Betsy Speicher

1984

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THE FOLLOWING MAY CONTAIN "SPOILERS" FOR "NINETEEN EIGHT-FOUR".

I gave this book a "9" out of "10", but I want to qualify that rating.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is not what I would consider a great work of art; I'm even reluctant to consider it, artistically, as a novel. I do, however, consider it a textbook, so to speak; a textbook on the nature of dictatorships and how they operate. And because the story ends with complete and utter defeat, the book is certainly not something I would put in the category of The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. But Nineteen Eight-Four is a warning, as opposed to a hymn or anthem; it tells us what could happen if certain trends are projected into the future.

There are certain things it covers that I want to mention: the reason dictatorships are so interested in language, the reliance of dictatorships on people's willingness to take things on faith or second-hand, or to believe in contradictions; and people's acceptance of altruism. Also Big Brother's use and complete control of the media, the "Thought Police" and historical revisionism.

The novel is not an uplifting read; it isn't supposed to be.

The reason I rated it a "9" instead of a "10" is because I don't believe the world of Big Brother, the Party, Oceania and Ingsoc could survive with the level of technology they had, even though most everything was pretty run-down.

Other things I find interesting: the character of O'Brien, a man who truly lives for the act of torture; the character of Syme, the man who loves "the destruction of words"; the fact that Winston Smith's job at the "Ministry of Truth" is re-writing history; and "Room 101", a place where anyone's worst nightmare comes true, and is the Party's ultimate and final weapon against the individual. How it is used for this purpose, and what it makes the victim do is an important and terrifying lesson for all of us (maybe especially now; I hope not).

Regarding the book's bleak and depressing tone, I've often told people when recommending the book to be sure and follow it up with a reading of Anthem, especially if they've never read Ayn Rand's book. Nineteen Eight-Four is total darkness; Anthem shows the way out of that underground hell and into almost blinding and joyous sunlight.

(It's also interesting and educational to see how Anthem furthers the line of thought about the necessity for language begun in Nineteen Eight-Four; Orwell shows that without certain words, you can't hold the concepts they stand for. Anthem shows what happens when someone discovers a very necessary word, without which he could not develop further. Also, regarding Orwell and Rand, there are interesting parallels between Ellsworth Toohey's speech to Peter Keating later in The Fountainhead and the things O'Brien says to Winston Smith while he is torturing and "re-conditioning" him.)

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I was uncertain how to rate 1984. I think that it is very well written. You really get the "feeling" of what it is like to live in a totalitarian dictatorship when you read 1984. But I only gave 1984 a "4" .because ot the enormous philosophical errors in the story. I know that a novel is not supposed to be didactic, so the philosophical errors are perhaps not essential to rating the story. But I did not wish to give a higher rating to a book which, probably, has led many men astray over the years.

Nevertheless, 1984 played an important, and largely beneficial role in my own life. I happened to find my parents´ copy of 1984 lying in their bedroom one day when I was, I believe, only 11 or 12 years old. I read the book. Which only took a few days because I was fascinated with the ominous story. I came away from reading 1984 with a conviction that political freedom was an enormously important value and that I, personally, had to do something to safeguard it. I suspect that my reading 1984 at an early age "inocculated" me against socialism, and especially against communism, so that I did not become a leftist when I returned to Sweden at the age of 16, despite the fact that socialism was "in" among my generation mates at the time (the 1970s).

Maybe I would never have come to be an Objectivist, if it had not been for 1984.

Maybe, however, 1984 also helped to cause me to have a malevolent sense of life for many years.

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1984 is important for one reason, which is that it is still considered a book describing a dystopia. It gives a well-known anchor that can be used in severely leftist societies to disarm certain attempts by the state at encroaching on individual rights. How many times have you heard the terms "Big Brother Society"? It's well-known and still perceived as "bad stuff".

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1984 is a cautionary tale. It shows what will happen when ideas are put ahead of facts. According to Obrien, Winston Smith's antagonist truth is whatever the Party says is true. There is the Black Hole for the human race. Once in, never out.

ruveyn

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