Nineteen eighty-four: a novel

by George Orwell

Hardcover, 1949




New York, Harcourt, Brace [1949]. 1st American ed.


Portrays life in a future time when a totalitarian government watches over all citizens and directs all activities.

User reviews

LibraryThing member aethercowboy
Nineteen Eighty-Four is THE dystopian novel. Many are turned off at the world that is presented within, a world where free expression is stifled and the government controls you through your vices. I would suspect that these same people rarely look out through their own windows.

Dystopias have a very strong merit as literature. You read them, realize that they're not all that fictional, you get angry, and you do something to change the world. Unless you're a politician. Then you read the dystopia and think, "hmm, that O'Brien fellow had the right idea!"

In the future, the year 1984 (though, more appropriately, it should have been 1948, which is another matter entirely), Winston Smith bides his time, day after day, with the eyes of Big Brother constantly watching over his shoulder. He spends his time inscribing criminal thoughts of discontent in his private diaries, a transgression punishable by death. This goes on, until he meets Julia, a mechanic for the Minitrue's novel writing machines. They team up and form their own private rebellion against Big Brother, Thought Police, and Ingsoc. But who's really free of the watchful eye of Big Brother, or the listening ears of the Though Police?

This book is dangerous, as it breeds discontent against real-life oppressive governments. Many governments have tried to ban or otherwise prevent the People from getting their hands on and eyes in this book. So, my recommendation to you is: buy this book when you can, and when the government tries to take it away from you, get the hell outta' Dodge.
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LibraryThing member jeff.maynes
Were I ever to undertake the arduous task of listing my favorite novels, I am sure that Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) would make the list. On one level, Orwell gives us a fascinating look at a dystopian society and the struggles of the "last man" to resist. He also gives us a brief, but potent account of the power of love in the face of external pressure.

Above all, however, Orwell gives us a meditation on power, and one that is haunting long after you read the book. Indeed, the novel is relatively light on action. The protagonist, Winston, is not the sort of person to lead armed rebellion or to race down alleys to escape the Thought Police. Instead, the book is mostly composed of Winston's descriptions and analysis of his society, and the thoughts of others. The latter portions of the book are dominated by chapters of a book Winston is reading (a book within a book), and the arguments of the major antagonist of the work. These passages do not ask us to believe in the society of Oceania, or believe that this is the course of human history. What they ask us to believe is a series of claims about power, most importantly, that power (a) comes from control of belief, (b) that external power can shape our even most strongly held internal beliefs and that (c) power is sought for the sake of power itself (among many other thought-provoking aspects which Orwell reflects upon).

The former comes through most vividly in the form of (collective) solipsistic view that the Party favors. This is brought out explicitly in the scenes at the end of the book, wherein Winston is put under incredible pressure to accept it. The scenes I found most effective here, however, are in Winston's description of his daily work. His job is to correct history, to change every historical record to reflect the changing realities of the time. So if a party member has fallen into disrepute, it is Winston's job to show that he has always been in disrepute. If the enemy in the ongoing war changes, then it is Winston's job to show that the war has never changed. It is total information control, and Orwell masterfully illustrates the frightening possibility that one cannot rationally engage those who simply demand an ideological driven view of reality.

It is hard to discuss the second without spoiling the ending of the novel. Allow me simply to say that the passage in Room 101 is among the most affecting in all of English literature. It is frightening, indeed, I find it more frightening than almost anything else I have ever read. We, like Winston, tend to think of ourselves in terms of certain relationships, and ideas that we will hold on to. My wife is that limit, and my feelings for her are something I could never yield, no matter the pressure. At least, this is my self-conception. Yet, Orwell (like social psychologists after him) cast this into doubt. Are none of our most dear, most sacred, most definitional beliefs, ideas and feelings safe from external pressure and one's own deep-seated need to save oneself? Is my self-conception really simply a sign that this commitment has simply never been tested hard enough?

The third is most eloquently discussed in the final scenes of the book. When asked about why the Party rules as it does, Winston gives the answer he thinks is required of him, that the Party does it for the good of those who cannot rule themselves. Yet, with brutal frankness, the primary antagonist tells him that "The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power." This leads into perhaps the most famous passage from the novel:

"But always—do not forget this Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever."

The individual who seeks power for the greater good (think of Plato's Republic) is one who can be reasoned with. If Plato is wrong that individuals who grasp the Good will, as a consequence, be motivated to do good things, he might be dissuaded of the idea that the few ought to rule. Orwell's ruler is far more frightening, for s/he rules for the sake of ruling, holding power for the sake of power. This is a position beyond reasoned argument, based purely on the intoxication of power. These are passages that will linger long after one finishes 1984.

