Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Who Controls the Past Controls the Future

Nineteen Eighty-Four

by George Orwell

Published by Plume Books

5 Out of 5 Stars

I've put off writing a review for 1984 because it's simply too daunting to do so.  I liked 1984 even better after a second reading (bumping it up from a 4 star to a 5 star) because I think that, given the complexity of the future created by Orwell, multiple readings may be needed to take it all in.  I thought it was genius the first time and appreciated that genius even more the second time.
Orwell had a daunting task:  creating a future nearly half a century away from the time period in which he was writing.  This future had to be its own complex, independent society, but it also had to be the natural end result of the totalitarianism Orwell witnessed in the communist and socialist regimes of World War II.  That's part of the horror of 1984:  this future is a recognizable one, even in the 21st century.  It's easy to see how those in control can, through manipulation and propaganda, maintain that control simply for the sake of sating their own power hunger.  It's easy to say "no one could ever tell me what to think or what to do," but the Party's use of Big Brother, the Thought Police, the Two-Minute Hate, and Doublethink make it easy to see how a person's ability to think independently and discern fiction from reality can be eroded when there is no touchstone to fact.  Revising and rewriting the past to make certain that Big Brother and the Party are always correct has effectively eliminated historical accuracy.  How can one think and reason in a society where everything is a fabrication?

Another facet of 1984 that I find fascinating is the relationship between Winston and Julia.  Winston claims Julia is a "rebel from the waist down," engaging in promiscuity and hedonistic indulgences forbidden by the Party.  She doesn't care about social injustice or defining "reality"; she only longs for what will make her feel good in the moment and only rebels far enough to get what she wants.  By comparison, Winston is an intellectual rebel, constantly worrying over the issues of truth and freedom and the real, unvarnished past, but limited in how far he's willing to push the boundaries (until he meets Julia).  Together, they make a complete rebellion--physical and mental, but apart they find themselves impotent to stand up to the Party. 

A cautionary tale, social commentary, and exemplary example of dystopian fiction, 1984 is one of those perfect novels that not only entertains, but forces one to think about the danger associated with giving any one person or entity too much power or control over our lives--issues well worth consideration in post-9/11 America.

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