Monday, August 7, 2017

Book Review: 1984

1984. George Orwell. 1949. 268 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him. (5)

Premise/plot: 1984 is a dystopian novel by George Orwell starring Winston Smith. The early chapters of the novel orient readers to the world Orwell's created--built. Big Brother. Thought Police. War is Peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. These are the foundational ideas Orwell built his novel upon. 

Smith finds himself at odds with the Party. He knows that sooner or later--probably sooner--he'll be found out, the thought police will kill him; he's a walking dead man because he can't stop thinking about how much he hates the Party, hates Big Brother. 
So long as human beings stay human, death and life are the same thing. (138)
Smith worries for awhile that he's the only one, the only sane man, that everyone else actually believes the Party's propaganda and lies. But he's not alone. One day a woman slips him a note. (Her name is Julia.) The two become lovers and rebels. They openly talk--when they think they are safe--about how much they hate Big Brother. They make promises to one another that they may not be able to keep. 
The past was dead, the future was unimaginable. What certainty had he that a single human creature now living was on his side? (25)
To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone--to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone: from the age of Big Brother, from the age of double think--greetings. (26-7)
Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one. (68) 
My thoughts: What is Winston's biggest struggle in the novel? That's what I keep asking myself over and over. Is it man versus man? Is Winston's biggest threat O'Brien and all that he stands for (Big Brother/ the Party)? Is it man versus himself? Is Winston his own worst enemy? Is it man versus society? Is Winston fighting a losing battle against a dangerous, deceptive world view? A world view that says truth is whatever you want it to be? Truly I think it could be a bit of all the above. 

Is Winston a sympathetic character? Yes and no. I'll start with defending my no. Winston may be a product of his time; but that doesn't mean I have to personally like him. Early on in the novel, for example, Winston has violent thoughts about a woman--nameless at this point. He sees her and he wants to rape her and then kill her. Why? I think he has anger issues about the junior anti-sex league, about the Party, about how men and women are kept separate, about how the Party purposefully makes pleasure and sex incompatible with one another. He's also angry with his wife--they are separated. And his mother vanished from his life when he was still a young child. He barely remembers her. Mentally, emotionally, I think Winston has some issues, some big issues. Winston, like everyone else, is being actively encouraged to HATE. 
The horrible thing about the two minutes hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. (16)
Winston is a thoughtful man, in some ways. In a world where independent, individual thought is essentially illegal, Winston is a nonconformist. He's thinking. He's writing. He's engaged in trying to make sense of the world, questioning everything and everybody, and trying to find out the truth and hold onto the truth at great cost. He does this imperfectly, but at least he's trying. He's making the more difficult choice. It would be easy or safe to follow the mob mentality 24/7. 
Always yell with the crowd, that's what I say. It's the only way to be safe. (124)
Does God fit into this novel? Not really. Winston does not believe in God, does not even know anyone who does. I believe there's a brief mention at some point that the Party let the Proles keep whatever religion they wanted. The Proles being such powerless nobodies that it didn't matter if they conformed--or not--to the Party line. 
Even religious worship would have been permitted if the proles had shown any sign of needing or wanting it. (62)
I hate purity. I hate goodness. I don't want any virtue to exist anywhere. I want everyone to be corrupt to the bones. (128)
Should Christians read 1984? I will say that the novel has fornication and adultery in it. (Though hardly graphic by today's oh-so-loose standards). But that alone isn't enough to deem it an automatic no, in my opinion. If the presence of sexual sin led to an automatic no then the Bible itself would be rejected as immoral. 

One of the deep questions of 1984 is WHAT IS TRUTH? The Party says the truth is whatever we want it to be at any given moment. The Party--not truth--is absolute. The truth may change from hour to hour, day to day, week to week, month to month. Truth has no relation to reality: to what has happened, to what is happening. The Party determines what was true in the past and what is true in the present. If your memories remember something out of line with the Party's current version of the truth, then it's your memory that is wrong. Your memory is faulty; your memory could lead you to commit treasonous thoughts. You are your own worst enemy if you dare to actually think and reason.
Whatever was true now was true from everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. (32)
The past, he reflected, had not merely been altered, it had been actually destroyed. For how could you establish even the most obvious fact when there existed no record outside your own memory? (33)
Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. (46)
Orthodoxy means not thinking--not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness. (47)
Your worst enemy, he reflected, was your own nervous system. (56)
The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their most essential command. (69)
Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows. (69)
There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad. (223) 
The novel also gives a name to the idea of DOUBLETHINK. 
Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. (220)
The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt. (220)
To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies--all this is indispensably necessary. (220)
Doublethink is not restricted to this horrible imagined future. Doublethink is real. 

For example, it's doublethink when society tells us to eat whatever we want, whenever we want, however much we want because we deserve it, because we want it, because it is what makes life worth living AND at the exact same time shames us for not being thin, shames us for not being athletically fit, shames us for not having willpower. The same society that bombards us with commercials for unhealthy food bombards us with commercials for weight loss miracles, weight loss programs, for weight loss surgeries, for exercise equipment. The same society that surrounds us with ads for processed foods and drinks surrounds us with ads for prescription drugs. The message is: EAT ALL THIS FOOD AND BECOME DIABETIC, THEN TELL YOUR DOCTOR YOU NEED THIS DRUG TO TREAT YOUR DIABETES. The entire diet industry, I'm convinced thrives on doublethink.  

Doublethink I think arguably exists in churches as well. 

Big Brother. The novel thrives on the 'scary' 'eery' thought that someone is always WATCHING and judging you. The idea of Big Brother is spooky to many readers. The truth is that we all could use reminders that there is someone always watching, always seeing, always judging us….that someone is God. And we will all stand before the judgment seat and be held accountable for our thoughts and our actions. Believers don't have to worry because we have a mediator--Jesus Christ. But unbelievers, well, that's a whole other story. The novel lacks the gospel and the themes of the gospel. So the novel alone won't point you in the right direction. But it might get you thinking. 

So for these reasons, I think Christians--at least Christians who like to read--should read 1984. It is a thought provoking novel even if it is not a Christian novel. 

1 comment:

Joy said...

I read 1984 in 1983, because it seemed like the thing to do. I don't remember a whole lot about it, except that I was glad that I'd read it.