Friday, March 23, 2007

'Nineteen Eighty-Four'

by George Orwell

(Book #10 for 2007; Book #1 for the Banned Book Challenge)


Hidden away in the Record Department of the sprawling Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith skilfully rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Yet he inwardly rebels against the totalitarian world he lives in, which demands absolute obedience and controls him through the all-seeing telescreens and the watchful eye of Big Brother, symbolic head of the Party. In his longing for truth and liberty, Smith begins a secret love affair with a fellow-worker Julia, but soon discovers the true price of freedom is betrayal.

Having lived in Britain, one of the most watched countries in the world, with its over 4 million CCTV cameras, not to mention its obsession with the reality show Big Brother, I’m glad I finally read the source of such terminology as Newspeak, doublethink, Big Brother, Room 101, Thought Police, and others. It’s certainly an influential book, with thought-provoking ideas, but I found a good portion of the story rather dry. I especially got bogged down with “The Book” and the political commentary. Repeatedly banned or challenged for being “pro-communist”, or for sexual content (so tame compared to what’s on offer nowadays) the totalitarian alternative in the book, heavily influenced by the regimes of Stalin and Hitler, hardly seems better. Worth the read for the background on many concepts and phrases now common in English, but a bit of a struggle to get through.

About Newspeak:
It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take “good”, for instance. If you have a word like “good”, what need is there for a word like “bad”? “Ungood” will do just as well- better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of “good”, what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like “excellent” and “splendid” and all the rest of them? “Plusgood” covers the meaning; or “doubleplusgood” if you want something stronger still. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words- in reality, only one word. Don’t you see the beauty of that, Winston?
Winston reading "The Book":
The book fascinated him, or more exactly it reassured him. In a sense it told him nothing that was new, but that was part of the attraction. It said what he would have said, if it had been possible for him to set his scattered thoughts in order. … The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.
My Rating: 3/5

See also this BBC article on "How we are being watched".
Or for more on Nineteen Eighty-Four, see


  1. I got my bookmarks today! Thank you so much, they are so wonderful!

  2. It's been ages since I read this book; in fact, I read it before the year 1984. When 1984 arrived, I remember thinking it's a bad idea to write a futuristic novel without going a bit farther into the future, if you plan to use a date as the title (the same was true of 2001: A Space Odyssey - nope, we weren't quite to that level in space travel!). Now, it's beginning to look like Orwell wasn't quite as far off as I thought, although it's still a bit far-fetched in many ways. Am I right to remember rats as punishment? Ugh.

  3. Adrienne,
    That was quick! Glad you like them. :)

    There are certainly some aspects of the book which are relevant today.
    Yes, the rats were Winston's version of "the worst thing in the world", therefore what he experienced in Room 101. Ugh, definitely!

  4. I've never gotten through it because I also find parts a bit dry, but I'm resolved to try again just so I can say I've read it.

  5. Andi,
    I am glad I read it. Today I was watching an old episode of Spooks (BBC show-think it's called M15 in the States) and there was a throw-away comment about Room 101. It was very fun being able to chuckle along knowingly. Maybe you should just skim the dry bits?

  6. I'm sorry you found parts of this novel a little dry as it's one of my two favorite novels. I read this a few years ago and loved it. It's quite dark, and I found the ending to be incredibly depressing, but for some reason I enjoy depressing things... Is that weird?

  7. Matt,
    Thanks for stopping by. If that's weird than I share your weirdness. I also like dark and depressing (although not all the time). Even though I did find it a bit dry, I'm glad I finally read it and bits of it have stayed with me.


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