WRITTEN BY NAVYA JHA
Symposia : 7/10
Goodreads : 4.2/5
“The best books are those that tell you what you know already.” - George Orwell, 1984.
This is what epitomizes ‘1984’ for me. It’s a novel that prophesies a future for mankind that, especially being a history student, I’d already pondered upon. Orwell’s curation is a spectacle in the history of literature and to this day, has an enduring potency to the especially dystopian genre. The novel is a depiction of totalitarianism and its matchless power, amalgamating an anti-utopian masterpiece. Allow me to openly exercise doublethink when I say that ‘1984’ is one of my favorite, and least favorite novels.
‘1984’ was intended to be a Cold War novel as at the time of Stalin’s rise and the Great Depression, many envisioned an entirely socialist world. The story encircles a world split into three superstates: Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. In reality, an international three way split did ensue the Cold War. The divisions were the USA and its allies, the Soviet Union, and ‘Third World’ countries that weren’t aligned with either superpower. However, Orwell didn’t care for the USA and thus cultivated a socialist utopia in ‘1984’. His representation was so moving that the word ‘Orwellian’ is now used when discussing politically tyrannical subjects. Wholly, what makes the novel so renowned is its lasting influence; the notion of the plot being a future in which we are all Winstons. It’s a psychological play.
Speaking of a psychological play, let’s talk about the political party in the novel, Ingsoc. The party’s ideals are “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”. This in itself amplifies doublethink as it simultaneously believes in two contradictory ideas. Such acts of linguistic manipulation complement Orwell’s social commentary. ‘Doublethink’, along with other words such as ‘thoughtcrime’, is actually part of today’s English dictionary. This seemingly eternal significance of ‘1984’ is caused by the Lindy Effect. This is a theory stating that a piece’s future relevance is proportional to how admired it is in the present. Since the novel was discussed for years after its release, according to the Lindy Effect, it will continue to be popular for those many years once again.
Moving on to other aspects of ‘1984’. Throughout the story, Orwell incessantly speaks of freedom: “Freedom is slavery” and “is the freedom to say that two plus two equals four”. This idea’s malleability is a major aspect of the storyline. The final brainwash Winston experiences in the socialist society cajoles him that two plus two equals five. This concept of successfully convincing one of something false is part of what makes the book so disturbing. This harrowing depiction of anti-utopia where the government writes reality and ever changing propaganda makes up people’s daily lives adds to the same. The book wouldn’t have gotten such fame if it wasn’t so very perturbing.
Like every esteemed novel, ‘1984’ receives a ton of criticism. Firstly, it’s a tedious read. It took me three tries over a few months to finish it. The opening is extremely boring but as the chapters go on, the story gets a lot denser and not necessarily in a good way. Moreover, it reeks of misogyny. The idea of a woman not having a mind of her own is constantly reiterated. Julia, the only significant female character in the novel, is objectified by Winston and isn’t even portrayed to be fazed by it. Furthermore, since it’s so famous, most readers go into the novel expecting something spectacular. ‘1984’ is far from it.
That was more than enough reasoning for you to skip the novel but I urge you to read it. It’s challenging and contentious but extremely moving. In my opinion, if a book makes you think, it was worth reading. ‘1984’ is striking and will unquestionably make you think. That doesn’t change the fact that it is one of the worst novels I’ve read.