If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.
George Orwell | 1949 | 311 Pages
Events of the mid 20th century went down very differently from the reality we live in. The world is controlled by three super countries. Society in one of the three, Oceania, is stratified, surveilled, and subject to immense government control. In this dystopian version of the year 1984 everything you do, and everything you know is controlled by the Party, and by Big Brother at the very top. But some will try and rebel, and Winston Smith seeks to enter their ranks.
Somehow I’ve lived all these years having never read this book that just about everyone was assigned in high school. I had a weird curriculum? When it started to hit best-seller lists again earlier this year I knew I had to dive in, though it at times felt far too real (which is why it took me so long to read something that’s only 300 pages).
The main character, a party man named Winston Smith is the reader’s surrogate. He’s a man with secret hopes, “criminal” thoughts, and a forbidden drive to go back to the world of his long-past childhood. He is sympathetic and wholly human, a link between what was and what is.
Orwell’s world is terrifying. A land where the government watches everything you do, controls everyone you interact with, and manipulates the very way you think. They even have the power to change the truth, creating alternate facts and erasing the conflicting past entirely. It’s a world different from our own, yet with eerie similarities, especially if you’re up to date on your world news. 1984 is a chilling “What If?”
Without giving away too much, for the three other English-speaking readers alive who haven’t read this, the book doesn’t leave you with a happy feeling. Don’t get me wrong, novels aren’t required to have uplifting endings, but the toil, the resistance, and the struggle itself make you wish for a resolution- characters who overcome their situation and make a difference. But the world doesn’t always work that. Sometimes odds can’t be overcome. I list that only as a downside because it’s deeply disturbing.
Should You Read This?
Yes. And don’t wait until you’re a dinosaur like me. All the way back in 1949 Orwell was predicting facets of a future he would never live to see. The hivemind. Invasions of privacy. The manipulation of truth. Many novels of the dystopian genre feel outlandish, more fantasy that anything else. But many things in 1984 feel uncomfortably familiar, and more plausible than many would like to admit.