Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Classic of the Week: 1984

For my second Classic post I decided to write on a book I just recently finished. I had been planning to read this book forever, and then once I started reading it took me forever (almost a month) and I just finished now. The book is:

1948by George Orwell

Years ago I read Animal Farm and hated it because I was too young to understand the political satire and I still wanted happy endings. Going into 1984 I knew it wasn’t going to be a happy book, and especially with the big dystopia trend on now I’m more used to books on totalitarian societies. In that way, 1984 didn’t disappoint.

Set in a futuristic world where Oceania (America and England) is at war with either Eurasia or Eastasia and history is being constantly written, it follows the life of an ordinary worker named Winston who hates The Party yet has little interest in actually leading a rebellion or doing anything major against the party. For him, rebellion means having an affair with one of his beautiful young co-workers.

I was surprised by the level of sexual content in this book. Prostitution is mentioned and Winston writes in his diary about a time when he visits a prostitute. Winston and Julia do have sex many times, and it’s described the first time or two. Before they get together, Winston fantasizes about Julia’s body and when they do finally have sex it’s more of an act of rebellion than of love: he tells her that the more men she has slept with before, the more he loves her. And yet, he constantly says he loves her and he would rather do all sorts of horrible things rather than leave her. So, on the whole, the romance aspect was a little confusing to me and extremely chilling at the end.

The plot was slower than I expected. For the first third of the book very little happens. The set-up is really interesting, but there’s no real action until part two, where Winston and Julia finally get together. When that finally gets boring something really dramatic happens, and the rest of the book basically turns into a physiological treatise. In short, this is not something you read if you want a gripping story and compelling characters. I didn’t like the characters. This wasn’t because they were poorly written characters. They were perfectly written, showing how helpless and dark humans can be.

1984 is filled with many great insights. It’s scary, perhaps a little exaggerated, but still very true. It’s not a fast read, and certainly not happy. At times it can be slightly confusing and at others it can drag. This is not something you read for entertainment. I wouldn’t recommend it for readers under about 15/16 because it deals with a lot of tough political content. For anyone older, this should be required reading. It makes you see society in a whole new light. 

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