reading.  Nevertheless, what I was told is certainly true.  There is a 'mood' to the novel.  I didn't really quite put my finger on it until I began the forward at the end of the book, and it speaks of exactly what I was thinking about in terms of what the 'mood' is.  "George Orwell's 1984 is the expression of a mood, and it is a warning.  The mood it expresses is that of near despair about the future of man, and the warning is that unless the course of history changes, men all over the world will lose their most human qualities, will become soulless automatons, and will not even be aware of it."

1984 is levels upon levels of thinking.  There is an immense collection of topics you can draw from it and talk about, but for me the most profound aspect of the novel is the "Obliteration of the Self."  First of all, the setting of the novel is one in which everyone has a cautionary existence with no privacy or a sense of their own lives.  They are constantly watched, spied on, and scrutinized in their every step, every word, and every action.  If that doesn't make you angry just a little bit, maybe the thought of people being frightened by their own children might make the hairs on your back rise a little.  How about if your memory doesn't have any significance at all? What if all your memories aren't real but manufactured? What about if people just 'vaporize' out of existence?  There is no sense of tragedy. "Tragedy belonged to the ancient time, to a time when there were still privacy, love, and friendship, and when the members of a family stood by one another without needing to know the reason." There is no individualism or eccentricity.  "It was assumed that when he was not working, eating, or sleeping he would be taking part in some kind of communal recreations; to do anything that suggested a taste for solitude, even to go for a walk by yourself, was always slightly dangerous.  There was a word for it in Newspeak: ownlife, it was called, meaning individualism and eccentricity."  And something else, something that at first seems to carry no significance, is the simple lack of appreciation for antiquities.  "What appealed to him about it was not so much its beauty as the air it seemed to posses of belonging to an age quite different from the present one.  The soft, rainwatery glass was not like any glass that he had ever seen." As well, the present, then, no longer has a standard or a reference to compare itself to, only the present mode exists and that's all there is to it.

People are so utterly confused and busy they no longer understand, question, or care.  The feel no need to ask intelligent question, and as a matter of fact they even fear it.  Why? Because intelligent men are 'vaporized.' Syme is one of those characters in the novel, who just disappears, he is 'vaporized,' with no signs of him ever having existed.  No one cares and no one wonders what's happened to him.  This is what the main character, Winston, says about him days before he disappears.  It's an eerie feeling.  "There was something subtly wrong with Syme.  There was something that he lacked: discretion, aloofness, a sort of saving stupidity.  You could not say that he was unorthodox.  He believed in the principles of Ingsoc, he venerated Big Brother, he rejoiced over victories, he hated heretics, not merely with sincerity but with a sort of restless zeal, and up-to-dateness of information, which the ordinary Party member did not approach.  Yet a faint air of disreputability always clung to him.  He said things that would have been better unsaid, he had read too many books, he frequented the Chestnut Tree Cafe, haunt of painters and musicians."  It is an eerie feeling to think that you could just disappear without a trace and without any one to care.

Why is the Obliteration of the Self so crucial?  It's a means to an end, and the end is pure Power.  The past is controlled, the records and information are controlled, your memories are controlled, your life is controlled, what you think and do is controlled.  It all leads to a feeling of anger and helplessness to know that you have no hand in your own life.  You fail to be humble and to self-discipline yourself?  There are consequences, you will suffer greatly until you feel utter deadly helplessness that can only be relieved by giving in and giving 'them' what 'they' want. 'The act of submission is sanity." "When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will.  We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us; so long as he resists us we never destroy him.  We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him.  We burn all evil and all illusion out of him; we bring him over to our side, not in appearance, but genuinely, heart and soul.  We make him one of ourselves before we kill him.  It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be."

"Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you.  Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity.  You will be hollow.  We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves."  It's all step-wise, first by learning, second by understanding, and lastly by acceptance.  You have no choice, you're manipulated to believe you have a choice, the choice is to avoid suffering.  Does God exist? You wonder as a last resort, because there must be a God - he will help you even when your will won't.  And event that, 'they' will manipulate so that it is 'an unsolved riddle in your mind.'  Ultimately, there is no hope, there is no help, there is nothing in you.  You are hopeless, helpless, and empty.  You are suffering.  You are in pain and at their mercy.  "We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.  Power is not a means; it is an end.  One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.  The object of persecution is persecution.  The object of torture is torture.  The object of power is power.  Now do you begin to understand me?"

They cut links "between child and parent, between man and man, between man and woman.  No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer.  Children will be taken from their mothers at birth.... The sex instinct will be eradicated.  Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card...abolish the orgasm... no loyalty, except loyalty toward the Party....no love, except love of Big Brother....no laughter, except the laugh of triumph ver a defeated enemy...no art, no literature, no science....will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness...will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life.  All competing pleasures will be destroyed.... If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face-forever."  1984 leaves a feeling of despair in your heart and spirit.  Why?  Maybe because it sounds so much like our world today, but we might still have time to do something about it.  Maybe we've had so much more time and we have succumbed to the method and oppression that we've already begun the path to relinquish power to 'them.'  Maybe so.  The despair is real.  The opportunity is real.  The path?  That's somewhat unclear.

1984 by George Orwell is one of those pieces of literature which will never cease to teach us about the human spirit, about the dictatorship, and those whose sole purpose in life is to gain pure Power.  The eyes of every generation must be opened, or at least awakened by 1984.




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