1984 Has Come And Gone… Or Has It?

1984 book

“Everyone always thinks everything is 1984,” my brother says “except things that actually are.”

How true that is. Not a day goes by when someone, somewhere tells us something is “just like 1984”. Last week for instance, failed candidate for US presidency Hilary Clinton published a book that told us the true meaning of 1984 is how you should put our faith in the people in charge:

“Attempting to define reality is a core feature of authoritarianism … this is what happens in George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, when a torturer holds up four fingers and delivers electric shocks until his prisoner sees five fingers as ordered. The goal is to make you question logic and reason and to sow mistrust towards exactly the people we need to rely on: our leaders, the press, experts who seek to guide public policy based on evidence, ourselves.

With a nice sleight of hand, Clinton tries to make us see that two plus two is in fact five and that Orwell’s true intent was to make us trust authority- who knew? Of course, sarcasm aside, if you ignore the initial subterfuge of her quote, you’ll see where Clinton’s literary analysis is lacking. For that scene is not about making Winston, an already highly sceptical character, question his surroundings, but quite the opposite- it is to make him an obedient cog in the society’s machine. Regardless of what you may think of current orange overlords, the message of 1984 is not to give over your wits to leaders who’ve been in office for 30 years or the oh-so-saintly media.

1984 is a profoundly anti-authoritarian book. It is, as the quote on my book jacket aptly says “a powerful cry for freedom of thought and expression”. More than anything it is a call for individuality against an authority that would seek to wipe out any shade of difference in thought or feeling. To such an ideology dissent is dangerous, thinking something different is not okay and dialogue is a form of violence (conveniently so that it can put down with actual violence).

And yes, all that I’m saying is obvious- yet somehow I see so many people missing the point of the book. For me, reading this alongside Solzhenitsyn, there could be no doubt of the parallels with communist societies. In case the use of the word  “comrade” wasn’t clear enough, the break-up of families, re-education and kangaroo courts should be a clue. But alas, people are so focused on fascism that they fail to see these vivid parallels.

Beyond this historicity, there were many issues that chillingly reminded me of our own society. Everyone has their personal “take away” from this book- somewhere they’ve seen bureaucracy get out of hand perhaps, or worse, freedom of thought be inhibited. For me, the moment came when I read this quote:

“Winston had a curious feeling that this was not a real human being anymore but some kind of dummy. It was not a man’s brain that was speaking, it was his larynx”

I was cast back to university and the shallow schools of thought (yes, that’s right I went there- but where else can I express myself if not a piece on Orwell?) which act as a substitute for engaging your brain and encourages lazy thinking. Implement a feminist reading, for instance, and the sight of a naked lady in art equals “females lacking power in a patriarchal society”- the book can be labelled as oppressive or sexist and the reader gets to go away feeling clever without ever having to think. Nice and convenient.

But there were more universal messages here too. There were the infamous mentions of “Newspeak”- everyone and their mother has heard someone use this term lately- and that’s because there are an awful lot of people with all kinds of agendas telling everyone what they can and cannot say, adding new (and unnecessary) words to the lexicon to further some political end, and throwing a tantrum when they don’t get their way. Frankly, this should terrify us more than anything, for controlling language is a way to control thoughts (to paraphrase Jordan B Peterson, articulation is how we formulate our ideas).

Naturally this also lends itself to one of the biggest messages of the book: the ability to determine what is true. For if you cannot think, you cannot determine what reality is. In the book, the most significant manifestation of this is two minutes of hate directed at Emmanuel- the enemy constructed to be the all-encompassing target of baseless anger. It could be that he is someone genuinely flawed, or not, it does not matter. As long as there is a single individual on whose shoulders we can place all our blame for society’s woes.

