Never have I felt such a sense of immersion when reading a novel, as I did when reading the fantastic ‘1984’ by George Orwell. Unlike many novels I have read, I attempted to maintain a sense of isolation and seclusion from any potential spoilers or even the basic plotline itself, in order to fully experience the twists and turns of the contemporary classic. Feeling overwhelmingly uncertain and sceptical, I began ‘1984’ with the interest of discovering a novel subversive of my usual reading list, in the hopes of broadening my literary sphere and challenging my ideological views. To say that I was left totally captivated with the exceptionally enlightening piece of dystopian fiction is an understatement. No longer was I willing myself to read a few chapters a week to reluctantly finish a tedious novel, but I found myself perusing through the enthralling life of Winston Smith, who, on the surface, appears to be no more than an ordinary, ageing man, living in a monotonous, black and white world.
Orwell presents to the reader a limited viewpoint of life within Oceania, through the eyes of Winston Smith, the protagonist of ‘1984’. The world as we know it is now governed by three superstates; Oceania is under the control of America, Eurasia is governed by the Great Socialist Union (the USSR) and Eastasia is under the rule of the Chinese Federation. The dystopian novel begins with the “clocks…striking thirteen” in Airstrip One (Great Britain), post World War II. We soon learn that Oceania, the entire continent of America and the British Isles, remain under the watchful eye of omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent Big Brother. The world is in a constant state of conflict as Oceania, allied with Eastasia, attempts to assert its dominance over Eurasia. However, the progression of the novel promptly reveals that alliances are fickle and loyalties are fluctuating, as the party discloses that Oceania is, and always has been, at war with Eastasia and in partnership with Eurasia, on the contrary to the public’s initial understanding. As faithful, devoted (and indoctrinated) citizens to the party, the people of Oceania unquestioningly accept the falsities fed by the government, ranging from simple production statistics to world conflict. The party INGSOC (English Socialist Party) is, in turn, able to exert their totalitarian policies; “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength”. Without opposition or objection, the government appears to be infallible and unstoppable, clearly learning from mistakes of the past, for “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”.
In addition, Winston’s immense sense of oppression fuels his aversion towards the government of Oceania and Big Brother’s domineering presence. As a highly relatable character, Winston perhaps embodies twenty first century values, in his strife for democracy, liberty and civilisation, qualities we so foolishly take for granted. However, within Dystopian Britain, “inequality was the price of civilisation”. Orwell cleverly charts a highly probable society and future, serving as a warning signal for political extremism and dictatorial regimes.
With a great feeling of fascination, engagement and emotional connection, I cannot express so profusely the must-readability of ‘1984’. I felt as though I, myself, had lost my grasp on the realities of the novel, confined within the maze of uncertainty. Much like the people of Oceania, I was lead to believe one thing, then presented with conflicting information to forcibly accept, thus tying myself in knots trying to decipher the truths of the novel. Throughout the process of reading ‘1984’, I felt overwhelming frustration wash over me, especially self-reprimand of my very own naivety, trust and willing acceptance of information, in a similar manner to Winston (but not as you initially think). I truly felt as though I was vicariously experiencing the totalitarian regime, swinging on the pendulum between truth and lies, reality and fantasy and trust and doubt- “men are infinitely malleable” clearly. My exasperation was growing towards both the plot of the novel and Orwell himself. How could he so cunningly trick me, play upon my vulnerabilities and distort all I believed to be reality and truth? Reality and truth, in contrast to the lies and deceit of the party, that is. I sharp learned to agree that “reality is inside the skull”, not in the acceptance of the misinformation, gained through our sensory experience. I felt betrayed by both author and the fictional government. To simplify my frustration, Orwell and characters within the novel present a metaphorical trap; you are lead into the trap, however you are then persecuted for falling into the trap, which was so purposefully laid out for you to fall into in the first place (this should hopefully make more sense upon finishing the novel).
However, my true favourite character of the novel was not Winston at all, but O’Brien, a character whom I have failed to discuss so far. O’Brien is Winston’s accomplice, so to say, in anarchy and upheaval (at least what we believe to be anarchy and upheaval, but I’ll bite my tongue and say no more). Orwell presents O’Brien to be an astonishingly clever man, truly encapturing the mind, as the picture slowly comes into greater focus. I’ll leave you with an ambiguous quote of his for you to ponder: “What can you do… against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing and then simply persists in his lunacy?”.
Comment: I must admit, throughout parts one and two, whilst extremely interested, I was not fully encaptured. However, beginning part three, I can wholeheartedly express my love for ‘1984’ and say that it is one of my favourite novels to-date. I would most-definitely recommend ‘1984’, for if I had remained in my bubble of scepticism, I could never have discovered the wonders of Orwell’s beautiful and intricate style of writing. He most certainly considers each and every word with a great deal of thought and so cleverly challenged my thoughts and assumptions throughout. Everything is not always as it seems.
“In a time of universal deceit- telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”