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Sunday, June 21, 2020

1984 Book Review

Who would have thought? In the strange world of Oceania, the pinpointed critics of the Party are being tortured in a windowless, towering facility named Ministry of Love. Information are being disseminated (subtext: manufactured) from the Ministry of Truth. Doublespeak introduces a new linguistic concept of ambiguity that validates war as peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance as strength. All actions, emotions, and even internal thoughts are being watched by the State through two-way telescreens, where Big Brother is watching. This is the dystopian reality that novelist George Orwell envisaged in his classic 1984.

1984 Book, George Orwell
Image: 20th Century Fox

The narrative of Orwell’s dystopian classic revolves around Winston Smith, also the novel’s main protagonist. An employee of the Ministry of Truth, Winston exudes a kind of rebellion that could quickly earn someone the ire of the Party. Since the ruling State exercises total power over the whole of Oceania, all activities deemed to be subversive of the powers-that-be—from owning and writing in a diary to even falling in love with somebody.

Winston, in his powerful and courageous will to cross the Party’s lines, breaks these rules. Where it is disallowed to carry a dictionary, Winston made no qualms about owning one. In his diary, on which he writes outside the vicinity of the telescreen where the Party had total access, he writes down one seditious message that may instantly win somebody a ticket to execution: Down with Big Brother!

Winston’s nascent rebellion takes on a higher stage when he meets Julia, a co-worker in the Ministry of Truth. Since the Party disallowed falling in love, to even profess to romantic affection for Julia already constitutes subversion—on Winston’s part. But admit to those feelings he still did, which Julia reciprocated with an equal amount of affection, so much so that it led them to a wily whirlwind of romance under the duress of state surveillance.

In the end, the final nail in Winston’s coffin was when he foolishly trusted O’Brien, a discreet member of the Party’s powerful inner core, when the latter told him that he takes part in a rebellious organization called Brotherhood, aiming the ouster of Big Brother. This, and the act of reading a book tagged as subversive, led to his and Julia’s eventual arrest by the Thought Police. Weeks that stretched into months of cruelty and torment eventually broke both of their spirits.

1984 Book, George Orwell
Image: Chicago Tribune
There are many points still left untouched about Orwell’s dystopian novel: the classic act of book-burning and elimination of complex thought words from the dictionary by tyrants, the manipulation of language to suit the narrative of despotism, and the State’s project of mass surveillance. However, the chilling future which Orwell set to visualize in 1984 points us all, eerily in a time of fascism, to a common enemy against which we may be left powerless in a few years’ time: totalitarianism. 1984 was both a warning on and a protest against that nefarious social order.


Written by Karl Patrick Wilfred M. Suyat, IFY Books

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