1984

cover

Read If...

  • You have any interest in politics, or political history
  • You have read any Ayn Rand novel (regardless of whether you liked it or not)

Thoughts (spoilers)

Oppressive, bleak, unrelenting, relevant.

This novel is something you should read to challenge your sensibilities, definitely not something you should read for fun.

1984 is the sine qua non reference to the surveillance state, but compared to the other aspects of the novel, I thought that the surveillance apparatus was actually fairly underplayed. "Telescreens" are just video cameras. The capacity for abuse in today's age is far greater than the meager concept of telescreens: facial recognition, thermal imaging, satellites, etc. The NSA has already flagrantly (and unconstitutionally) swept up phone, email, and internet records.

Speaking of the Consitution, Big Brother is deified in the same way that all cult of personalities are. Americans similarly tend to deify the founding fathers. Not even that it's necessarily unwarranted! Men championing civil liberties and invididual sovereignty is the antithesis of Big Brother. Nevertheless, you can draw parallels against all deified men, and while reading I had to take a step back and analyze the difference between Oceania's respect toward Big Brother and my own respect toward the founding fathers.

In the novel, the difference between authoritarianism and totalitarianism was moreso in semantics, the society of Oceania had essential qualities (and results) of both. I had never considered it, but it's worth exploring how similar the two ideologies are, despite often being presented as opposites.

1984 reminded me of Anthem, by Ayn Rand, quite a bit. But Anthem is entirely less oppressive, and had a happy ending. 1984 is unrelentingly bleak, but it has a lot more to say.

One of the main points of the novel is that, in Ingsoc, resitance is futile. Humanity had surrendered its will to the machine, no take-backs. As I was reading the book, I pondered how one would resist such tyranny.... But as O'Brien hammers home, there is no way. The only escape is for humanity at that point is the explosion of the sun. I suppose one could commmit suicide.... perhaps by self-immolation if you really wanted to at least attempt to make statement. Give me liberty or give me death, as it's said. But I suppose that suicide would only make sense if you knew that the Brotherhood was a farce and there truly was no hope, so even that seems unlikely. And since I'm bringing up related platitudes, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

Overall, 1984 is a well written, relevant novel, and it definitely has something to say. I experienced existential dread while reading it, questioning our own society and how it relates to Ingsoc. Saying I liked it sounds a little imprecise though, since it's just so unrelentingly bleak, so I'll say instead that it's worth reading.