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1984 (Signet Classics) by George Orwell
1984 (Signet Classics)

Natalie P, May 15, 2011

1984 by George Orwell is a fascinating novel that uses a fictional, futuristic society to discuss important themes that are relevant for readers of many ages. The 1949 novel examines the possibilities and consequences of a totalitarian society, and explores the idea of what it means to be human.

There are a few key ideas to keep in mind while reading this book. First, the novel was published in 1949, which followed the end of World War II by just a few years. The threats of Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union were fresh in the minds of George Orwell and citizens around the globe. The ideas in which these countries believed were at the forefront of intellectual thought at the time and influenced a number of works published in this era. Orwell feared the rise of socialism as this theory became more popular with the public. Even some Americans were advocating for the system. As a result, Orwell wrote multiple books that warn against the dangers of an oppressive government, including 1984 and Animal Farm. 1984, in particular, explores what humans would sacrifice for this type of society to work.

Secondly, 1984 falls under the genre of “social science fiction.” Though it is fantastical and clearly fictional, it comments on society and the human condition. In the novel, Orwell guesses at what technology will be available and what people's values will be in the future. He writes from his present time, 1949, addressing the future in the year 1984. This creates an interesting perspective as a reader who reads in a year much later than 1984. However, the book is still highly applicable to our future, and even to the present.

One main intent of the novel is to examine the consequences of totalitarian government. In this type of society, a select few in the population are in control and are responsible for keeping order. The rest of the population must unconditionally accept whatever the government gives them or tells them to do, for they are not free. If they question or think for themselves, they are severely punished. The novel explains how humans would have to sacrifice passion, feeling, and thought for the benefit of the whole society. If people had too much thought or feeling, they would desire better lives for themselves and would potentially challenge the power of the government.

Another purpose of the book is to explore what it means to be human. As the oppressive government demands unconditional obedience, people forget how to think and feel for themselves. They are conditioned to respond positively to the government and negatively to anything the government is against. This particular society in 1984 is highly opposed to feeling of extreme nature, except in specific situations. The main character, Winston, then wonders if the ability to feel is largely what defines humanity, for the people in his world did not act very human.

I believe George Orwell is successful in achieving his goals in writing 1984. Through the themes developed in the novel, he clearly displays the message of the dangers of passive minds and the potential for them to be overtaken by oppressive government. The society in the novel could only be created by a people willing to give up their freedoms, as the government in 1984 did not just control its citizens actions. It got inside their heads and managed their thoughts as well. The book is also effective because it is a captivating story that is applicable to all generations. Orwell did not write simply for the specific time period he was living in; he made the themes, lessons, and purpose of the book timeless dilemmas that humans throughout time will struggle with. This is the kind of writing that lasts.

A similar novel that explores many of the same ideas is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Both Brave New World and 1984 describe societies that glorify conformity and thoughtlessness. The two governments do, however, have slightly different methods of achieving these goals. Yet they both have a class system with a small group of intelligent people on the top, although even these people are not allowed to question the system. One interesting difference to note, however, are their opposite predictions on sexuality. In 1984, the government tries to suppress sexual activity and make it solely for the purpose of procreation. In Brave New World, however, sexual activity is the normal form of entertainment and pleasure for all ages, and sexual reproduction is frowned upon severely. Overall, these books offer similar, but unique ways of examining oppressive governments and conformity.

1984 is a compelling novel that challenges readers. Its sense of depth in its themes make it a timeless work, despite its futuristic feel, that is worth reading in any time period. George Orwell is effective in displaying the themes of the consequences of totalitarian government and what it means to be human. This entertaining and thought provoking book is an excellent choice for the intellectual reader.
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