Yet for all this, I did not see this book as a call to implement systems or for angry mobs to overthrow governments. Again this would be a misunderstanding of Orwell- for this book, together with Animal Farm, explicitly demonstrates how *all* power can be corrupted. No it is not a book to inspire a collective- it is a call for individuality. Maybe even to be that one person in the crowd whom people hurl abuse at. It is up to the individual to wake up and pay attention. To see what is going on under our very nose. To speak while we still can speak, to laugh, to refuse to be cowed. Freedom is whittled away all the time and most of the time we don’t even notice- well here’s a book telling us to take notice.

Nor do I think this was a book calling for the creation of a utopia- as this book exemplifies and history teaches, utopian philosophies (including Nazism and Marxism) veer straight into a dystopic reality as soon as they’re implemented. More’s the pity then that so many modern dystopias end in the overthrow of a government and the set-up of something resembling a utopia. Yes, every dystopia is a direct descendent of this great book, and yet so many miss the mark (I can only praise the rare endings such as in The Declaration where a system is set up, but it is implied it would go the same way as the last). There is something infinitely gloomy about dystopias and one cannot pretend they offer all the solutions.

Bleak as it is, ten years ago when I first read this book, I was so struck by the sheer horror of it, I closed it and thought “never again”. Yet after rereading it and getting so much more out of it this time round, I know that it is a novel that must be read and reread. And what with constant frustrations to our freedom in the world around us, I am sure to find myself revisiting it in the future. In which case, to return to my brother’s quote at the beginning… maybe everything really is 1984.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

small bananasmall bananasmall bananasmall bananasmall banana

So have you read this masterpiece? Will you read it? Let me know in the comments below!

59 thoughts on “1984 Has Come And Gone… Or Has It?

  1. I kind of get frustrated with all the “The world is like 1984!” cries because I also think the book is profoundly horrifying, but what’s horrifying about it is that the ways the government are controlling you are all extremely DIRECT. Like, there are monitors in your home that are required to be there by law, that listen to you at all times, that you literally cannot turn off. Or, with the torture scene. Yes, they literally torture people into saying what they want to hear. That kind of stuff is unlikely to happen in our society. So I guess part of the horror is that it’s all so blatant, and yet it exists and much of the populace seems not to care.

    The issues today are different because their subtle. Like all the data that exists on the Internet that the government could possibly use if they wanted to. (But people are putting the data out there themselves. The government isn’t forcing them to, and in most cases they are not in fact looking at it.)

    I mean, there are things we can talk about like privacy and the role of government and such, but I just find comparisons to 1984 to be overblown or ineffective because I think it’s different from what we’re talking about in our own world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. haha true! I’m *very* wary of when someone says this, as I said. But I’m also aware that (unfortunately) this has been a reality in some countries (seriously, I can’t reiterate enough that everyone needs to read Solzhenitsyn) and still is in others (eg North Korea) so there should always be that fear that it could happen- especially with the technological capabilities of our governments. (And that said, I have seen freakily close comparisons in our world)

      And yes, we should be wary of the subtle ways in which we can be manipulated as well.

      What bothers me is when people use the comparison inaccurately to be honest.

      Like

  2. I first read 1984 about 10 years ago, and I think it’s safe to say I hardly grasped its meaning. Reading this post has definitely inspired me to put re-reading this one on my to-read-soon list. It’s certainly interesting to watch how Americans in particular have been throwing around 1984 of late – without really understanding the full context/meaning of the book as a whole. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and inspiring me to re-read!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. George Orwell is a master and this book is absolutely the result of a brilliant mind.

    This vision really is an illustration of what we don’t normally see but suffer all the same. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and no other book shows that quite so well.

    Brilliant post for a brilliant book.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent analysis! Silencing those who dissent from “the popular view ” or “the official view” is such a dangerous path. I just finished “Fahrenheit 451” which deals with similar issues, and in that world the censorship started at the popular level of people simply refusing to read or listen to any conflicting viewpoint. This progressed to mob acts of censorship (e.g. book burnings) and eventually the mindset accelerating and broadening to become official government suppression of independent thought with the willing consent of most people.

