Winston Smith works for the Ministry of truth in London, chief city of Airstrip One. Big Brother stares out from every poster, the Thought Police uncover every act of betrayal. When Winston finds love with Julia, he discovers that life does not have to be dull and deadening, and awakens to new possibilities. Despite the police helicopters that hover and circle overhead, Winston and Julia begin to question the Party; they are drawn towards conspiracy. Yet Big Brother will not tolerate dissent – even in the mind. For those with original thoughts they invented Room 101 . . .
Orwell’s dystopic imagining of an authoritarian society (well, it is past for us) where the individual is a concept that is rapidly being phased out, and a nearly omnipotent government watches over all citizens is a much discussed work of literature. It has been challenged frequently for being pro-communist, anti-capitalist, whatever – and much of my desire to read it was because it is Banned Books Week and I was interested in the concepts that are thrown around. Fascism, as you know, is rearing its ugly head in the real world again so why not find out what would be the worst case scenario? Orwell definitely builds a vastly imaginative world considering the time period this was written in – the scientific accomplishments and technology were out of the world. He even makes a case for a society that rules through fear and intimidation. Though I must say, as far as dystopic societies goes, this one was a let-down. It may be THE formative dystopic text or whatever, but I have definitely read better constructed dystopic societies from amongst published books in the last decade. Unpopular opinion? Maybe…
Now, 1984 is split in three parts – the first two focus mainly on our protagonist Winston, with the first devoted to showing us the world he is living in, and the second about his ‘romance’. (If you are wondering why the sarcastic quotes, I’ll come to that in a moment). The third is the consequences of his actions, and focuses more on the world they live in. But overall, yes, Winston is the main character of the book and he is not a likeable protagonist. But I don’t mean in a head-banging, this-character-is-so-frustrating sense. He works as a cog in the machine that is the Party, and though he doesn’t prescribe to their beliefs he knows that he has to keep his head down if he wants to survive – and all this is still understandable, even though he is contributing to fascism. No, what really made me hate him, and in turn kind of ruined the story for me (as I was in a rage) was the fact that Orwell writes him with such an overpowering Male Gaze perspective, that it is infuriating. Mind you, in this dystopic society, they are puritanical (aren’t they always…) and sex between party members is forbidden unless they are married. So, when he sees the unattainable dark-haired girl who is a member of the anti-Sex league, his rage towards her and what she represents manifests in the form of contemplating sexual violence. Yep, the story’s protagonist considers rape because he can’t get the girl he wants. I don’t know about you, but even in an authoritarian society and all the human rights violations described, rape is still a Big Deal for me, okay? I don’t forget that I am reading through the eyes of a would-be rapist just because he is being subjugated by an unjust form of government!
And the girl who is the other half of this ‘romance’? Oh, she just “laughs delightedy” when he says he had contemplated raping her. That in itself shows you how much character development Orwell provides to Julia – she is this vessel where Winston’s desires can be culminated. Her personality doesn’t go beyond rebellious Manic Pixie, and even Winston is just some half-thought out character that doesn’t have much depth beyond thinking with his dick. His whole attraction towards her is purely physical, yet the author describes their relationship as love, just so that there is Something To Live For. I am all for sexual liberation, and so call a Spade a freaking Spade. It is not love that drives them in each other’s’ arms, okay? Even if later on they develop love, that would have been okay as a plot development. But Orwell presents it with Julia declaring her love for him when she has never even spoken to him! It felt very inorganic and placed just to drive the plot into the third part, with an intermittent exposition to the world that is present which seemed more exciting than the first two parts. (You know a book has done me wrong, when I prefer the non-fiction-like section more than the plot itself) The third part redeems the book for me, as it finally delves into the complicated world they live in, and explores a society created on very different values, and shows the implications when humanity itself is being systematically stripped from humans. Even so, ultimately, it is too late for me to like it much and since I was not that sympathetic to Winston, most of it was just ‘eh’ for me. I mean, it is horrifying as a concept, and imagining it happening is definitely scary, but the lack of connection to the protagonist made me not care much about the ending beyond whether any change actually happens.
In conclusion, I would say, maybe skip this over-hyped book if you’re not interested in it beyond academic curiosity? Pick up any recent decent dystopia if you want to be entertained with horrific fascist societies, instead!
Content warning: Depictions of torture, mentions of rape.