Book Thoughts: Nineteen Eighty-Four

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) was a 1949 dystopian novel by George Orwell. There are countless editions of this book. The version I have was first published in 1950 by Signet Classics, part of the large Penguin Random House publisher. I had to read this book for school, but it was interesting enough that I kept it after and read it again recently. Orwell wrote of a world dominated by power-obsessed socialism. The idea of socialism is that everyone is equal. All things are owned by everyone and all people work for the benefit of society. It would seem impossible for socialism to be focused on power, but that was “the Party” in 1984.

The Party had figured out a way to keep the vast majority of people, the poor, just barely satisfied with life. They would never revolt. The more educated people were kept in check through fear and brainwashing. The Party controlled all information, including news, books, newspapers, movies, and more. They could rewrite history to always make it seem that they were perfect no matter what happened. This allowed them to brainwash any person to believe anything they said eventually.

The overall goal of the party was to remain in power. It had nothing to do with making people happy. They saw the ways people had revolted against the previous dictators, capitalists, and other socialist governments and created a new society, which was immune to all those ways. The Party was a collective, not any one person. People were born and died, but the Party always remained.

I can go on and on about this, but the setting was basically a very dreary world. It was hopeless. Most people were brainwashed to not realize they weren’t happy. The few that did were eventually caught by the Party for acting out in some way and tortured until they totally believed everything about the Party. The reality was that everyone lived a life of suffering. The people at the top had some luxuries, but even their lives weren’t that great. The goal was just to maintain the Party for all time.

The main character, Winston Smith, was one of those that were not brainwashed. Well, he had been as a young child, but he still had some memories from before the new government took over. That caused confusion in his mind that eventually led to him having an affair with a woman named Julia, also not brainwashed. This only lasted for a short time. The Party eventually found them out and tortured them until they believed completely in the Party. It was overall a hopeless story. In this way, it sort of was a waste of time, but this book was not written to entertain. The goal of dystopian novels is to warn the reader about a possible future if they don’t act now.

I enjoyed reading 1984 again because my first reading was rushed to finish in time for school assignments and tests. I was also younger then, not understanding the English language as well. I got more out of the book from this recent reading. It was really interesting how George Orwell constructed this whole fake world. He really went into a lot of detail. The hopelessness was that this socialism full of suffering would last forever. Anyone that disagreed was murdered or brainwashed, sometimes multiple times. There was a complete lack of freedom in this society. Humans were just animals, tools to serve the Party. Not even the people at the top were really people. Even they just served the Party. The Party was basically a god that served itself, taking advantage of humans as needed to achieve this goal.

I’ve written before how I don’t like depressing worlds, and that was the same here. The difference was that I knew it was all fake here because of my belief in Catholicism. I believe there will be an end time, so no matter how bad things can get on earth, God will eventually save the world and judge everyone according to their deeds. I don’t know when it will happen, but I believe it will happen at some point. I doubt it will be in my lifetime. It doesn’t matter when though, only that things aren’t totally hopeless if the end result is eventually good.

Besides my religious beliefs, I don’t think a society as described in 1984 is possible. Well, maybe for a short time, but setting the whole thing in motion would require too many moving pieces, too much coordination between people. I could see maybe once the system was in place it could persist, but I don’t think it could get to that point. Even if a society like this was created, it would eventually fall like all the other governments, empires, and communities before. Time brings change, and no human will ever be able to stop that.

I did see some resemblances to real life happenings in 1984’s story. While we don’t live in a slavery society like in the book, we do have a sense of slavery in our culture. It comes down to materialism really. I don’t have any numbers, but a huge percentage of the population is consumed by short term pleasure. All they care about is when the next movie is coming out, what new clothes they are buying, which person they can hook-up with next. They have no real sense of purpose in their life. My purpose is my faith, which calls for service to others as well as myself. It’s this long term goal that influences almost everything I do. It gives my life meaning, which makes me content.

A lot of people don’t have purpose. They just seek whatever pleasure they can find in the world. The thing is our entire economy is built around people like this. We are supposed to be consumers, always striving to make more money, never satisfied with what we have. Some consumption is fine — everyone has basic needs — but not everyone needs to latest entertainment, gadgets, or clothes. The dream of all conglomerates is that everyone will become obsessed with all the new products they come out with, no matter how useless they are. Many, many people live a life of pleasure, without really accomplishing everything. They might be successful in a worldly way, such as achieving the American Dream, but they aren’t successful in God’s eyes. As a Catholic, my success depends on service to others. When I’m on my deathbed, it won’t matter which movies I saw, only if I did something meaningful for others.

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