    I read an article just yesterday where the author warned to not get too excited about government officials (okay, it was a specific government official who likes twitter a lot) promoting the punishment of those who engage in unpopular free speech…what happens when your own free speech become unpopular? How will you feel about the punishment or suppression of free speech then?

    “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” – Martin Niemoller

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you so much for your fantastic comment! I actually read that at the beginning of the year and it was one of the things that inspired me to give this a reread. And that’s a great way to describe this book.

      I one hundred percent agree with you. A lot of what I’ve noticed in political speech in the last few years is people claiming it’s “okay to silence x group”- and it’s easy to fall into that trap when you don’t agree with someone- but if we don’t stand up for the rights of others, then we can’t be surprised when we lose those rights ourselves. That’s why I love the quote: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

      And that poem perfectly sums it up. I’ve always found it very striking. Thanks again for your brilliant comment!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This post! If ever there was a moment where *drops mic* fits to, it’s the end of your post.
    I’ve only read 1984 once, and I know there’s more to discover upon a revisit. But still, I have so much awe for this post- well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I haven’t read this although it’s one that’s been on my tbr forever. The fact that it seems to be being quoted in support of so many ideas at the moment is putting me off rather than encouraging me to pick it up.

    I am however fascinated by some of the ideas, authority monitoring and controlling everyone. Regardless of politics it does concern me how much information is out there about everyone and how much we’re watched.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can understand that. Unfortunately, I see too many people, on every side of the political spectrum using it inappropriately (aka to further their own ends). That said, there are some people who actually get the book and point out scary parallels… So I guess the only way round this quagmire is to read the book and see for yourself! (though I’m a bibliophile, I always think the solution is to read more books 😉 )

      I think this is definitely a valuable book to read for any number of reasons- definitely including the issues of surveillance etc. So I think you’ll get a lot out of this either way!

      Like

  7. The real problem is when we give away our freedoms in the name of policing those around us. ❤ Hey Orangutan! You got so much more out of this book than I did but the thing that lingers to me is whether or not fighting what your society is telling you to be or to do… is it it right? Or is it wrong? Looking at NK I've seen some pictures of the people there and it is scary because that doesn't feel like living to me (and I've not experience what they have by a mile!) But can I blame them for not really fighting it?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thinking about what you say about the people of NK not fighting it: One (rather bleak) point that Orwell seems to be making in 1984 is that if things are allowed to reach the point of such total government control there is little hope of turning it around. More than once the statement is made that the only hope is in the proles (the average non-party member citizens), but throughout the book the proles seem to be so beaten down that they show no inclination to do anything (other than survive).

      Fahrenheit 451 ends on a slightly more hopeful note, but even there it is going to take a cataclysmic event that basically shatters society to bring any hope of positive change.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Excellent point. Funnily enough I had a conversation the other day with a Hungarian emigre about what brought down the Soviet Union- all I could discern is it’s never a simple issue and I do agree that Orwell presented very well the impossibility of wriggling out of the system once it is imposed.

        I did like the ending of Fahrenheit 451 more, because it does have that open-endedness, but like you said, it’s no easy feat.

        Like

      2. That is so TRUE! They are so without power that they can only survive… I really feel for them… especially since I saw those pictures which even being a major government publicity stunt you could feel their misery… that is a big thing you bring up though… nothing will change for them without a MAJOR event… 😬

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Too right! ❤ That's a brilliant question- it's very similar to the "my country when it's right/my country when it's wrong" debate- or alternatively put, is "an unjust law no law at all"? Obviously, I would side with "my country when it's right", but it's terrifying what's happening in NK, and no I wouldn't blame individuals forced to endure it- what's happening to their country is horrific, and as this book shows fighting it isn't necessarily an option. Far be it for me to condemn people living under a brutal totalitarian regime. Besides, we don't know a lot of the details or who might be opposing it from within- just as we didn't know what was happening behind the iron curtain. For all we know there are lots of little Winston Smith's (metaphorically speaking 😉 ) resisting at every turn.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I reread that quote from Clinton several times and I am very confused. That is some very poor literary analysis. She basically says that 1) the authority figures in the book are evil and 2) therefore we should conclude that Orwell wants us to trust authority figures. What…?

