Wednesday, March 28, 2012

1984 by George Orwell

1984 by George Orwell is a dystopian novel, a classic that is typically read in high school and which has infused our culture to such a degree that certain terms from the novel have become understood by one and all.  This novel was chosen by the Banned Book Group as our February book and I was so excited because I knew it would lend itself to some really interesting discussions.  I was also a little worried because it is also a Presidential election year and I could easily see some of the discussions degenerating into political debates and abuse.  Then our internet disappeared and my excitement/anxiety were moot; if there was a dialogue about the novel, I was not there to participate.  Oh well.

I won’t bother talking about the story or characters because most of these are already known or have been reviewed before.  Also, this is not the first time I’ve read this book.   The first time I read the novel, I did so during a flurry of dystopian reading which included A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, and A Handmaid’s Tale.  I wanted to read 1984 because I’d read an excerpt from the novel while studying for my GED and the protagonist, Winston Smith, begins keeping a journal on April 4, my birthday.  A rather superficial reason to want to read a book but it opened the floodgates for the other dystopian novels so I regret nothing.

This is, in fact, perhaps my fourth time reading the novel.  I was surprised to notice how many allusions there are to death and suicide sprinkled throughout the text.  I don’t think there is a single chapter that doesn’t have some reference to death in it, whether in the metaphor of a dream or in a blunt statement of a singular act being like a suicide or Smith’s own acceptance that he is already dead. 

Certainly, there is something both desperate and despairing about the characters and their lives.  This is not a pleasant book to read, all the more so because it doesn’t sound so bizarre or even impossible.  If society has not quite reached the level suggested in the novel, there are certainly hints of the possibility surrounding us.  I do not dare say more because I would prefer not to put too much political ranting in this review and I don’t want to get caught up in debate of right or wrong politics.  Whether your politics agree with my own or not, I think we can all agree that when Orwell wrote this novel, in the alarming context of post-Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, his prophetic vision may have seemed unlikely as people reassured one another “never again.”  But decades later we cannot turn a blind eye to the gradual moves toward the inevitability of his vision being fully realized, if not in our lifetime then perhaps in 2084.  (I am surely not going to live to see the day myself.) 

It seems na├»ve to say that we will not let it happen when we have let the small steps the add up to the fruition go overlooked, the genocidal attempts and ongoing threats and realities of war that have since occurred.  World War I was called “The Great War” because people truly believed that nothing like that would ever happen again.  We have since learned better but clearly continue learning, as this novel’s popularity and relevance clearly prove.

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