I first read George Orwell’s 1984 as an assignment as Freshman in high school and loved it. (When I was in elementary school I borrowed it from the library, and liked the story, but did not get the symbolism and nuances.) Since high school, I’ve probably read it three more times. With so many people finding a renewed interest in it thanks to George W. Bush and the rumored new 1984 movie coming up, I figured this is a good opportunity to discuss it.
First, two misconceptions about the novel:
1) “Orwell was wrong because 1984 didn’t come true”.
a) 1984 was not the title he chose; his publisher chose it because it was more marketable and because it was written in 1948 by Orwell. Orwell’s title as he wrote this book in the 1940′s was “The Last Man in Europe”.
b) Nowhere in the preface, appendix, or actual work does Orwell state that the book is a prophecy. A warning, yes, a cautionary tale, yes, but not a prediction.
c) The main character Winston Smith actually states that since the Party rewrites history, that he couldn’t even be sure of the year being 1984.
d) Check out Cuba and China since 1949 (1984′s publication date), not to mention Orwell accurately describing the mood and hopelessness of citizens those under Stalin and Hitler less than three years after the end of WWII in Europe.
e) George W. Bush: Used 9/11 to increase nationalism and patriotism, and to help Congress fund a never-ending and expensive war. He and his cabinet have made numerous contradictory statements in terms of the reasons why they began the war (revisionist history). Made us hate Saddam, Al-Queda, and Osama as the people hated Goldstein in 1984. His “Axis of Evil” declaration was akin to the Party bashing Eurasia or Eastasia in 1984. Signed off on phone taps, e-mail bots crawling for keywords, and enabled the TSA and airport customers to suspend our freedoms as guaranteed by the Constitution to become null and void under the guise of security and safety.
2) “Orwell was a socialist, and because of that and the sex scenes, 1984 doesn’t belong in public schools.”
a) Actually, the fact that a socialist wrote such a cautionary story shows how valid and objective Orwell was regarding the drawbacks of a socialized government.
b) The sexual content is fine for high schoolers, who know more about sex than adults anyway. Besides, this is not a “children’s book”.
c) We live in a democracy and the youth needs to read about a government gone amok by suspending civil liberties.
My view of the book
Lists rank 1984 in the Top 10 or Top 20 books of all time. I agree that it is the best novel featuring Man vs Society. It may very well be the most relevant novel of the 20th century. The ending is NOT a happy one. In many ways, it’s hard to imagine Orwell began writing this book in around 1947-1948, because it is not dated at all. (This book seems like it was written in 1968, which means Orwell was 20 years before his time.) Orwell clearly stated that science and technology was used for police surveillance and military ONLY, not to enhance or advance the every day life experiences of the citizens. Orwell was right on in his view that televisions would be everywhere in 1984. Many books, movies, and novels were inspired by Orwell’s vision of a dark, state-controlled world. For a citizen of Russia and China- that was their LIFE, and his book was a warning to England and the United States not to follow suit.
1984 the book vs 1984 the movie
The movie really didn’t influence me, only because I had already enjoyed and had read the book so many times, which had a WEALTH of detail about the history of that earth. It was a fine movie adaptation, which is rare, and even used most of the dialog, but for me the movie doesn’t rank in any Top 10 or Top 20 Movies of all time. It’s still a good movie, but it was forced to leave out a lot of details. The television show The Prisoner, from 1968, is a much more accurate portrayal of the man vs. society (individual vs government) conflict.
The movie can be seen here on Youtube.