    I think, though, that shouting “It’s 1984!” every few months kind of makes the phrase lose its power. Maybe we should save it for something legitimate, lest it becomes the equivalent of crying wolf. But I agree there are definitely threats to our freedom and to our privacy. For instance, we basically give Facebook, Google, Tinder, store websites, and so forth every detail of our lives voluntarily. Theoretically, employees can read your love notes to people, which seems invasive.

    Even people who are trying to stay offline have a presence that others have created for them. Tons of friends were posting photos of me on Facebook when I wasn’t on Facebook. Now parents are sharing their ultrasounds, baby’s first bath, etc. You can’t even choose to be private anymore. Your life is online before you know what online IS. And companies do mine your data to determine what prices you’ll be shown when you shop online, what kinds of loans you are eligible for, etc. It’s scary and yet we just accept everything like that’s the way it is.

    Even with the Equifax hack, people are responding with, “Yeah, well my information is already in everyone’s hands anyway. I figured it would come to this.” Um…your identity could be stolen or your tax refund. Shouldn’t we care about this? The days when schools taught Internet safety and told you not to post photos of yourself online or tell people your age, hometown, or name seem so innocent!

    But I think the problem with all this is that no one questions it. If you want to talk to people, you basically have to agree to terms saying people can comb through your emails, have rights to your photos, etc. So we all just agree because what are we going to do? Send letters through the postal service?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YES!! Exactly- I had to read it several times too- cos I saw it on more than one site and my first reaction was “what?” followed by “whaaaat?” (the second one was an outraged what, cos that’s way off base as literary analysis)
      Hehe yes, that’s true for sure. And I have seen a lot of people (from every side of the political debate imaginable saying it) And that’s a great point about not crying wolf. Yes, yes and yes- kinda freaky.
      Oh gosh yes, it’s very scary. I’m increasingly considering going off Facebook altogether. I do know some parents who have made the decision not to put anything of their children online, but I worry that some people are sharing everything. And yes, I find it concerning- in fact I remarked to my mum the other day that google has narrowed down my football preferences. I mean, it’s creepy enough that they know what to advertise to us- now they know what sports notifications to give me before I ask for it.
      And yeah I saw that news story and it gave me the shivers. I mean I think some news outlet calculated that to be about a third of all American adults or something? (forgive me if I’m wrong) That’s crazy! And it seems like there’s something like that happening all the time now- I mean we had the NHS hacked over here a couple of months ago- where they held them to ransom for all patient sensitive data- which is *insane*.
      And yes not enough people question it or even consider that having our entire lives online may not be the best idea… annnnd now I think I’ve sufficiently freaked myself out 😉 *pat on the back*. Hehe yeah I don’t think people are going to go back to posting letters any time soon 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, thanks for reading the novella I left as a comment! 😉

        Yeah, sometimes people talk about “going off the grid” and they sound a little crazy. But…are they? And yet it’s hard to see how you’d fit into society without agreeing to sign your privacy away. I didn’t have Facebook for the longest time because I just didn’t get why I wouldn’t email or call people I wanted to talk to. But then people kept forgetting to invite me to things or to tell me important information! Like, oh did you graduate and throw a party with every but me? Good to know… :/ I only knew half of what I did know because my friends with FB were reporting to me!

        Yeah, I think it’s called a filter bubble? Google can basically narrow down your political preferences, religion, age, etc. and just show you what they think you want to see. So if you are liberal you’ll only read liberal news from now on and if you’re conservative you’ll never be presented with a liberal news site up top. Scary.

