Friday, May 1, 2015

Book Review: 1984 by George Orwell

If I was to sum up my experience in reading 1984 in one sentence, it would be," Well, that was messed up."

1984 is the story of what George Orwell worried the world would be like by 1984 if communism had taken hold in the 1940s when he wrote the book. The story follows Winston Smith, a middle-aged average "party member" who starts to wonder if life could be better than it is now. The world is strictly watched by "Big Brother", and no one and no where is safe from his vision and hearing. Every house has a television that cannot be turned off, and it works to both broadcast what the government wants people to see, as well as giving them access into the homes and private spaces of each citizen. Winston works in the "Ministry of Truth", which is similar to a publishing company for the government, where he "corrects" past publications to make sure that "the party" is and always has been right about every prediction - on paper, at least. They say that he who controls the present controls the past, and they spend their time destroying old documents that showed any life different to what is their reality at that moment. Winston is certainly not happy, more like just existing, until one day a younger woman sends him a secret message to say that she loves him.

Winston begins an affair with Julia, the younger girl, and they meet in places that they feel are out of the reach of Big Brother. Their love carries on for a while, until Winston decides to approach a man he believes is part of the resistance and pledge to work against the current government. His trust was very misplaced, and he finds himself locked up in the "Ministry of Love", where is he tortured and brain washed into believing in all that "the party" tells him... before they kill him anyway.

I have to say, I am kind of baffled by this book in a few ways. I had no idea what to expect before reading it. All I knew is that a) it's a "classic", b) it's generally on high school reading lists, c) Big Brother is watching you, and d) it's supposed to show what the world would be like under communism. I had no idea what else would be involved in the story, and I was kind of shocked that it was so graphic so quickly. I definitely understand why the graphic descriptions were used, but the whole time I was reading the book I kept wondering how on earth this book is considered a classic and students are encouraged to read it, while many other books I've read that are considered "banned books" had no where near as disturbing subject matter. Not that I would ever support banning a book, I just thought that it was a strange double standard. I found the book very depressing, and full of descriptions that you would want to turn away from in movie form because it was so disturbing. I feel like I need to give an example. At the very beginning of the book, Winston describes "the hate", which is a video presentation designed to rile up the citizens against their enemy they are currently at war with. The result is that when Winston sees a young girl getting very involved with "hating" their enemy, he has visions of how he would like to "violate her and then slit her throat" or beat her to death with a hammer. How are these descriptions ok for teenagers, but a book like The Perks of Being a Wallflower is thought bad enough to be banned? I think rape and violent murder are equally on par with homosexuality and abortion as far as things you don't want your children exposed to, right? I fully understand what Orwell was trying to illustrate with these descriptions and they definitely belong in the book, it just spurned me on that tangent thought.

My personal censorship views aside, I do appreciate what the story was trying to illustrate, and it certainly did a good job at forcing a reaction from the reader. All in all though, it's just not what I had anticipated when I picked up this book. At least I can say I read it though, lol. I give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

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