I cannot recommend this novel highly enough. It is far more than a simple dystopian vision of a possible future, and more than a warning about certain political ideas. It is a masterwork of engaging with complex ideas (in this case, the nature of power) in the setting of a novel. Though the prose is brilliant and easy to read, this is a novel which rewards slow reading and thoughtful consideration.
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LibraryThing member ianracey
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a seminal work, maybe the most important work of fiction written in English in the twentieth century. Like its only real competitor for that title, The Lord of the Rings, it is both a work of outlandish fantasy while also having something truly profound to say about our own post-Second World War world.

What I find most impressive about Orwell's vision of the future are both its prescience and its political neutrality. All the most chilling aspects of Big Brother's totalitarian government--constant electronic surveillance of its citizens, rewriting history to serve the political concerns of the day, the infiltration of society by secret police--are really just exaggerations (well, one hopes that they're exaggerations) of practices that our own Western democratic governments engage in today, and have been engaging in for the past two generations. And what's more, they're practices that have been followed by parties at either end of the political spectrum--by supposedly small-government Republican (American) and Conservative (British) governments just as much as by liberal Democrats (American) or socialist Labour (British). Orwell's dark vision sees society as a whole, not just one ideology or another.

Orwell himself, of course, was extremely left-wing, to the point of actually advocating revolutionary overthrow of the existing capital order, and also of fighting on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War. For much of the Second World War he remained convinced that the national effort required to beat the Axis Powers would necessarily place such a strain on the British social order that it was guaranteed to result in Communist revolution on the Leninist model.

But his Communism was not we now think of as Communism, the Cold War Soviet state of faceless bureaucracy and rigid suppression of individuality. Instead, he sought through Communism--or what he called "democratic socialism"--the opportunity to achieve the profoundest freedom for the individual, by freeing him from the fetters of capitalism. And that philosophy infuses Nineteen Eighty-Four, and is probably the biggest reason why it remains such a powerful story today. For while it is a novel of the inexorable expansion of government at the expense of the individual, its central theme is the necessity for the individual to maintain constant vigilance for the preservation of freedom (which is not the same thing as democracy).
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LibraryThing member absurdeist
My two cents on 1984: The ideas and warnings Orwell presented far outweighed his writing. The writing reads to me as if Orwell were a 19th century Russian master but the English translator mediocre at best. Orwell wrote better than this -- a lot better -- and his journals proved it. I wonder if he purposefully stripped down the prose in order to dramatically accentuate his dark futuristic visions, going for the effect in the novel you can produce in printing when you reverse-negative text, making the white of the words, the ideas, pop out from the page because the page, now, except for the words, is completely inundated with black? Don't know. I rate Zamyatin's "We" higher because it's better written (and I say that even though I don't read Russian and am forced to read what very well may be a mediocre English translation!) and it's ideas, "We's," are as innovative, if not more so, than 1984s.… (more)
LibraryThing member bfrazier02
“Big Brother is watching you.” Before reading this novel in July, I had no idea what that phrase meant. Granted, I had an idea of what the sentence implied, but I didn’t understand where it came from or in what context it would be used. So when I finally asked my uncle where he had gotten the phrase from after I heard him say it, he told me he got it from George Orwell’s novel 1984. Curious, and desperate for something to read on my six hour drive to the beach, I decided to buy it at the local bookstore and give it a try. Little did I know 1984 would become the most amazing yet terrifying novel I read this summer.
George Orwell’s novel made me look at the world in a whole new way, and that’s one of the reasons why I loved to read it. I always enjoy novels that are a little “out there”, and 1984 was definitely one of them. The whole idea that minds and memories could easily be manipulated based on the ruling party’s needs terrified me, and yet I was intrigued. It’s such an unheard of concept that it made me all the more curious to find out whether or not this form of mind control would succeed. Granted, I was also scared by how simple it was for this form of mind-manipulation to control an entire population. But that was why this novel was one of my favorite reads this summer; it made me stop and consider new possibilities.
Another thing I enjoyed about 1984 was the way it was written. When I heard it’s considered a classic novel, I have to admit, I cringed. I didn’t want something hard to understand, or something with pretentious vocabulary. Instead I found 1984 was a novel that was entertaining, and at the same time easy to understand. I was able to appreciate the deeper concepts in novel because it wasn’t written in a confusing way. That was another thing I really enjoyed about the novel.
A very important aspect to any novel is its characters. If the characters aren’t strong, than neither is the novel. In 1984, there were a variety of strong characters that made the book all the more entertaining. My favorite character in the novel was Syme, an intellect whose job it was to create a finalized version of Newspeak. Although he wasn’t a main character, I found that his lack of discretion in conversations refreshing in a world that was clearly all about not acting too different. And one way to be different was to be too smart and too informed, and Syme had both of these qualities. He was too intellectual, and because of that he became a threat to the Party, so eventually he was eliminated. But all of the characters in 1984 were very well developed, and I found that having such well developed characters made the story more enjoyable to read.
So now, after reading the novel, I understand where the phrase “Big Brother is watching you” comes from and what it means. 1984 was a novel that made me reconsider what I thought to be possible, and it presented a scenario that was intriguing and terrifying at the same time. I’m glad that I chose to give the novel a chance, despite its label as a classic.
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
I read this on Sept 18, 1954, and said: Compared to it, other books are nursery fare. It is a real adventure in horror, a total immersion in hopelessness and terror. It is, of course, a classic and one of the most important books of our modern world, though it loses some of its urgentness and immediateness by un-subtlety and a too pessimistic view of all humans. It is a true picture, I think, of what we could expect if there were no God--minds would be able to be taken over and there could be a complete victory for the Party. But the other world is beyond Big Brother and his tortures, and so the final triumph cannot be his. To an atheist this consolation is denied. SPOILER I shall sketch briefly highlights of the book: Winston Smith, a member of the Outer party who aids in "correcting" the past falls in love with Julia. They are betrayed and subjected to torture whereby Winston successfully becomes convinced that 2 and 2 are 5 and betrays Julia by asking that the rats about to be unleashed on his face instead be unleashed on Julia. Finally, at the end, he loves Big Brother and the horror is total. The Party has gotten inside of him and he is no longer possessed of a shred of human dignity. One of the most pwerful and terrifying books I have ever read.… (more)
LibraryThing member Smiler69
This was a re-read for me, and last time I read the novel and saw the movie was, fittingly enough, back in 1984 during my high-school days. Thanks to my faulty memory and the accumulation of years, I remembered virtually nothing of the story, save for a few crucial and indelible parts, so it was like discovering a new novel all over again. What amazed us then and continues to amaze now is how much foresight Orwell had. Big Brother might not have the same face as that displayed in the ubiquitous posters in the story, but he is among us and rules our world. Or that's how I feel about it when in a more cynical mood. In other ways, one can't help but feel relieved that there is a thing such as the "free world" which none of us should take for granted.