        And the data’s out there for other people to hack into or use. I recently read a book on Big Data (I forget when the review is coming up) and it’s by the founder of OKCupid (which I didn’t know when I picked it up so…that was a surprise). But basically he writes, “Normally you can’t get this kind of info but I’m the founder of the site so now I’m using all your stats to do research on you.” It feels kind of unethical and yet everyone did probably agree to hand over their data to the site….

        I think I read it was half of Americans? It was a lot! But I guess we should all just live like we can be compromised any day. I remember reading about the NHS thing. That was scary!

        (I actually send friends letters. It’s just a problem that most of them don’t write back. ;b)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. hehehe thanks for the comment in the first place!

          So true!! I know, it’s a real problem. My friends actually set up my fb in the first place (and made my first email address incidentally) cos I was so not interested. haha yeah, I still struggle to keep up with things on there, even now- my friends know by now they have to actually message me if they want me to know what’s going on 😉

          Oh yeah you’re right. Gosh that’s all very freaky. I’ really looking forward to your review on that. And yeah I’d say it’s pretty unethical.

          Oh gosh that’s mental! And yeah, really crazy.

          hahahaha I think I tried to do that with someone once, cos it’s a really nice thing to do, we were both pleased we kept it going for a little while before we started just messaging on fb again 😉

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Excellent post! I first read 1984 last year and was completely horrified. Like you, my thought immediately upon finishing it was “never again”. But… I just can’t stop thinking about the book, and you make a great point about re-reading it. Perhaps I may re-read it at some point since now I know where the story goes, I can notice the little things that I missed. I do think that it is a book that everyone should read, and I agree with you about how it is a cry for individuality. I think that is why I found the ending so disturbing.
    Clinton’s quote is really odd…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! Yes I totally understand that- it’s a hard book to read once, let alone twice. But like you, it’s been playing on my mind a lot. Yes, I think there is so much more to this than I could even put in this post, and so much more than that I missed. Thank you- glad you agree!
      And yes, very odd- it took me a while to make head or tail of what she was trying to say

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I am a fairly new reader, as in, I only used to like reading nonfiction. Then I ended up arrested, yes I’m an ex con, and I grew my love for books in jail. I had a collection of books in my library and 1984 was one.

    For some reason I put it aside and read around 3 books before getting to this one; the last one in my library that I didn’t read. I read it all in 2 or 3 days and fell in love with it.

    One of the reasons was given the time, early 2017, and how spooky Orwell got it. I didn’t stop talking about it and lend it to whoever asked me for a book. When I got released, I went ahead and bought this book.

    I was astonished to see that this book was written in the 40’s. I still recommend it to everyone and I lend it out. This has got to be my favorite dystopian novel. They’re my favorite to read.

    When I was reading it, I got chills because all that was happening, smart TVs that can listen to your conversation etc. When I finished, I was all like, “Whoa! That. Was. Awesome!”

