Among the seminal texts of the 20th century, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a rare work that grows more haunting as its futuristic purgatory becomes more real. Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell’s nightmare vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality. The brilliance of the novel is Orwell’s prescience of modern life–the ubiquity of television, the distortion of the language–and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell. Required reading for students since it was published, it ranks among the most terrifying novels ever written.
Publisher: New American Library
Published: July 1st 1950
Okay, let’s get this out of the way: not only are there spoilers, I am in no way an analyzer of books. I’m pretty obtuse when it comes to finding deeper messages and philosophical aspects of novels. I read to escape. However, this case was a bit different.
We’re going to have a funny little moment to reminisce: I actually got introduced to this book from my father. He had me listen to the last chapter of the book— while he had my older sister listen to the first… we don’t ask questions here. And though I didn’t care for the audiobook snippet that I did hear, I decided to read it anyway. I mean, he did hype it up a great deal. And I read it… it didn’t hit me emotionally or give me a moment of awe as he promised. Flash forward months later— I have to analyze it for school. And I didn’t peruse the text, but I finally realized why this book didn’t hit me as strongly as it has hit most Orwell fans.
The whole purpose of the book is seeing this man go into a rebellion against the system… only to fail in the end. And that is what interest me the most— I’ve read too many books where teenagers decide to save the country and succeed, ie: The Hunger Games or Divergent. However, the difference between the two examples mentioned above is how much I’m rooting for the main character, the one we follow for 350 pages. Now, I don’t know if it was Orwell’s intention to make an unlikable character, because if he did, it was a success.
And this is not me saying a novel needs a likable character to make me root for them. But at least let me connect, no— understand them to some degree… which I couldn’t do with dear old Winston.
Throughout the novel, we see Winston’s dependence on many things. Dependence of Julia and their sexual rendezvous, the thrill of rebelling and the journal that he finds and reads. I guess in a way, Orwell was trying to make him relatable in the beginning. A meek man with ordinary issues— at least in this timeline, who finds his confidence through the encouragement of others. Yet, the execution ended up portraying him as weak with a malleable mind.
We can look at the first meeting of O’Brien, where the characters are asked how far they would go for the cause. While Julia objects, Winston blindly says yes. Not once does he decide on his own, hey, maybe I should rebel a little more. He was fully content with doing his rebelling with Julia based on her encouragement and their actions before said meeting.
On the subject of Julia, the sexual acts were her ideas. His most prominent thoughts are dark, going to raping and murdering her. His statement of loving her more and more from how many men she’s been with just adds to the toxicity of their… partnership? Which in turn detracts from his nonexistant likability. Why would I root for a character like this when his thoughts show no positive change or independance?
I think these factors are what made the initial ending lack in emotional impact. I was expecting to root for the main character, only to be crushed at his doomed ending. However, it made me think of another message that this story could be preaching as well: did he ever have a chance? Was the slogan Big Brother is Watching a literal metaphor? (I know it was in the story, but if we’re using this for present times, it helps to think in metaphorical terms). I appreciate the ending and understand how powerful it is. Yet, on a poignant side, I wasn’t connected to it.