The story itself seems very basic. A man called Winston Smith is an intellectual working for the Party in the land of Oceania. Life is strictly regimented for Party members with tv screens everywhere observing their every move and seemingly able to read their very thoughts as well. Winston remembers a time in childhood before the Party had taken over, but this is his damnation. Because in the current world of Big Brother, the past is continually being edited and re-edited to fit the latest ideology embraced by the Party, and Big Brother must always be made to look as though his foresight is infallible, hence, a full-time job re-writing newspaper articles and entire books and changing photos and burning any evidence which might prove that the Party isn't all that it claims to be. Enter Julia, a woman whom Winston first thinks might be spying on him. In this world, children are raised to spy on their parents and deliver them to the hands of the Though Police if they are found to deviate in any way from the Party line. But Julia ends up being opposed to the party, a subversive who takes chances yet embodies all that the Party most prizes: complete adherence to it's principles, wherein only the Party must dominate and the individual be quashed to fit into a militaristic mould, in a world wherein the reigning slogans are WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. Winston and Julia become lovers, which in and of itself is a subversive act, because in Oceania, sex is not something to be enjoyed, but endured for the sake of bringing new Party members into the world. It is self-evident that things must turn out badly for the pair, and they do, though they both know from the beginning that the Ministry of Love, which is in charge of torturing dissidents to death, will catch them them sooner or later.

The concepts and terms in this book are difficult to describe and explain neatly in a short review. Even for those who have never been exposed to this work before, there are many notions which are familiar, because they have become part of the vernacular since the publication of the novel in 1949, such as Big Brother, Doublethink, Thoughtcrime and Newspeak. There is no question that Orwell's ideas were informed by the Soviet and Nazi totalitarian regimes of his time, and yet he clearly understood that all such regimes share common belief systems at the core.

I loved the fist three quarters of the novel, which took us into Winston's mind, his workplace and routines and describe this bleak world he is an observer and unwilling participant of. The final part of the novel, which takes us into the nightmarish edifice of the Ministry of Love, and describes the inhumane treatment Winston is subjected to in order to "rehabilitate" him, is hard to witness, especially when one knows that similar treatment has, and continues to take place in many parts of the world, so that I was quite anxious for the suffering to end. All the same, this is an excellent novel, and a very important one which should be required reading for everyone as an effective argument for why freedom of speech and thought and movement are things none of us should take for granted and must seek to defend at all cost.

The audio version narrated by Samuel West is highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member azoni
This is a very unhappy book. But, in a weird way, it is also a very hopeful book.

It concerns a man named Winston, who lives in a world where every movement is watched by the Party. The Party alters all records of historical facts to conform to the latest propaganda, and the people believe it. The Party changes the language with the eventual goal of not being able to express unorthodox opinions. Those whose actions, whose very thoughts are in any way nonconformist simply cease to officially exist. These people are tortured until they are no longer capable of unorthodoxy. That's the simple version.

