Summary

1984 has more of a historical context than BNW. Orwell had the first-hand experience of how totalitarianism can subvert revolutionary "good intentions" due to his time spent in Spain. Also, he was one of the first from the Left to draw attention to the "it would be funny if it wasn't so horrible" show trials set up by Stalin and the whole Great Terror of Stalin's regime. Which, as you neatly summarize, literally did involve "the Party using suffering, intense hatred, and constant surveillance to subjugate the public."
Overall Rating

1984 by George Orwell

First of all, Orwell’s prose and mastery of language is incredible. I love how straightforward yet profound his writing is; he manages to capture so much meaning and detail into these eloquent and concise sentences. After reading little excerpts from Victorian literature, 1984 almost felt like a breath of fresh air with their ornate, flowery prose. Additionally, almost every sentence in 1984 seemed quotable; there are pages in my Kindle where 50%+ of the words are highlighted.

‘ “What can you do, thought Winston, against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself; who gives your arguments a fair hearing and simply persists in his lunacy?”

1984 by George Orwell

Secondly, the book itself is incredibly moving. Winston is such an interesting and flawed character; However, we can’t help but admire his futile fight against the Party and his struggle to maintain his humanity in a bleak and emotionless world; we also see his weaknesses. His sexual frustration with Julia during the Two Minutes Hate, his contemplation of pushing Katharine into the quarry, and his belief that he played a role in his mother’s death — all of these more negative and shameful characteristics makes Winston such a three-dimensional character. In a way, we can all see ourselves in him, a flawed, imperfect individual with regrets and human instincts. Ultimately, I think this connection between the reader and Winston causes the ending to be more effective. It’s easy to claim that we would have the mental fortitude to withstand the Party’s interrogation and torture. Still, when Winston succumbs to the Party and loses his individuality and sense of humanity, we can see ourselves doing the same.

1984 by George Orwell

Julia was probably my favorite character in the book. Her more hedonistic style of rebellion, not based on a moral standpoint but from an emotional and sexual urge, serves as a contrast to Winston’s more rational, moral motivations. She lives in the moment and thus adopts a more optimistic view than Winston’s constant pessimism (as evident from his constant reflection that they were already dead). Still, in the end, both betray each other despite their differences. One wasn’t necessarily stronger than the other, as both faltered when faced with the incredible power of the Party.

My favorite quote from the book is when he finally betrays Julia in Room 101: “He was falling backwards, into enormous depths, away from the rats. He was still strapped in the chair, but he had fallen through the floor, through the walls of the building, through the earth, through the oceans, through the atmosphere, into outer space, into the gulfs between the stars”. In a way, I see Winston’s humanity dissociating from his body and falling like his mother and sister in that sinking ship; that was the moment when he finally lost his humanity. The Party successfully manipulated his emotions so that the love he once thought was unbreakable was nothing; the Party had triumphed and exerted its power over him.

1984 by George Orwell

The one chapter I struggled to get through was Part II, Chapter 9, where Orwell discusses the origins of Oceania, Eastasia, and Eurasia in that history book-esque format, but I did find it rather intriguing. Constant warfare used up resources, kept the lower classes suffering and ignorant. That whole spiel about doublethink made me stop and think about how much of this applies to modern society. Doublethink was especially thought-provoking since Orwell’s description of doublethink (“The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them”) reminded me of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quote, “The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Of course, both Orwell and Fitzgerald deal with the interpretation of contrasting information. Still, the main difference I gleaned was that Fitzgerald’s quote acknowledges that reality is complex and that every argument and debate has its nuances. Thus, having the ability to think critically and separate fact from opinion is crucial. In contrast, Orwell’s doublethink directly contrasts reality, which ties back into the Party’s ultimate control over reality and the past. Honestly, some of the things Orwell discussed were a bit intimidating; I still have trouble fully comprehending that paradox about using doublethink to understand doublethink.

The book’s depressing ending leaves me sitting here and pondering. It’s been such a long time since I’ve thought so hard about this type of stuff. I want to reread Brave New World so that I can compare the two books and analyze those differences. From what I can tell, both books involve an oppressive government that divides the society into rigid social groups and eliminates access to religion/art/literature to ensure complete devotion to the state. However, despite my relatively flaky knowledge of BNW, I see that BNW involves using drugs and sex to hypnotize the public into this continual state of happiness and pleasure, essentially dulling all emotions and resulting in this half alive-half dead state. In contrast, 1984 involves the Party using suffering, intense hatred, and constant surveillance to subjugate the public.

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