Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell (finished)

I just finished Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell.

Winston Smith works and lives on Airstrip One, formerly Great Britain. Airstrip One is a province of Oceania. There are three nations left on earth after a global atomic war: Oceania, Eurasia and East Asia. All of the nations are ruled by totalitarian regimes, including Oceania. Winston hates Oceania and Big Brother, the face of the Party. The book is about how Winston rebels against the government. Winston meets a girl; relationships not sanctioned by the government are forbidden. Winston is introduced to a rebel group called the Brotherhood, which trying to overthrow the government. And Winston eventually finds himself face to face with the Party itself.

What can I say about this book?

I was supposed to read it when I was in high school. I did not. (I guess, in my own way, I wanted to rebel against Big Brother by not reading I was told to read.)

The book was provocative.

It introduces the concept of the telescreen. Winston watches the telescreen but the telescreen also watches him! Imagine watching TV but the people at the other end of the television are able to see what you do and where you go and what you are interested in and they are able to record all of your actions and keep it archived indefinitely. YIKES, right? I hope that that never happens, right? Too late. We live in a world where this a already a reality. Ladies and Gentlemen, this describes the Internet. The internet is able to keep track of where you go and what you are interested in and has all sorts of our private information. The scary part is that almost anyone can look at this information if they have the initiative. Scarier still, this information may be stolen or altered without our knowledge. Real life may be more frightening than fiction.

The most interesting part of the book for me was probably the part of the book that most people found boring. I liked Orwell's description of socialism as it appeared in Oceania. This was the part when Winston was reading the book to his lady friend in a room found in the Prole section. It was fascinating. This is why I like to read fiction. Sometimes, it provides a context for philosophical ideas to be introduced and explained. This book introduced socialism to me and gave me a context to think about its strengths and weakness. (Similarly, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky introduced me to Nietzsche and his ideas about the superman).

As I was reading the book, I was glad that I did not live in Oceania. But I also began to think about how some things that are presented as shocking and scary are commonplace to us in reality (the telescreens for example). The idea of the government changing the past also struck me. In reality, the things that I was taught about the american revolution just aren't true (similar to how the Oceania changed historical facts to serve their own purpose). The more I read (later in life) about american history, the more I realize that my high school history education was akin to propaganda. If I was alive and a white colonial during the american revolution, I may have been a Tory. Just kidding. Or am I?

The book was academically very interesting.

The pacing was a little slow at times but really picked up at the end.

The story was a masterpiece.

It was a dark story, even the romance in the book was abrasive and stark.

Overall, I recommend this book. It's a book that I think that everyone should read. In a lot of ways, it is Orwell warning to us and I think that the warning is sound. Even though our world, especially the United States, is turning out more like the novel, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Nineteen Eighty Four is still relevant to us today, especially in the light of more and more government control and less and less civil liberties.

Good times.

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