Winston realizes what the party is doing and he holds onto his memories of the true past. He falls in love with a girl and they conduct a secret affair until one day they are captured and ruthlessly tortured. When they emerge, they are completely changed. Winston remembers his affair with Julia but he no longer cares. He unconditionally believes all the propaganda, all the record changes, and he adores the figurehead of the party - Big Brother.

While reading it, sometimes I was very eager to continue and at other times I had to sit myself down and tell myself to skim a chapter. Sometimes the bravery of Winston and his lover Julia filled me with a sort of hope and at other times the imaginations of this dystopian world by the author filled me with horror and a disconcerting realization that what is in my mind might not necessarily be true.

The style of writing is very precise and skilled. I would say that the main reason this book affected me as it did was because of the way it was written.

When I finished the book I felt very glad that in this world, I have privacy. I am free to learn history, to read books simply just because I want to, to feel joy, to love my family, to make friends, to have crushes on people. I am glad I read this book because it made me think about the world in a different way.1984 definitely deserves to be called a classic, and is definitely absolutely worth reading.
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LibraryThing member DanielClausen
Long Live Ingsoc? Or Long After 1984 Big Brother Still Wins

Warning: Drenched in Spoilers.

Long after 1984 has come and passed, Orwell's book still remains relevant if a little dated. I was highly tempted to give this book four stars instead of five. In a way, the book has been outpaced by the times. What made me change my mind? Great details and a very riveting and appropriate ending—but also perhaps the notion that Ingos, Doublespeak, and Big Brother may be with us in ways we have yet to realize (see for example Hardt and Negri's Empire).

Even though Fukuyama declared the End of History and made reference to the last man, we are left to wonder if liberal democracy really did “win” and whether there is not something strangely Ingsoc about our own time. After all, we continue to see examples of doublethink and doublespeak in our own politics and times—see for example the works of Derek Gregory and other Critical Geopolitics scholars.

There is also no reason to believe that the conceits of domination through party rule are over. It seems to me that our postmodern times contain the seeds of many transformations including those that render us dominated by party or a kind of Big Brother.

As I was reading this book, many people commented to me, “Didn't you read this book in high school?” Certainly, the book seemed a bit dated. After all, while I was reading it it seemed that I had read the book without ever having really read it. The words doublethink and doublespeak, to say nothing of Big Brother, were already familiar without having read the first page. The scenes and nomenclature of Orwell have been used a number of movies and TV shows from Star Trek to that weird gun Kung Fu movie with Christian Bale. I'm not sure if negative utopian books (Fromm's word, though wouldn't “dystopia” be more apt?) have really ever evolved beyond 1984. But even if the book is too familiar for most readers, it still did have a few surprises, especially at the end.

Many of the political landscapes are familiar. We saw them in Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Soviet Union, and still see it today in Kim Jong Il's North Korea. But the details have an infinite ability to amuse. How can one ever forget a world where machines write novels as humans toil in fields. It is not until you hear O'Brien's rants and see the lengths the party goes to control the inner reality of a person that the book really earns its fifth star.

The political philosophy of the book is also highly evolved: Orwell makes the bold claim that a socialist world will still have a proletariat and that despite our best wishes, they will not save us from corrupt oligarchies. The proletariat never revolt is the message throughout the book and even in the end, the author does not waver (sorry for the spoiler)!.

It's also good that we arrive at the book in 1984 (though we cannot be sure of the time) and not later. As O'Brien explains later, Winston is the last man (though this is somewhat in dispute). Julia might be the “last man” as well—but she seems totally uninterested in understanding the system she rebels against, only the carnal pleasure of rebellion. One of the things that is essential for this book—the one area where you must sustain your disbelief at—is that there is a human at the center of it. In other words, there is someone who is not a product of Ingsoc or Party ideology. Eric Fromm's conclusion states, Orwell assumes that humans have something innate inside them that struggles for peace, justice, and liberty. Whether Orwell believed this or not—he probably did—it is absolutely essential for the novel.

You have to care about poor Winston and his varicose ulcer. You have to feel his suffocation and long for freedom as he does. And you have to see his transformation at the end. In order for the book to work, there has to be things such as love and orgasms (O'Brien and the party of course have vowed to eliminate the orgasm). By the end of the book though, we are left to wonder if there will be anything left human to carry on a story in another ten years. After all, O'Brien calls Winston “the last man”. This of course may not necessarily be true, since O'Brien—and it is assumed other members of the inner party—are aware that there were once things that existed outside the party and the demands of Ingsoc.

