1984 - By George Orwell

Date Read: Jul 17, 2021

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⛰ What It's About

In 1984 postwar London, which exists in the fictional land of Oceania, Winston Smith is a low-level party member who works for The Ministry of Truth. The slogan of the Ministry is:

  • War is Peace
  • Freedom is Slavery
  • Ignorance is Strength

Among party members, there are constant reminders that Big Brother is watching you. Video and audio recording devices called telescreens exist in almost every conceivable place—including homes—watching everyone constantly. People are shown war propaganda films, and they're constantly reminded of the enemy. The enemy who supports freedoms; like freedom of speech.

History is actively changed, and rewritten by the government. People are conditioned all their lives to constantly monitor their thoughts, actions, and even facial expressions for fear that they'll be vaporized when someone turns them in as a spy.

The government consists of:

  • The Ministry of peace (war)
  • The Ministry of truth (news, entertainment—AKA lies)
  • The Ministry of love (law and order—AKA torture and punishment)
  • The Ministry of plenty (economic distribution—AKA starvation)

Newspeak is the official language of Oceania. A dumbed-down version of English that shrinks in vocabulary every year. The subtlety of the English language (Oldspeak) is reduced to things like good, ungood, plusgood, and doubleplusgood in order to suppress the ability for complex thought.

There is a sub-class of people, not part of the ruling political party in any way, called proles who make up the majority of the population. They live outside the political zone away from party members like Winston. They don't live under the same scrutiny as party members. They're considered less-than. Almost sub-human.

Winston secretly wishes for the downfall of the government, and has to keep this secret to himself. After months of thought, unable to contain it any longer—and under penalty of life in prison, if not death—he starts to write out his thoughts.

At work, he has a few casual acquaintances who he quietly judges. He can't risk telling any of them what he's really been thinking. Some of them are blindly loyal to the government. To the point of taking pride in their obedience. Some he thinks are too smart for their own good, will eventually be found out, and will be vaporized because of the danger they pose to the party.

Winston is secretly in love with a young girl who works in his building. He's never spoken to her, and has contempt for her because he assumes she's a good party-member and is the kind of person who would turn him in without thinking about it.

By chance she get's a message to Winston, who at first assumes it's a threat, to tell him that she's in love with him. Her name is Julia. They develop a relationship and the amount of effort required of them to maintain it and keep it a secret is beyond extreme.

Julia feels the same about Big Brother as Winston and he learns that she's become very good at hiding in plain sight. Keeping up appearances as a good party member. For several months Winston and Julia keep their relationship secret. Winston rents a room above a junk-shop in a prole neighborhood where he and Julia can meet.

Winston starts to think that the proles are the ones that are actually human, and he and Julia are the sub-humans. He sees that they maintain relationships with each other. That they don't hold loyalty to a political party over loyalty to each other.

Winston and Julia manage to join the secret brotherhood that works for the downfall of Big Brother. They give him a copy of THE BOOK, written by the hated enemy of the state Emmanuel Goldstein, that tells him all about how the government, the wars, the entire world actually work.

But this turns out to be a trick. The people who recruited him into the brotherhood are actually working for the state, and knew about Winston's growing feelings of opposition all along. Winston and Julia are arrested.

Winston is tortured, and undergoes a long process of re-education where he is systematically broken down so that he questions everything he knows.

After months of torture and brainwashing he is released back into society where his status as a condemned person is known and nobody will risk associating with him. He's left out just long enough to be made an example of and is then publicly executed.

But he doesn't die with any hatred for Big Brother. That would mean the party had lost. Their brainwashing has worked and Winston dies loving Big Brother.

🧠 Thoughts

I think what's most shocking about this book is that it's a warning about a world that could be. And even though this warning—and many like it—exists, we still managed to build a world so similar to the 1984 version of London in Oceania. At least in the United States, where I'm from. With people as disappointingly obedient, and proud of it, and a government (almost) as dishonest, brutal, and manipulative.

What I found really interesting is that while Winston was undergoing his torture and brainwashing, I found myself questioning the narrative, and my beliefs, up until that point in the book. Almost as if I was the one being brainwashed. I'm not sure if this was intentional but it was fascinating to experience.

🥰 Who Would Like It?

This is a sad book. I'm not sure if it's more for people who are already aware of the reality of the way the world and government works, or as a way to persuade those who aren't. But since I'm aware that the latter is almost impossible; I'm more inclined to recommend this book to people who have begun to question the lies of the world or who already clearly see them as such.