Friday, September 4, 2009

24. “Nineteen Eighty-four” by George Orwell

Year of first publication: 1949
Genre: dystopian fiction, science fiction
Country : England

About the author: see this post

Plot: Hidden away in the Record Department of the sprawling Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith skilfully rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Yet he inwardly rebels against the totalitarian world he lives in, which demands absolute obedience and controls him through the all-seeing telescreens and the watchful eye of Big Brother, symbolic head of the Party. In his longing for truth and liberty, Smith begins a secret love affair with a fellow-worker Julia, but soon discovers the true price of freedom is betrayal.

Some thoughts: I like “dystopian” novels like Huxley’s Brave New World or Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (of this one I’ve just seen the movie, though). Of Nineteen Eighty-four I had seen the movie during high-school and I vividly remember this big eye that controls everything, the Big Brother. I don’t remember if the reality show was already on TV at the time, but I think it’s quite sad that now this words, Big Brother, only remind us of trash TV.
In both Fahrenheit 451 and Nineteen Eighty-four there is a man who discovers that there is a way out of homologation and tries to gain intellectual freedom. He fights against the totalitarian regime that controls every aspect of his life and brainwashed the whole humanity.
I loved the neologisms, in particular “doublethink”, the twisted way of thinking that teaches you how to accept the opposite of what would make sense. “War is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength” is the motto of the Party and it is the finest example of “doublethink”. I know of some real politicians that use “doublethink” with nonchalance (“war on terror”, does it ring the bell?). Nineteen Eighty-Four is a frightening novel, also because many people think that the time of the events in the novel is not far away as it may seem, but it shares much with England in the 1940s, when the novel was written. Actually, while I was reading the novel I found many similarities with the modern world and in particular with the political situation in Italy: the censorship in the medias for example or the unbelievable contradictions and lies of the government (“In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it”).
It is a novel that warns you against both communism and fascism (in other words, against every form of totalitarism). The end is very sad, I could not believe in the betrayal and I was literally dying for clues of a possible – but very unlikely - happy ending or of a little hope for the future of Julia and Winston. I didn’t like Julia much, though. I don’t mean as a character, but as a woman. It is true that she is a rebellious and independent woman, but she only cares about her sexual life and the pleasures that she cannot have, such as real coffee or sugar. Winston, on the other hand, is more interested in intellectual freedom and discovering what happened before this endless war (the glass paperweight is the symbol of his desire to connect with the past). The tone of the novel is dark, frustrated and pessimistic, but it is a wonderful novel nonetheless. It makes you think a lot. It’s one of those novels that will never leave me, like Crime and Punishment or Toni Morrison’s Beloved.


  1. I have heard a lot about this book but haven't read it. I have rather read 'Animal Farm', however I enjoyed your review.

  2. Questo è anche uno dei miei libri preferiti!

    Anche Fahreneit mi era piaciuto molto, con il suo bellissimo epilogo dei libri-viventi, che lascia una certa speranza nella conquista della libertà personale, a differenza dei finali di 1984 e di Brave new world (quest'ultimo, dei tre per me rimane il più visionario nel descrivere una società dove in realtà grazie alla tecnologia tutti sono -apparentemente- felici e l'indottrinamento non avviene con la forza ma con un consenso pilotato e inconscio...)

    Invece a proposito dei film, il mio film distopico preferito è senza dubbio Brasil di Terry Gilliam: per me è fenomenale!

  3. Dear Stefania,

    Thank you very much for your review of the book. I really enjoyed it. I just wondered if you had a chance to read anything from Ismail Kadare like "Broken April', "The Palace of Dreams" or "The General of the Dead Army". Based on what I read on your reviews and also based on the fact that Crime and Punishment is one of your favorite books (mine as well) thought that you would really love this novelist.


    Besa Ilazi from Kosovo

  4. @Besa: Unfortunately I haven't read anything by Ismail Kadaré even tough I've heard of him a lot. I wouldn't know where to start, so thanks for the three titles. Yes, "Crime and Punishment" is one of my favourite books, it has so much insight into the human mind. I would definitely look for a book by Kadaré the next time I visit a book shop.