The end of the book reminded me very much of Shusaku Endo's Silence, perhaps because both books end with torture and the obliteration of a person's inner self. In that back too, the novel ends with the main character a shell of a person. One of his friends too is a shell of a character. Much like 1984 also, the main character is forced to work on a project which upholds the credos of a regime he doesn't believe in—in this case xenophobic tenets of Tokugawa Japan. It's not an easy thing to read, but if the author has done his work and made us care for the character, hope that he can somehow resist, then we endure the torture with him to a degree.
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LibraryThing member pru-lennon
when i first read this book, i loathed it. there's a section where winston (the main character) is reading a book and i found that part rather dry. i was inspired to read it again from a friend and i am so glad i did! there are some truly great scenes in this book which i won't write out for fear of giving things away. all i have to say is more than a few times, i felt my heartbeat quicken at crucial parts in the book. it's worth reading and worth considering what any society's future could turn into if the love of power outweighs everything else. in a place where you are never truly alone, not even with your thoughts, where even the language is changed to control your thoughts or ability to think outside the box and you're surround by perpetual war and less than stellar living conditions, what becomes of your humanity? i think orwell paints a thought-provoking, mind-blowing, soul-stirring picture of the possibilities.… (more)
LibraryThing member PhoenixTerran
One of the books that I read for Banned Books Week was George Orwell's anti-utopia classic 1984. This was actually a reread for me, having first encountered the book in high school--surprisingly enough, not for a class. Instead it was being passed around one group of friends and while it was important that we shared it with each other, we never really talked about it together; we were a rather strange and cynical bunch. 1984 was my introduction to dystopian literature, which remains to this day one of my favorite genres. For various reasons, I've been meaning to reread the book for a while, and reading it for Banned Books Week seemed to me to be extraordinarily appropriate. One of the reasons that it is often challenged is that it is felt to be "pro-communism." As with many banned and challenged books, this makes me wonder if those protesting have actually taken the time to read the material.

Winston Smith is thirty-nine, an Outer Party member working in the Records Department at the Ministry of Truth where he corrects false information to suit the Party's current outlook. Except he know it is a lie, that it all is a lie. And he knows he hates the Party and Big Brother, its leader. And knowing this, he also knows he is guilty of thoughtcrime and that it is only a matter of time before he is found out and something is done about it. For Big Brother, and the Party, are always watching--and they probably already know.

Winston is doomed--he knows it, and the reader knows it. False hope only serves to distract from the inevitable outcome; the only questions left is when it will happen and how long will he last when it does. 1984 is certainly not a happy book. Indeed, it is rather distressing, depressive, and ominous, not to mention disturbing and relentless. Big Brother loves you, and you better love him, too.

It's hard to say, but I believe 1984 probably made a greater impact on me now than when I first read it. The book has aged amazingly well; even though originally written in 1949, it is still incredibly relevant. Perhaps even more so than when it was first published. The book is less about plot and action (there is actually very little of either) and more about the state of the world and how it got there--it is a "thinking" book. It is also a dire warning of what we as humanity are capable of, and what we could become. Some things aren't entirely plausible (yet), but one only has to look at the current state of politics and governments to realize that some things are frightening possible, and some things so probable they're likely happening now. 1984 isn't the greatest novel, but it is an important book. I may still be strange and cynical, but Orwell shows amazing insight into human nature. There is a lot of Truth in this work.

Experiments in Reading
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LibraryThing member BrianDewey
Orwell, George. 1984. Plume, New York, 1949. In today's world of the war on terror, 1984 is a reminder of why citizens of democracies must constantly watch those who hold power with as much care as those who would rob them of their power. There are a couple of eerie parallels between 1984 and 2003. The first is the way war is used to control the population (although Orwell is wrong in one respect: in 2003, war fever is highest among the proles). The second is the mutability of the past. 1980s: We're at war with Iran! 1990s: We're at war with Iraq! 2002: We're at war with al Queda! 2003: We're at war with Iraq because of WMD! 2003: What WMD? We're at war with Iraq because of al Quada! no, because of democracy! The third eerie parallel is the irrelevance of official statistics. The sunset clauses for sizing the tax breaks, the fact that the tax plan will create a million and a half new jobs. Keep the current tax debate in mind when you read the following passage from 1984: Statistics were just as much a fantasy in their original version as in their rectified version. A great deal of the time you were expected to make them up out of your head. For example, the Ministry of Plenty's forecast had estimated the output of boots for the quarter at a hundred and forty-five million pairs. The actual output was given as sixty-two millions. Winston, however, in rewriting the forecast, marked the figure down to fifty-seven millions, so as to allow for the usual claim that the quota had been overfilled. In any case, sixty-two millions was no nearer the truth than fifty-seven millions, or than a hundred and forty-five millions. Very likely no boots had been produced at all. Likelier still, nobody knew how many had been produced, much less cared. All one knew was that every quarter, astronomical numbers of boots were produced on paper, while perhaps half the population of Oceania went barefoot. Fourth: Can't you just picture Fox News leading a two-minutes hate against Osama bin Laden?… (more)
LibraryThing member HankIII
1984 is one of those books in which inevitably one can't help but make various parallels to past and current totalitarian governments and policies, and for that alone, it seems, makes Orwell's work profound.However, I am struck by the sterility of the characters, Winston and Julia, both of whom are not particularly appealing, and how Orwell is able to convey how these characters have been conditioned by their oppressive, intrusive world, and what happens when they attempt to break free consciously, though by different means. Winston is the idealist; Julia is hedonistic, but both are driven by their individual identity, and at times, I don't think they are too aware of what that is, but worth seeking anyway--in spite of knowing of a most certain tragic outcome.Although I read 1984 many years agp, I'm glad I gave it a new read.It's not a pleasant read. I can't think of a work by Orwell that is. You have to be in a particular mood to read Orwell, which usually comes after reading a few frivolous pop books. I did think that Chapter 9 where Winston reads The Book to be a little long winded--it could have been condensed.I didn't liked it, I didn't enjoy it, but 1984 is one of those works that possesses a great deal of literary merit, profound insight, and intellectual value to make it worth the effort for reading.… (more)
LibraryThing member nsenger
Because I graduated from high school in 1984, I’ve always had a connection with both the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-four by George Orwell and the rock album 1984 by Van Halen. Over the years, the former has grown in my estimation and the latter has declined. The album by Van Halen is something you outgrow. The novel by Orwell is something that grows with you.

