Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
An iconic opener to an iconic book; Nineteen Eighty-Four (sometimes styled as 1984) written by George Orwell (pen name of Eric Arthur Blair) has become a classic of its type, and a chillingly-prescient description of parts of our modern day.
Winston Smith, the novel’s protagonist, is an everyman; someone we can probably all see within ourselves and those we love, to a lesser or greater degree. A selfish child who loses his family in the wars of an unspecified time (probably the fifties) grows into one of the endless cogs of the Party machinery amongst the endless wars between the three superpowers—not as a front-line soldier, but as a desk warrior. He creates (as we would call it) fake news, he owes his standard of living to the Party, and can’t imagine a life outside of it—the proles are suppressed by cheap booze, salacious newspapers, and populist entertainment—and Winston is too clever by half; he can recognise the endless cycles of fakery for what it is, to a degree. How could he ever be any different?
And yet, and yet, he harbours a rebellious streak. He wonders, What if? He asks himself what else there is out there, beyond the walls of his bland, dry existence that is normal for the Party workers of his rank. There is a sense of promise for the elite people at the top—comfortable apartments, decent wine, good food, and the ability to turn off the otherwise omnipresent telescreens that both observe and entertain the masses.
Orwell wrote this book soon after the Second World War ended; he had fought in the Spanish Civil War, was an ardent supporter of anti-fascist forces, and lived rough for a time before writing about it. He was a very clever writer with a wonderful grasp of prose; he wasn’t as prolific as his fans would otherwise have liked.
Nineteen Eighty-Four was his last book; he died not long after completing it, and his experiences of all-pervasive authoritarian states gave him the immediate idea for the book. Its chilling—if not terrifying—potential was made even more worrying by the increasing authoritarianism of the Soviet Union and the Nazi atrocities still being revealed.
Its prose moves at a solid pace; despite the flashbacks and reflections on Winston’s life, you never feel left behind or that any part of the book is wasted. Every word matters in Orwell’s works, and Nineteen Eighty-Four is no exception. He showcases a strong, powerful government that dominates every aspect of their subjects’ private life—for subjects are what they are.
If you ever want a seminal example of how to create an effective world, you could never go wrong with this book. London is a bombed-out shell of its former self, and Winston is a visible personification of the decaying world around him; he, too, is wearing down, and it’s depressing to watch. His attempts at rebellion—sexual, personal, societal—are powerful yet impotent, but we’re still willing him on nonetheless.
Orwell was a clever, insightful man, and in a strange way I’m glad he never got to see how accurate a lot of his predictions actually were. He could see which way the winds were blowing, but I bet he would wish that he had been wrong; I certainly would have done if I’d written such an insightful tome.
You might think that a book from 1948 wouldn’t have any relevance to your life today—and you would be utterly wrong. Nineteen Eighty-Four is powerful, rich, and intelligent; a book for our time. Read the book and be immersed in intelligent, insightful, and prophetic writing.
© 2018 Matthew Munson
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Thanet-based author Matthew has three novels published by Inspired Quill, is an inveterate blogger, and writing is his passion.