I have been inactive for an inexcusably long chunk of time, but I haven’t been sitting with arms folded on my lap… or rather, I have but with a book in hand, too! I have finally read the great Orwellian classic.
Big Brother and doublethink have become part of the modern vocabulary much like the plot of 1984 has become common knowledge, and the novel itself — a well-rehearsed trope. However, I commenced reading the novel knowing surprisingly little of what was actually about to come my way.
Winston Smith, our protagonist, is introduced as a painfully average middle-aged man and one of the most lacklustre characters I have ever read. As the book progresses he undergoes some character development and becomes a rather effective protagonist, although still dry and wrinkled all over. Perhaps it is because Winston lacks the vivacity of youth which is so common to modern dystopian heroes, but he fails to become a pleasant character, for me at least.
Part I of the novel is mostly taken up by a lengthy exposition and introduction to the world of the Party. Orwell is brilliant at dissecting oppression and rebellion (Read Animal Farm!) so the technicalities of his world-building are worked out with frighteningly realistic precision. Part I also introduces us to a mysterious dark-haired girl who inspires negative emotions in Winston, but as the novel flows into Part II, Winston suddenly falls in love with the girl who is now given the name of Julia. Their love seems to sprout from a single love note — I love you. The next part of the novel consists of intermittent love-making sessions. Julia is the only major female character in the novel, and to put it nicely, she sucks as a person, woman, and character. Julia is a rebel only when it comes to her own well-being, and all she seems to be interested in is her own sexuality. Needless to say, from a feminist perspective or any at all, I found her to be a weak and unlikable character.
Part III is where it all goes down. Winston is captured and tortured. Apart from the exciting reading experience (the plot is moving forward finally!), the reader gets all the enlightenment the previous part lacks during torture sessions with O’Brien. These get really existential as O’Brien explains the nature of power, its relation to the Party, and how reality can be warped and controlled by those in power. The final part of the novel was like a successful punch line, and it convinced me that this novel is five-star-worthy, even if the joke itself took too long to unravel.
The end is a bit unconventional for the genre, as novels of this ilk tend to leave the reader with hopeful prospects for the future. But I will defend Orwell’s choice to end the novel as he did until my breath is wasted. His intention was to warn against the dangers of absolute power, lack of education, mindlessness, oppression, and cookie-cutter equality. If the novel ended lightly, I feel it would be taken as such — a mere fable to read through and put down. By giving it a bleak and pessimistic finish, Orwell sealed the seriousness of his message.
Overall, I rather enjoyed 1984 and I think it is a novel everyone should read regardless of whether they would enjoy it. Tell me what you think! Did you find the end satisfactory? How did you feel about the dynamics of the story?