John Wiswell's Reviews > 1984

1984 by George Orwell
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it was ok
Recommended for: Classics readers, political readers concerned with overreaches

1984 is not a particularly good novel, but it is a very good essay. On the novel front, the characters are bland and you only care about them because of the awful things they live through. As a novel all the political exposition is heavyhanded, and the message completely overrides any sense of storytelling. As an essay, the points it makes can be earthshaking. It seems everyone who has so much as gotten a parking ticket thinks he lives in a 1984-dystopia. Every administration that reaches for power, injures civil liberties or collaborates too much with media is accused of playing Big Brother. These are the successes of 1984's paranoia, far outliving its original intent as a battery against where Communism was going (Orwell was a severely disappointed Marxist), and while people who compare their leaders to Big Brother are usually overreaching themselves and speak far away from Orwell's intent and vision, it is a useful catchcloth for dissent. Like so many immortalized books with a social vision, 1984's actual substance is so thin that its ideologies and fear-mongering aspects can be stretched and skewed to suit the readers. If you'd like a better sense of the real world and Orwell's intents, rather than third-hand interpretations of his fiction, then his Homage to Catalonia is highly recommended.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2005 – Finished Reading
August 12, 2007 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-50 of 150 (150 new)

message 1: by Ann (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ann Couldn't agree more.

Melissa Christensen "The characters are bland", have you considered it to be purposeful? I thought that the bland characters represented the bland life that they are forced to lead. Even when the characters are breaking the rules, which should be exciting and invigorating, they still seem bland. Perhaps it reflects how the government has knocked the fun right out of them. Just presenting a different perspective.

John Wiswell Melissa: Yes, I do sometimes think that was on purpose, but I don't see it as a good thing. It would be another case when "the message completely overrides any sense of storytelling," as I wrote above. It is not as though Orwell's fictional world doesn't beat you over the head with the banality of this existence, nor was hollowing characters out the only option. If he really wanted blandness, he could have made it a dimension rather than the dimension. Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, though set in a Soviet gulag instead of a Soviet dystopia, deals with the same failed idealism and oppression, and manages to produce real character from it. At best, him doing it on purpose would mean Orwell sabotaged his own fiction to make a point that's grossly redundant fifty pages in.

message 4: by Jocelyn (new)

Jocelyn Lee Reminded me of reading animal farm. Nice to know.

Libra I Agree. There was too much repetition for it to be a story. Essays derive an idea to which George pounded away at again and again. Novels do that too. However, the reader gets the point after mention of an idea once or twice and continues reading the story. No need for tedious repetition. In 1984, the point is the paranoia, fear, and hate in the society George Orwell dreamed up. It was necessary to have characters to explain how such a society would effect people. All in all, this was a very excellent essay. It definitely made me think!

message 6: by Katy (new) - rated it 1 star

Katy I thought Brave New World far better dealt with the concept of a future where freedom was taken away and the populance willingly allowed (or at least accepted) it; Huxley's work was engaging, intriguing, and, as has been stated above, Not Tedious!!!

I am loathe to give up on a classic work of literature (or at least one that has been deemed classic) but after 100 pages, skimming ahead and finding no signs of improvement, I fear I'm going to have to put this one aside~~at best, it should have been a short story.

John Wiswell I agree that Huxley's book is a far superior novel. It's more entertaining, more experimental, and manages to be every bit as insightful in its social satire.

Vegas I don't agree... Writing science fiction is pretty much writing an essay (of your realistic) this book was very well put together

John Wiswell I cannot agree with that, Vegas. If you are "pretty much writing an essay," then you're writing something essentially didactic, not something essentially science fiction. Pretenses to realism or naturalism do not require an author overrun the fiction with ideology, or require them to hamstring all other elements to do so.

Don Incognito I can't disagree at all. Julia and O'Brien have no complexity, and I guess Winston Smith *is* bland. I just didn't mind.

Manuri I agree. This was a tad too tedious for a novel.

Julia Honestly sir, I believe that the only reason you would even leave this comment is because you didn't understand the novel at all, or its original intent like you claim to.

message 13: by John (new) - rated it 2 stars

John Wiswell Which comment are you referring to, Julia?

