By George Orwell
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.
1984 is anything but pleasant, and I’m not going to pretend that it’s for everyone. There’s a 30-page excerpt from a fictional history book that is brutally difficult to get through, and Orwell tackles a lot of very large, complicated concepts. 1984 isn’t just a critique of government surveillance and control. It’s also an essay on the intrinsic nature of humans, independent thought, and our need for a language that can express a multitude of ideas. Combine these philosophies with a dystopian world full of oppressed characters, and you get a challenging, complicated book. You might read it and hate it, and that’s ok. I still think you should read it.
In a society that has succumbed to the government’s all-controlling presence, there are few who desire individuality. Let alone pursue it. But Winston is possessed by his yearning to think for himself and find a way to subvert the government. These are thoughtcrimes punishable by death, and with the all-seeing eye of Big Brother lurking behind every telescreen and hidden microphone, keeping the simplest acts and thoughts of rebellion a secret is a battle already lost.
Winston’s tale is soul-crushing. From the first pages of defiance to the last pages of disconcerting defeat, Orwell never shies away from the dark corners of his totalitarian regime. Loss, oppression, and torture are all frequent in this book. Much like Winston cannot escape the despotism and cruelty of Big Brother, neither can you. All this in addition to the book being crammed with imagery, political commentary, and philosophical concepts. Reading 1984 sometimes feels like wading against the current. Orwell’s story is powerful but slippery, and it can be difficult to find something solid to grasp on to.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Orwell’s classic novel is his incredible foresight. Reading this book in 2015, I kept forgetting it was written in 1949 about a future world taking place in 1984. Many of the technological and sociological advances Orwell conceived still seem so modern and realistic. Flat screen TVs in every home, a society accustomed to constant surveillance and limited privacy, hidden microphones and cameras? These are all things that would have seemed impossible to the average American mind in 1949, but Orwell possessed a wonderful vision and creativity that makes 1984 even more plausible today in 2015 than it was when he wrote it.
So go on. Give 1984 a shot. It’s brilliantly insightful and proffers foreboding questions about human nature and independence. At the very least it will make you appreciate the fact that the government isn’t using your smart TV to police your every thought and action . . . yet.