I put Nineteen Eighty-four on my Classics Club list because I knew my daughter would be reading it in her senior high school literature class, and I wanted the chance to talk to her about it. Besides, it’s been at least twenty years since I read it, and I wanted to experience it again with more life behind me. I’m glad I did.

For those unfamiliar with the novel, it was published in 1949, and depicts a bleak world set thirty-five years in the future, hence the title, Nineteen Eighty-four. The protagonist Winston Smith lives in the totalitarian state of Oceania, in the province called Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain). Big Brother, the Party leader, watches everyone through two-way TV screens; independent thinking and individualism are snuffed out by Thought Police; and the past is constantly being rewritten to support the Party’s agenda. Winston gets curious about the world before Big Brother, and as he begins to assert his independence he has to watch his every step to evade the Thought Police and avoid being sent to the dreaded Room 101.

The last time I read Nineteen Eighty-four I was teaching Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 to seventh graders, and I was trying to educate myself in classic dystopian literature. At the time I also read Huxley’s Brave New World, and I watched Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil. Honestly, in the years that have passed since, they had all blended together like some kind of dystopian goulash. It was good to read Nineteen Eighty-four on its own.

Of course, there were some things that I remembered clearly from Nineteen Eighty-four: Big Brother, doublethink, the Thought Police. But I had no clear memory of how the novel ended, and I must say that Part III was as harrowing and disturbing as anything literature has to offer.

If you’ve never read it before, Nineteen Eighty-four is one of those books you shouldn’t miss. And if you haven’t read it since high school or college, pick it up and see how much it has to say to you now.
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LibraryThing member perlaz
1984 is a book with a lot of twists and turns, you dont know whats going to happen next. 1984 takes place in 1984 in Oceana, a totalitarian society. The ruler of Oceana was Big Brother, for Big Brother was the leader and everyone loved Big Brother. Everynone but Winston, Winston had his own way of thinking he had so much hatred for Big Brother. In this society people werent allowed to think for themselves, they couldnt have their own opinion or freedom of speech. They werent allowed to do many things. Winston became rebelious, he wrote in his journal and expressed his feeling towards Big Brother. Not only that but Winston found love. Everything Winston was doing was agaisnt the societies rules. He finally got caught and went throught pain and torture. He was forced to follow the rules, and at the end he found love for Big Brother like the rest of the society.… (more)
LibraryThing member AlCracka



How long did it take people to start pointing out that these things are already true? Or did it happen immediately?

The problem with this book is that it's a cliche even to point out that it's a cliche to point out that it's already happening.

But anyway, hey guys did you know that we've been at war for over a decade, that Republicans say the best thing for the poor is to give tax cuts to the rich, and that whole masses of people don't believe in evolution?
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LibraryThing member baswood
Orwell' dystopia famously titled 1984 was well wide of the mark when 1984 finally arrived and reading it today nearly thirty years later the horrors of Big Brother, Newspeak and Ingsoc seem further away than ever. It must have been very different for those readers picking up the book when it was published in 1949. The horrors of the Second World War were fresh in the mind, there was widespread rationing in much of Europe, cities were in ruins, and the totalitarian regime of the soviet Union was emerging with frightening force. War may well have seemed perpetual to a couple of generations who had lived through two world wars. It was a time when dictators were able to grasp power and mould society into their own crazy visions and so Orwell's book must have resonated all the more powerfully. Reading the book today that feeling of a post war European society reeling from the shock of war comes across very clearly and permeates much of the atmosphere of 1984.