Julia John I mean absolutely no offense to you whatsoever, however I disagree with the review that you left.

message 15: by John (new) - rated it 2 stars

John Wiswell Julia, I don't take offense if you disagree with my opinions. However if you'd like to discuss our differences, you'd have to specify what aspects you disagree with.

message 16: by Julia (last edited May 17, 2011 01:12PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Julia You stated, "It seems everyone who has so much as gotten a parking ticket thinks he lives in a 1984-dystopia. Every administration that reaches for power, injures civil liberties or collaborates too much with media is accused of playing Big Brother." Personally I doubt that that is everyone's interpretation of the novel, being public paranoia. The novel wasn't necessarily meant to make everyone believe that this is what government is doing now and that every form of law is a form of brainwashing control, but was made to warn people to not allow government to become so large. When Winston was being tortured into loving Big Brother and O'Brien told him that there was no more humanity left, Winston disagreed with him and told him that he himself was still human. This coupled with the ending where Winston loses his personal battle and eventually submits to Big Brother can be seen as a mechanism to anger the reader into taking their personal freedom into their own hands, and not allowing tyranny to happen. This doesn't necessarily condone paranoia like you stated, but it could potentially condone awareness. I do agree with you however when you state that the novel itself would make an excellent essay, however I also believe that as a novel, it's excellent when its concept is kept in mind.

message 17: by John (new) - rated it 2 stars

John Wiswell I did not say that everyone's interpretation of the novel is that it promotes paranoia. The section you quoted is about people's overreaction to reality by addressing it as Orwell's dystopia, which has both watered down its cultural meaning and harmed public discourse. Too many people exaggerate the actions of government, even to the point of ignoring far worse ones outside their borders. Orwell himself mocked this sort of exaggeration, like in his famous essay about the word "fascism."

Beyond that, I agree that mechanisms like Big Brother exist in the text to coerce and convince the reader to certain. That's why I dismiss much of the book as an essay, if not simply as propaganda, rather than as a successful novel. The story exists to make points about our world rather than for itself, and so has little life to it. I took little from O'Brien's survival because he was never much of a person to begin with. One can defend this, as a previous commenter did, as the result of living in totalitarian society, but that purposefully mutes the fiction and does a poorer job of depicting life under such an iron fist as writers like Solzhenitsyn did, though they had the advantage of actually living in one.

Julia Rubin I disagree, I thought that the characters were "bland" on purpose...they were caricatures. And I was so entertained reading this, like watching a great film. I thought Orwell blended story and political satire very well.

Titilope Whether or not he made the characters bland or purpose or not, doesn't take away from the fact that they were bland. Now, I don't know how about you... I don't find reading a novel about bland characters very enjoyable. How can you care what happens to a bland character? You can't, can you? I didn't. The whole Room 101 section, I'm sure was meant to have a bigger impact on me, but it didn't because I thought Winston was so damn bland, I was actually waiting impatiently for his death. I'm not sure that's what Orwell's intention was, but in any case, it didn't make for enjoyable reading.

Thanks to the bland characters, the book itself became bland, I felt like Orwell was just dictating his views through the means of a 'novel'. He had great ideas, such as Big Brother, the different ministries, but I found myself thinking, what was the point of it all?

I personally think, his biggest mistake was making Winston his main character, surely he could have concocted a much more entertaining character, and a way more entertaining story. Instead of pairing dull as dishwater Winston, with pointless Julia, in an attempt to create an epic romance, when instead, all it did was make wish for their death and the end of the novel.

Even the ending was disappointing, as they both survived.

message 20: by Julia (last edited Jul 07, 2011 08:42AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Julia Rubin For me what made Winston interesting was his ongoing thoughts, memories and ideas. I was emotionally impacted by the novel and I am every time I read it. If you don't like it, you don't like it. But it wasn't bland to me. I don't think Orwell was trying to create an epic romance at all. It wasn't even a romance, it was a dangerous affair with questionable motives.

Titilope Wow. A dangerous affair with questionable motives? That makes the relationship sound even better than my 'epic romance' description.

The relationship between Julia and Winston did nothing for me; whether, as you put it, as a dangerous affair with questionable motives, or as an epic romance. It bored the heck out of me.

message 22: by Natlover (new)

Natlover I think that to compare this to A Brave New World is wrong. I'll admit that I do like 1984 better, but I think that should not be compared. I found the message to be different.(I couldn't find a Brave New World's, probably because I couldn't finish it). At any rate, when I found myself with repitition after repitition it didn't bother me. I was only mildly amused. I bet it comes from listening to older people speak all day. The book might have made a better essay, but I doubt it wouldn't have gotten it's point across without people for us to visualize.

Jamie The part I found immensely satisfying about Julia and Winston's romance was the changes that Winston saw within the world around him. I think that was actually Orwell's focal point for the affair, the fact that it awakened with in Winston a vision of beauty with in the ordinary. We can see this when Winston is discussing the beauty of the porle women who hangs the laundry.
Personally, I do think a comparison of 1984 and Brave New World should be made, if only to see the differences between a truly farcical, but much more scary dystopia (Brave New World) and a creepy, banal dystopia (1984).

