“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
“Big Brother is watching you.”
“Two and two make five.”
-George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
Have you ever heard of “doublethink” or “memory hole”? Do “telescreen” or “Newspeak” ring a bell? If so, congratulations: you have experienced the influences of Nineteen Eighty-Four on the English language. If not, congratulations: it’s time you read this popular novel! It is, along with Animal Farm, George Orwell’s magnum opus. Like Animal Farm, Orwell creates a beautifully-written story about totalitarianism; however, he takes this story to the next level by chronicling life under a totalitarian government. In addition, Orwell chooses, quite contrary to Animal Farm, to not incorporate any satirical elements. Instead of being a comically anthropomorphic anecdote, Nineteen Eighty-Four is an evocatively solemn narrative. So, if you are interested in comic literature, it would be wiser to seek another book.
The story takes place in the year 1984 AD and centers around soon-to-become-middle-aged man Winston Smith in London, where Big Brother always watches you, the Thought Police literally read your mind and accordingly punish you, and war is incessantly ongoing. Winston works for the Ministry of Truth where he rewrites historical documents to match the current state-of-affairs. Yet, in spite of the seemingly terrifying world where he lives, nothing stops Winston from pursuing a love affair. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, we follow Winston’s journey as he pursues this affair.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is more political than Animal Farm. In this story, Orwell attempts to recreate a totalitarian state. By doing so, he instills fear in the reader in order to depict the powers of totalitarianism. During 1949 (when this novel was published), the Cold War had barely started, and the potentials of totalitarianism had not wholly approached the limelight. Therefore, in order to educate people about the dangers and potentials of totalitarianism, Orwell, rather potently, decided to symbolize a totalitarian state by foreseeing London in the year 1984. Although 1984 is long gone, the impact of Orwell’s oeuvre has influenced not only the English language, but also thought and belief. Nineteen Eighty-Four is not just a dystopian science fiction story; it is a book which one can learn the dangers and attributes that constitute a totalitarian state, e.g. the ability to distort reality and effectively coerce everybody to believe it.
I would recommend this book to people who like science fiction, political allegories, and general reading, for Nineteen Eighty-Four can find a home in any reader. I read the centennial edition published by N.A.L., the same publisher of Animal Farm. Being a centennial edition, it produces the full text (including the appendix) along with a great foreword by Thomas Pynchon which discusses totalitarianism during the 1940s as well as Orwell’s personal political views. Moreover, it features pleasing aesthetics, viz. French flaps and deckle-edge paper. All in all, this is a solid edition of an excellent and enlightening novel.