In 1984, Winston Smith lives in London which is part of the country Oceania. The world is divided into three countries that include the entire globe: Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. Oceania, and both of the others, is a totalitarian society led by Big Brother, which censors everyone’s behavior, even their thoughts. Winston is disgusted with his oppressed life and secretly longs to join the fabled Brotherhood, a supposed group of underground rebels intent on overthrowing the government. Winston meets Julia and they secretly fall in love and have an affair, something which is considered a crime. One day, while walking home, Winston encounters O’Brian, an inner party member, who gives Winston his address. Winston had exchanged glances with O’Brian before and had dreams about him giving him the impression that O’Brian was a member of the Brotherhood. Since Julia hated the party as much as Winston did, they went to O’Brian’s house together where they were introduced into the Brotherhood. O’Brian is actually a faithful member of the Inner-Party and this is actually a trap for Winston, a trap that O’Brian has been cleverly setting for seven years. Winston and Julia are sent to the Ministry of Love which is a sort of rehabilitation center for criminals accused of thoughtcrime. There, Winston was separated from Julia, and tortured until his beliefs coincided with those of the Party. Winston denounces everything he believed him, even his love for Julia, and was released back into the public where he wastes his days at the Chestnut Tree drinking gin.
I’ve known of this novel for years because references are made to it in conversation or in films; and I knew the basic summary of the story because I’ve been recommending it as a ‘must read’, too, but did not read it myself until just now.
Why the long wait? Why now? I think it is because the full impact of Orwell’s warning would not have been felt by me if I had read this five or ten years ago. It is because, as I was about to start reading this book, I looked up and saw the camera watching me, and knowing about the internet and Wikipedia and how information can be changed, and how at work ‘they’ are trying to streamline and make us more efficient, and how people who do not fit the mold are let go … And, that is what really got me thinking about reading 1984, and knew that I would appreciate it, be frightened by, and cheer for Winston Smith as he struggled against The Party and Big Brother, as I struggle against my own Big Brother.
Did I like the book? Yes, I did. Yes because of Winston Smith – he is likable, even though he is physically falling apart – varicose ulcer on his leg, balding, and a cough that renders him incapacitated for most of the morning – because he sees the treachery of The Party, and in his small way, begins to fight the system. He is the novel; without him, Orwell’s warning would not have been as powerful.
Also, this story hit too close to home, and scared me to death about the future we are steadily marching towards. I admit, I am a bit more paranoid than I used to be; I’m more careful about what I write on my Facebook wall; and what I say at work, after reading this novel, but I think we need to be, don’t you? If we are not careful, we may end up exactly in a world like Orwell predicted, and by then … it will be too late.