Orwell's world is frightening: resulting in a complete loss of humanity. Initial impressions are of a claustrophobic shabby world of spies, informers and shortages with a population cowed into mindless work, but it soon becomes much more sinister. From Winston's first small act of rebellion (writing a diary hidden from view of the remote cameras) he realises he is signing his own death warrant. What sort of society is this we wonder? and Orwell reveals more and more horrors as the novel draws to its inevitable conclusion. Winston is told:

"Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves."

This is a society based on an elite's hunger for power, who have learnt from previous failures that to stay in power they must alter reality for those who they control. they must control thoughts as well as actions and the weapon that is used is the familiar one of fear. There is no hope in this world which contrasts so strikingly with Albert Camus [The Plague] published two years earlier. Phrases used by Orwell in the early part of his novel could have been lifted right out of Camus oeuvre. Orwell has Winston say "Now that he had recognised himself as a deadman he must stay alive as long as possible" and later "The sexual act successfully performed was rebellion" In Camus hands these thoughts would be signs of hope, a revolt against dogma that could be successful for the individual, but in Orwell's book, they are straws in the wind, the individual will be crushed along with any chance of revolt in the future.

I re-read [1984] in 1984, something that many readers probably did and so was fairly familiar with the book on this latest re-read. I was still horrified by the final third of the book, which describes Winston's incarceration, torture and brain washing. I was prepared for Orwell exposition of the politics and society of the government of Oceania, which runs for thirty pages and is considered by some readers to be a dry political tract. The doomed love affair between Winston and Julia is like an oasis in the gloom, but also has it's contradictions especially with the characterisation of Julia. Like many classics there is usually something to be gained from a re-read and this was once again a five star read.
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LibraryThing member jayne_charles
The vision of a world where your every move is monitored, and even the children next door may be spying on you, is chilling, and well delivered in this book. The story of the main character's forbidden relationship with a fellow worker is edge-of-the-seat stuff, and there is a real sense of dread when it comes to Room 101.....

All books have to be brought to some kind of conclusion, and I found this one a little odd, but I am quite prepared to accept that the failings are mine, not the author's… (more)
LibraryThing member SavannahC
1984, by George Orwell. It’s not one of those straight out of the shoot amazing action novels that has you twisting and turning since page one. No, instead it is slow, dull, and boring. It’s only as your about to ease your pain and put the book down forever, just so you don’t have to pry your eyelids open you you stay awake, that the book finally gets interesting. The “BAM!” factor sets in and then you can’t seem to put it down, till gets dull…again. I mean, I can’t tell you how many times I just wanted to put the book down, give up, and rely on spark notes for any assignments I may have had to do. Yet, it seemed like just as I was about to put the book down and give up, another interesting, amazing thing happened, and so I never wanted to put the book down; that thought alone would’ve made me drop dead of laughter at the very beginning of the novel. Yet, Winston and Julie’s journey though the word of 1984, finally caught my attention and held it. I must say that though I may have been disappointed, not in Orwell but in Winston, at the end of the book (that does not mean I want you to skip to the last page, so don’t) I really did like the book. It was definitely way different than the typical novels I read and to tell the truth, this may be the first book I will ever reread. I’d definitely recommend you read it.… (more)
LibraryThing member GoofyOcean110
What can I say that 185 people haven't said before me?

Regardless, this is a classic.
LibraryThing member CaptainBroadchurch
Boring and impossible to like. A book for the kind of dreadful people who like to imagine that, of all the abuses and brutality a fascist state is capable of inflicting upon its population, they'd find distortion and control of the truth the worst - the street beatings, massive corruption and state approved murders would probably concern me more than the prospect of "being rehabilitated" and betraying the truth.

Even ignoring this, 1984 is a dull novel that is so cluttered with ropey symbolism that it makes Animal Farm look subtle: The snow globe, the nookie in the woods, the rambling on about the measurement of beer and gin, all combine to form a picture of Orwell forever mashing his overly laboured point into a human face. The theme of human betrayal and Big Brother's corruptive influence on society that underpins much of the novel is just as awkward and clumsy as the devices through which it acts: where some art may be said to mimic life, 1984 is a mere caricature of the horrors of totalitarianism.

Even so, at least it isn't Keep the Aspidistra Flying.
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LibraryThing member ccookie
I just finished listening to 1984 on my brand-new MP3 player that I bought for the sole purpose of 'listening to books'

My son studied this book in high school but somehow I had not ever read it and I can't imagine why!

I found it to be riveting. I was struck by a number of concepts. The horrifying concept of "Big Brother is watching" carried out in the extreme for these Party members who can do nothing that is not observed by the ever-present tele-screens. This is evident today in that we are tracked by governments, credit cards, reward cards, social networks, market researchers, GPS's, cell phones etc. So much of us is known out there in the world.

