1984 by George Orwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is one of the saddest books I’ve ever read. Okay, I didn’t openly weep like I did in
Where the Red Fern Grows
, but it made me very sad. Does one need spoiler alerts for a nearly 70-year-old book? Just in case…spoilers ahead.
Winston’s welcomed acceptance and outright love of his defeat is what is so sad. In the end, he utterly betrays himself and all his values – and is glad to do so. If he was just defeated, it would be merely tragic; the hero fallen. In mere defeat, there can at least be a kind of grace or honor of having fought the good fight. But his almost ecstatic joy at being finally and fully defeated makes it so much worse. There is no dignity, no hope, no self, no human being left. And, of course, that’s the point.
Orwell’s insight into the psychology of totalitarian control as well as the motivations of those in control and those subjugated goes deep. O’Brien and Winston’s conversations in the last third of the book are worth much reflection.
1984 is heralded as a prescient and cautionary book about the dangers of the surveillance state. And it is, and the surveillance state is a real concern. However, I think most miss the real and more important warning of 1984: the dangers of the renunciation of individualism and reason. As much as Orwell was a socialist, he decried the evils of collectivism in much of his work (never mind how he squares the circle of an individualistic socialism—doublethink?). He was a fierce and early critic of both the Soviets and the Nazis: recognizing that the danger they posed was the same: collectivism. Both devoured the individual and subjected the mind to the state. Reason was their greatest enemy; hence the constant resort to violence, often random. This was not merely to get rid of explicit enemies, but to stultify the reasoning mind. 1984 takes these “ideals” to their full logical consequence. It is terrifying and depressing: it is a book without hope. And that’s what makes it so sad.
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