Y’all know the broad strokes of 1984: Big Brother, newspeak, telescreens, doublethink, “We have always been at war with EastAsia.” It’s entered the popular consciousness in a profound way; and for some reason thinkpieces about it have proliferated since 2016. (I wonder why! Truly it is a mystery.)
So our small book club decided to re-read this one as adults, to see how our reactions to it might have changed, or if it was really all that. The consensus: it’s a classic for a reason.
So instead of reviewing the broad strokes of the plot, which are easily available, I’d like to note instead my thoughts about how the book holds up.
To start, the writing style seems dated, almost musty. It grew on me as I read, until about mid-way I think it became a page-turner as I fell into the cadence. I read 1984 many years ago and found that reading it as an adult gave me a new appreciation for some of his observations and turns of phrase, things that slid right on by when I first read it.
For example, some nuances of inequality that past-me just didn’t see, due to my own naivete:
He disliked nearly all women, and especially the young and pretty ones. It was always the women, and above all the young ones, who were the most bigoted adherents of the Party, the swallowers of slogans, the amateur spies and nosers-out of unorthodoxy.
Of course, present-day-me thinks. This makes so much sense! The most vulnerable people always need to work harder to prove their loyalty. And other people resent this.
There’s a lot of talk about how Orwell was so prescient, and indeed he was, but I was really struck by his grasp of the nuances of the world he created. For instance, he draws such strong connections between the physical and emotional. Not just in the obvious ways that we all know the novel for: doublethink, newsspeak, words create meaning, etc. There are frequent lines like:
The only evidence to the contrary was the mute protest in your own bones
There was a direct intimate connexion between chastity and political orthodoxy.
Not merely the love of one person but the animal instinct, the simple undifferentiated desire: that was the force that would tear the Party to pieces.