Also, I was struck by the emphasis on changing history by changing the records of it. There are some who would deny the Holocoust and have written that it did not happen as recorded. North American Aboriginals and Afro-Canadians and Americans would dispute the versions of their cultural history written by white, privileged men.

I was thoroughly involved in Winston's life and cared a great deal about what happened to him. I was shocked and devastated at some of the events that happened in his life.

I can see why this is a book that is read by many of our young people as part of their high school curriculum. It was a great read. I enjoyed this book very much but because of its sad (and terrifying) nature, I don't expect that I would re-read it so 4.5 stars. I would highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member gbanville
This book may be profitably compared with [[Brave New World]] by [Alduous Huxley]. Both novels present a dystopia, and a world where the political powers have brought culture to a standstill. They deliberately prevent progress and maintain the same social order through a complete manipulation of the people. In this novel it is accomplished through discomfort, privation and conflict, in Brave New World it is accomplished through indulgence, drugs, mindless luxuries, conditioning and drugs.

One of the most glaring juxtipositions between these two worlds is in the treatment of sex. In this novel sex is suppressed and attempts are made by powers to remove people's opportunities for it, and their enjoyment of it when they are able to get some. The purpose of this is to keep people frustrated with pent-up energy that can then be harnessed for combative purposes by the rulers. In Huxley's world by contrast people are encoraged to indulge in it frequently as a shallow pleasure and by providing it the masters of the society intend to keep people satasfied and complacent. The reader may choose between these interpretations or choose to see that sex may influence their behavior in different ways in different environments.

In both this book and Brave New World the rulers find that improved processes of production require capital to be wasted in order to keep civilization in stasis. In this book they accomplish that through pointless conflict, in Brave New World it is accomplished through pointless luxury consumption.

In both cases I would argue that the supposedly permanent power structures are vulnerable to any unforseen natural disaster which would make maintaining the stasis impossible. One might consider the stasis necessary to both situations after considering [[Virginia Postrel]]'s ideas about the stasis/dynamism dichotomy presented in her book, [The Future and its Enemies].

These worlds probably also suffer from the problems inherent in all planned economies as outlined by F. A. Hayek.

[[C. S. Lewis]] might have some insights into these two largely artificial worlds in [The Abolition of Man], though [Brave New World] has a great deal more surface resemblence to his predictions than does this one.
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LibraryThing member jhw
A horrible but powerful book, and it is worth considering why. It is not that the society he depicts is really credible. Even if we could believe that religion would disappear so easily as he suggests, we cannot accept the idea of so much energy spent on retaining power for its own sake - power as an end and not as a means. But a satirist is not concerned to paint a credible picture. He is concerned to bring out the evils of his society by exaggeration or caricature, and it is by his success in that that he should be judged. Orwell's concern appears to be to show just how far control of men's ideas can go, and to make his point he imagines two terrifyin techniques:
i) The systematic falsification of the records of the past so that it becomes absolutely impossible to prove that the Party has ever been wrong.
ii) The development of new language with a progressively dimishing vocabulary which makes it increasingly difficult even to think insubordinately because the words in which such thought could be expressed do not exist.
Now these ideas do seem credible; and so do some of the deductions he draws from them, e.g.:
i) that it is possible not just to crush the spirit of the rebel but to change his innermost mind and make him really believe that the Party is right after all.
ii) that the younger generation, typified by Julia, would revolt, if at all, purely as individuals and on selfish grounds. The idea of the Party actually being overthrown is to them unthinkable. They take it for granted as rabbits do foxes, as he says somewhere.
This is what gives the book its power. The society as a whole may be incredible. But the techniques of totalitarianism are not. They could possibly exist.
It is odd that there should be a character in the book called Ampleforth.
(notes written 1954)
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LibraryThing member ghr4
George Orwell's classic dystopian novel 1984 presents a harrowing totalitarian society, a world turned upside down, where "war is peace," "freedom is slavery," and "ignorance is strength." Orwell effectively describes this brutal nightmarish world, the techniques used to control reality, and crush the essential humanity in men and women; and the struggle of those who dare to think freely, maintain sanity, recognize truth - and resist. But it is Orwell's brilliantly nuanced details that provide the strikingly realistic substance within these broad strokes: sights, sounds, smells, textures, facial features (indeed the human sensory elements of this perpetually dehumanizing world); and fascinating insights into the hows and whys of the epic psychological duel: the manipulations required to control minds and the mind-bending mental gymnastics necessary to counter the omnipotent forces.

This is essential reading, particularly in this age of "alternative facts" and the calculated blurring of reality in which fiction is taken for fact, the truth is denounced as fake news, and historical facts are altered to suit the current executive narrative.
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