Who wrote this book and when?
George Orwell in 1949.
Has there been a film version?
Two big ones, one in 1956 and one in 1984. Ironically, the 1984 version is most faithful to the book. There has been an opera version and several radio drama versions.
Who are the main characters?
Winston Smith – a minor functionary in the Outer Party (government) of the country of Oceania
Julia – a girl who is a mechanic in the novel writing machines, addicted to sex
O’Brien – member of the Inner Party who supposedly is linked to the Brotherhood or the Resistance
Emmanuel Goldstein – the biggest traitor in the history of Oceania, the symbol of hate
Big Brother – figure who embodies the Party
Parsons – Winston’s neighbor, an avid Party supporter who always smells of acrid sweat
What’s it about?
Winston Smith is a lower level worker in the Outer Party of the government of Oceania; one of three totalitarian countries continually at war with each other. He works to resolve problems with the news department – he rewrites history so that it reflects that Big Brother, the embodiment of the Party, is never wrong. A growing sense of discontentment is building in Winston and he begins to act out very subtly, always in fear of the thought police, thoughtcrime, and the ever present telescreen, which can pick up images and sounds as well as transmit them. He buys a book (forbidden) from an antique shop (forbidden to frequent) and begins to write down his personal thoughts in hope someone in the future will be able to read them (forbidden). Winston has had several instances throughout his career which tell him something is wrong with society – a newspaper picture clearing supposed traitors of guilt, a look from another party member, the constantly changing “truths” in his job. He also begins to grow curious about what really happened in the past since he is continually fabricating it himself. He begins to believe that an Inner Party member, O’Brien, is actually linked to a resistance group known as the Brotherhood. His personal resistance continues to elevate when he embarks into an illegal affair with another Party member, Julia, and the two of them begin to actively explore ways to work against the government.
Why is this book a classic?
This is the most famous work of dystopian literature (a work about a society which is the antithesis of a utopia – recognized as ruled by an iron fisted tyrannical government and strict social strata which is protected through terrorism, torture, and brainwashing), along with “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. It is so complete in it’s description of this world that it conveys a sense of hopelessness not easily found in any other novel. This novel is also responsible for creating the terms “Big Brother,” “Room 101,” “thought police,” “thoughtcrime,” “newspeak,” and most of the words we use today that end in -thought or -speak (such as groupthink, doublespeak, etc).
Why should I read this book?
To gain an understanding of where ultimate power can lead us, where a surplus in production could take us, and a greater insight into the true capabilities that man has for evil and dissillusion.
Has it won any awards?
Oddly enough, I don’t believe it has won any formal awards. However, because of its impact, the “Big Brother Awards” were established in 1998 and are given to companies, groups or people who do the most to invade the personal privacy of their inhabitants, constituents, or members. There have been at least 16 world awards given out so far with 18 countries having their own individual award ceremonies annually.
“Now that he had recognized himself as a dead man it became important to stay alive as long as possible.” – p25
“Under the trees to the left of them the ground was misty with bluebells. The air seemed to kiss one’s skin. It was the second of May. From somewhere deeper in the heart of the wood came the droning of ring doves.” – p104
“War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. ” – p169
“In the face of pain there are no heroes, no heroes, he thought over and over as he writhed on the floor, cluthing uselessly at his disabled left arm.” – p 213
The real 1984 was just as horrifying as Orwell’s in some ways. Hulkmania (Hulk Hogan) started up, Michael Jackson was lit on fire while filming a Pepsi commercial, the first Apple Macintosh was sold, Ghostbusters hit the theaters, the first robot related death in the US occurred, Thomas the Tank Engine and Miami Vice first aired, and Avril Lavigne, Mandy Moore, Ashley Simpson, LeBron James, and Kelly Osbourne were all born.
If you are interested in reading other works involving dystopian societies, I would recommend the following titles: A Brave New World (Aldous Huxley), Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury), The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood), and V for Vendetta (Alan Moore and David Lloyd). The majority of these have also been made into movie versions, and if films are more your style, check out “Equilibrium” starring Christian Bale and Taye Diggs, The Matrix starring Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving (also in V for Vendetta), or The Island starring Ewan MacGregor and Scarlett Johansson.
The first time I read this novel, I hated it. I was in high school and not really looking to read some fatalistic futuristic fiction with spurts of psychological warfare and political philosophy. I didn’t understand it one bit, past the obvious plot. Now, however, knowing the end and what a tremendous influence it has been on society, this book strikes me as amazing. Reading it a second time only deepens the impact of just how F-ed up this society is – your paranoia is deeper and the sense of pointless urgency is heightened. George Orwell is a pessimistic genius.