Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Book Review: Nineteen Eighty-Four

This isn’t actually a book review, more a reaction to a book. You probably won't want to read it if haven’t read the book, it'll most likely spoil it for you if you ever plan to read it (and you should!).

I’ll layout the plot first – Winston Smith is a civil servant, working for the totalitarian government of Oceania. There are 3 states or countries in the world now, which are in a constant state of war – Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia. Oceania is ruled by Big Brother, an omnipotent figure that is to be loved without question.

After finishing this book I didn’t look back on it with a fond memory and I didn’t enjoy the read as such, though it wasn't labourious. After reflecting on it (I still am and probably always will) I can see that it’s changed my view on the world.

The concept of doublethink is interesting, let me quote Wikipedia (which quoted Goldstein’s book actually):

The keyword here is blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink. Doublethink is basically the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.

– Part II, chapter IX - chapter I of Goldstein's book

I find this interesting as the other day I was thinking about Grace Bros. the department store. Myer in NSW used to go buy that name (as we all probably remember), but it’s slipped out of my everyday conscience as the brand of Myer has been drilled in. What if Myer the company decided to destroy all documented evidence of Grace Bros, the only evidence know is that of your memory. What is in our memory is our history, if I tell a story from when I was 15 years old to an audience now, but I can’t quite remember the details (and I know I cant) but I tell it anyway – I make it a little more colourful. The audience has heard that and now believe it. It is now part of my history in their eyes, it’s not a lie. This is how fickle the truth is and it doesn’t even matter?

Another theme is Freedom. I grew to appreciate my freedom as I have it now much, much more. Winston doesn’t even have the freedom to write a diary without severe stress. I can write a diary and even publish a blog with two idiots if I please, to say life is good is an understatement.

I’ll cut it here, thoughts?

- Dogman


  1. Yes, I totally agree. As I've (and I'm sure many others before me have) said before, perception is reality. It's scary but that's where love can be the answer, because along with love comes honesty. But then there's the conundrum of, you can be honest and still not be telling the truth. It's really such a powerful tool, sorts like John cena... Get it??


    The thing that got me about this book was the idea of insanity. An insane person is labelled that by society, not by his own self. Winston is in a society where he needs to rebel cos he disagrees completely with the whole set up, yet the only proof he has is his own memories of certain events. Even his woman and fellow rebeller has no interest in the altering of history that occurs. She is only rebelling because she feels she needs to.

    The state eventually arrests him and puts him through a horrifying ordeal in order to make him truly believe he is wrong. What if you were forced through excrutiating pain to admit that what you believe and remember is wrong? How long could you trust in your self before you start to question "Am I wrong?" "If noone is on my side, noone believes me then am I crazy?"

    In the end he is cracked and becomes a willing member of society. Big Brother won, and they get to tell the story, so really the good guys won.

  3. What the fuck are you on about?

    But seriously. That's something that came into my mind as well, I thought of all these people in mental institutions that think they're fine (how can you know you're insane?) but are locked up. I don't think they should be set free... they fuckin insane right?

    See 'Changeling', there is a sequence in that which relates to my thought.

  4. Ha I was gonna respond to Eden the same way. I've felt even as a child that it's funny how majority rules, there are 5% gay people so they are wrong. There are this many black people so they should listen to us coz we know best. I think to understand life, we need to gear the minority POV, or else it will whither away for a long time. It's also funny how with life going on so long, each stage will fall and a new one will be set

  5. Perception, insanity, freedom.. all classic themes of this book. I agree with everything all of you have just said so I won't rehash it. However, there's another view that I kept thinking about, especially towards the end of the book, that I found most mind-expanding.

    What if Big Brother is right? What if O'Brien that annoying piece of shit is actually telling the truth? As we read about Winston's ordeals after he is captured our dreams are crushed, party because we are all freedom-fighters at heart and want to rebel against the Man; but also partly because Orwell is such a fantastic storyteller that we become very much involved in Winston as a character. So when he is captured, everything O'Brien says about the Party and Doublethink sounds like complete bogus, and we as skeptics obviously doubt him. Back to my point, (and Lee's point previously), that perception is reality. O'Brien and every other member of the Party is so brainwashed that they have created this new world, and eventually they are too powerful for Winston's willpower. They are smarter, stronger, and as Orwell explains in the book, O'Brien is far better educated than Winston.

    My point is this; if the Party is capable of creating this society, and basically everyone (and possibly everyone in the slums as well we aren't sure of that) believe this nonsense, why is it not reality? Our world is only real to us because we live in it. If we lived in Oceania we would be ratting out our parents to the Thought Police, we would participate in Hate Week, and we would certainly love Big Brother - a possible reference to faith in a god perhaps? An excercise of doublethink is necessary to believe in Christianity, as we all know that evolution isn't just some made up term.

    1984 had me turning the pages at a violent pace, (and sometimes re-reading pages). I understand when Hamish says it wasn't enjoyable, but just Orwell's writing alone left me with a smile on my face.

    Thanks for setting this blog up, it's fun to scribe ideas.

    Long live Big Brother.

  6. "Big Brother - a possible reference to faith in a god perhaps? An excercise of doublethink is necessary to believe in Christianity"

    This never even crossed my mind, it seems so obvious now that you've said it. I did think of him as a god, but I never related it back to religions of today.

    I've added Animal Farm to my list of books to read.

  7. Thats some good interpretation Russ. Another cool thing about this book is that everyone takes something slightly different away from it.

    The way the appendix talks about the potential of Newspeak is almost creepy as well. The ultimate goal was to make english forgotten and newspeak the only language within 50 years. And with its limited vocabulary and absolute meanings of the words people would not actually have the capacity to describe many of their emotions and would literally (literally) be too stupid to have deep thought provoking discussion.

    Now think of our language as it stands now. Surely our minds are limited because we can't put every thought or emotion into a tangible form such as language and therefore struggle to let those thoughts/emotions evolve to the next stage. How long could you understand a concept if you couldn't translate it from a feeling or emotion to words? Maybe that's why people struggle to describe a true DMT experience because they reach a place that our language has never thought to encompass.