The current political climate is one that’s incredibly depressing. Often you’ll hear people saying this or that is Orwellian and it’s the government of Ninteen Eighty-Four that they’re referring to. Although I knew generally what the book was about, I recently decided to read the book to find out just how prophetic George Orwell had been back in 1948.
The story follows the everyday life of a man named Winston, who has a job revising records to allign themselves with the narrative of the government (or The Party, as they call themselves). We learn that people disappear for saying or doing things not in-line with The Party’s philosophy and anyone who mentions the people who have disappeared will then disappear themselves. We learn that people have to take part in mandatory things such as “Two Minutes Hate” where views counter to those of The Party are vilified. We learn that history is constantly revised so that The Party never appears to have been wrong. We learn that endless wars are waged and nobody knows why or to what end.
Although every aspect of The Party’s rule is disturbing, it’s Newspeak which was the most unsettling. In order to eradicate all opposition, they slowly introduce a language called Newspeak, which is a greatly simplified version of English where opposing ideas simply cannot be explained as there are no words to do so. Though English still exists at the time the novel is set, you know that they are planning for it to be completely replaced in the not too distant future. Even classic works of literature are translated into it.
Thankfully, of course, no real-life government is currently quite as bad as this, but there are certainly uncomfortable parallels. The Party uses Mass Surveillance to ensure complete conformity of all its citizens and, with modern technology, we know very well that systems are in place which could make that possible. The lies and misinformation of The Party also bear some resemblance to the increasingly dishonest political discourse of our politicians. They’re gaslighting people, essentially and it makes me very uneasy when we see such clear contradictions and lies used by the people in power in the real world… Plus, there’s the way The Party is so tied up with nationalism that it presents other opinions as being against the state itself. It’s all a little eerily familiar isn’t it?
But despite the fact that Orwell has given us a very enlightened warning about the future of politics, there was something that rather took away from the book as a whole. He seems to have rather negative views on women. The women in the novel are all portrayed as rather simple minded and not able to truly comprehend (or care about) the extent to which The Party’s actions are frightening and harmful. I know people will say “but this was the 1940s, it’s a product of its times” but I won’t accept that – I’ve seen much more positive portrayals of women in novels written much earlier, so there’s no excuse for this misogyny.
Overall, although the sexism did make me uncomfortable a number of times, I’d still say that this is a good book and one that’s well worth reading. It’s thought provoking and interesting… but at the same time it is quite depressing. If you find current politics upsetting, this might just reinforce your worries and make you feel even worse, so if you are going to read, brace yourself!