    I then lend it to my celly, he read it in 2 days as well and he liked it as well. It’s a spooky book given the times. Because of it, I picked up Brave New World among others mentioned in the afterward, but they don’t match the genius of this one IMO.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing all of that! That’s so amazing that it had such a big impact on you. And yes, it has such a phenomenal reach for a book written in the 40s- I agree that it’s really stood the test of time. And yes it’s my favourite dystopian too and I’ve always liked the genre. It is a very spooky book. I definitely agree with you there- Brave New World is good, but it didn’t measure up to this one. Have you read Fahrenheit 451- it’s a different style and has a more hopeful ending- but I do recommend it since you liked this!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Got it on my TBR list now. Thanks for the recommendation. I liked it that it ended in a bad way though lol. I like dystopian novels that have a sad ending lol. And I had the same reaction to Brave New World, it was good, but it didn’t measure up to 1984.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Brilliant 🙂 hehe I agree- I do think that’s more believable, so I rarely like the more optimistic ones, but Fahrenheit is the exception (partly cos the rest of the book is so gloomy, and partly cos it’s a bit open ended). I get that- I felt the same way.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. Oh my god, this post was absolutely fantastic.You completely blew my mind. It’s true, I’ve been seeing lots of comments of how this or that is like 1984… the other day I saw someone say that removing Confederate statues was like erasing history, like in the book. Made me roll my eyes so hard. People don’t really understand the book (I probably don’t understand it very well either) and it’s too easy to distort its meaning and message. I cannot add much to what you said, I think you covered it so well! I need to re-read this book and think about it a bit more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! Yeah that’s a very interesting point of comparison- because obviously iconoclasm, aka the removal of statues and history, is a hallmark of the book, yet it’s not exactly the same situation. While (bearing in mind I’m not American) it’s a bit weird to me that Confederate statues are given a place of reverence given their history, I do think that the destruction of property (as some people are arguing for/acting on) does no favours to the very people they are trying to protect, because if we forget history, we are doomed to repeat it. To quote Indiana Jones “they belong in a museum”. It’s obviously a far more complex issue- so yes, it’s easy to misuse the book to further aims that are not necessarily in line with it. Sorry for going on about this, I take an interest in politics and history. Thank you so much for your comment- really got me thinking!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Don’t worry about the length of your comment at all. Your post kept me thinking, too. I also think “remembering history” is a lame excuse to not remove the statues, as they celebrate it instead of being just a reminder of dark times.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. VERY well written! I adore this post. It expresses so clearly what I found between these pages earlier this year. Alas, my review isn’t nearly as poignent. That said, I don’t think I’ll ever re-read 1984, myself. First of all, like you pointed out, it’s terrifying. I am properly scared and I won’t be doing this again. Secondly, I was SO BORED when Winston was reading the book he acquired. Ugh. I do NOT want to be lectured at. But, I understand the significance of that section. I hope that others are stronger than me— others must read and re-read this. We cannot allow it to happen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much!! I’m sure it’s brilliant. And I can really relate- I never planned to reread this, until I realised that I read it when I was 14 and had blocked out so much from my memory. hehe I can understand that- the thing is, when I was reading that I was so engaged because of it’s correlation with Orwell’s non-fiction and all the more political things I’m into these days that I wasn’t engaged in as a teen, so I found that fascinating. Absolutely agree. Thanks so much for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I love your review!
    I actually had to put this book down several times when I read it last year. It made me very uncomfortable with how much it mirrors our lives. I guess we don’t have TVs that eavesdrop on our conversations (or do we???) and the super scary ministries, but there are still similarities anyway. When I read about newspeak, making words/phrases shorter, etc, the first thing I thought of was texting lingo?
    And I don’t know about other people, but I think that social media plays a part in making a person become exactly like everyone else. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but it seems to me that every time something pops up on Instagram/Facebook, everyone just trips over their feet trying to do/buy the same thing. *looking at you wavy eyebrows*
    Anyway, great review! I really enjoyed reading it 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much!! I can totally relate!! And it’s true, we don’t have tvs that can eavesdrop (but we do give our computers all our info…)

      hehe that’s true! Didn’t think of that!!

      hahaha you’re so right (about wavy eyebrows 😉 )

      Thank you so much!!

      Like

  14. Holy moly. At first, I was a bit stunned that you’ve reviewed this just NOW. I definitely had thought you’d have already went through this masterpiece before, but by the end of this post, it became clear that you’ve already visited it before and man was your re-read analysis super interesting. It’s definitely a nice reminder to all those who’ve read it and man.. You literally covered it all with perfection. Fantastic review!!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Such a well written review and reflection on this book – I really enjoyed reading this. It’s amazing to see how misinterpreted this book is… but then like you said I guess people just use it to mean whatever suits their argument at the time (and btw I totally agree with you re. the shallow-ness that the notion of set ‘readings’ of texts for study can create). I often think you only need to look at some of the regimes/governments that have banned this book to get an idea of how much reality it (unfortunately) reflects.

    Liked by 1 person

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