By: George Orwell
Format/Source: Mass market paperback; my purchase
‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’
Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth in London, chief city of Airstrip One. Big Brother stares out from every poster, the Thought Police uncover every act of betrayal. When Winston finds love with Julia, he discovers that life does not have to be dull and deadening, and awakens to new possibilities. Despite the police helicopters that hover and circle overhead, Winston and Julia begin to question the Party; they are drawn towards conspiracy. Yet Big Brother will not tolerate dissent – even in the mind. For those with original thoughts they invented Room 101 . . .
So, backstory time: I first read this book in 2008. It was the heyday of me studying Soviet Russian history and I was just reading up everything I could get my hands on related to the regime, and dystopian literature reflecting on the events was one of them. So George Orwell came into my reading list at long last. I liked it the first time but despite it being the time that I started book blogging, I never got around to typing out a review of sorts about the novel. Fast forward to almost ten years later and with current events spiralling about, this book returned to attention, even selling out at some stores. I had been meaning to re-read it for some time now so I decided to pick it up again.
Like before it amazes me how chilling and how detailed the dystopian world of Big Brother and the Party is that George Orwell wrote. It’s easy to draw connections between that and the way that Stalinist Russia worked, from the ideology that the Party propagated to the methods of the Thought Police similar to the NKVD and hauling people during the night, the way people disappear from public records and images. Re-reading it this time around it was especially chilling how Orwell was able to break this down further and examine the methodology behind the breakdown of society as we know it and the society that the Party was trying to enforce, the psychology in re-orienting a person (e.g. the Hate Week/Hate Minutes bit).
What really intrigued me this time around–and I think it reflects on my some of my current interests–was the early discussion on ThoughtSpeak between Syme and Winston and what the Party hoped to achieve through the creation of a new language that reflected the ideas that the Party was trying to propagate, and the breakdown with the old language that they believed reflected the old regime and the old social set-up. As we know language does reflect a lot in how our society works and what are values and perspectives are so I thought that discussion was especially interesting to read, as was the added note at the end of the novel about ThoughtSpeak. It was also interesting to see how Winston sort of goes back and forth, noting how ThoughtSpeak is used, what it means, but then someone would point out how he was still sort of translating in his head to the old language and then translating back to ThoughtSpeak, kind of like how people where let’s say English isn’t their first language would communicate.
Funnily enough I still remembered much of the plot, though perhaps this time around I was paying closer attention to the end of the novel as I’m not sure I had quite understood it the first time around.
Overall I’m glad to have finally re-visited the novel. I can’t say much has changed per se in terms of reaction from the first time I read the book, but it’s nice to gain some new insight on it.