Nickwieme great review. my same thoughts exactly

message 25: by Waltznmatildah (new)

Waltznmatildah Though I definitely see your point, you should also take into account his other novels. Many of his characters are "bland" but they all suffer tragedy; as you say, Orwell was very much a disgruntled Marxist. He told the stories of the common people, the people who were just going to get by in some dismal existence. Yes, it was a grand ideological statement but it was a REAL one, one that drew you in and made you feel for these characters because of their simplicity. That was his writing style and captivated me as well as others.
The scene where him and the girlfriend (I admit it's been a long time since I read this novel) are lying in the field - Jim describing the bird and the utter freedom of it all? That image sticks with me years later.
Sometimes politics and passion can mingle; perhaps it's because I hold many of the same convictions I interpret in his writing.

message 26: by John (new) - rated it 2 stars

John Wiswell If Orwell always wrote about bland people who suffer some tragedy, and especially some tragedy that primarily allows him to make points, then that's a gross weakness in his prose. It would make his entire ouvre flimsy and didactic. I'd say that Animal Farm has much more personality about it, even if it is similarly political to the point of the fiction straining. The reasons I recommended his non-fiction are that there he deals with fully fleshed-out people, or people with dimensions he tends to omit from his fictional inventions. However, Waltzn, you raise a second superiority: what his non-fiction deals with is actually real, whereas his fictional commentaries are contrived. It's fully possible to write dismal fiction and have fully realized characters go through it; Aleksandhr Solzhenitsyn wrote on the same themes with considerable artistic success.

Chipper Just so you know, Marxism and Communism are very similar, and George Orwell was NOT a marxist. Proof: Almost every one of his books.

message 28: by John (new) - rated it 2 stars

John Wiswell Chipper, it's been my understanding from autobiographical and biographical writing that Orwell came from the Marxist-Leninist tradition, but became acutely disillusioned. Hence the "severely disappointed." I already know that Marxism and Communism have similarities.

leong kar nim No one should be under the illusion that Orwell's language in 1984 has any literary aesthetics. For once I prefer the ideas rather than the execution of the book.

I am re-reading it after the recent media attention on Kim Jong Il's death. North Korea comes closest to the dystopian society described in the book.

message 30: by Regan (last edited Mar 15, 2012 11:23AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Regan John, I was pleased to see your review (and the resulting discussion) as it reflected so many of my own thoughts: This just isn't a very good novel.

The parts that most interested me were the "excerpts" from The Book and the appendix on New Speak. It's required reading for cultural literacy these days, but I just wish I cared more about what was happening to the main characters.

I've often argued that I believe it's an author's responsibility to make us interested in their characters and to make us want to read on. That doesn't mean that the characters have to be likeable or even that we like them. Unfortunately in 1984, as Titilope pointed out, mainly we find ourselves hoping they'll hurry up and get it over with.

Brian I completely disagree with the opinion that the characters are not interesting. The novel beautifully displays how human desires and necessities of freedom, love and companionship can and will emerge in even the most oppressive circumstances.

I agree that people often misapply the ideas from works like these to feed their particular agendas. Many times, those people have not even bothered to read the book.

I enjoy sci-fi that commits to a theme and carries it through to its extreme. If you think this work is an exaggeration of what humanity is capable of creating then you are uninformed about communist Russia, communist China, and the North Korean regime.

message 32: by John (new) - rated it 2 stars

John Wiswell Brian, it's knowing about those histories that makes the book seem exaggerated, if not ignorant. For most of the duration of most of the regimes you mentioned, the technology didn't even exist to perform the SciFi elements - but that's one form of exaggeration. I presume that you're conflating their having done very bad things for the government with Orwell's strawman government doing some other very bad things for the government. I can see thinking a make-believe government that jails dissidents has some similarity to Stalinist Russia or modern North Korea, but if you made it to the end with its comical "How many fingers am I holding up?" nonsense and believe it an honest portrayal of the totalitarian condition, you are not only on different footing from me, but from Orwell's own satirical one. Both on the personal scale of how psychological conditioning is performed, and on the giant scale like the idiocy with Oceania, it's an exaggeration. I can't stress enough the superiority of Orwell's non-fiction in depicting these sorts of things.

Now, since you enjoy SciFi taken to "extremes," I can understand why the book would still appeal to you. Hysterical fiction has an audience. Personally, I require some appealing application of extremity to be wooed. The contrast with Orwell's own non-fiction on what happened in Europe after the war has the sort of rigor and dimensionality that his fiction lacks. But that is nuanced, not blindly extreme.

As for displaying that, "human desires and necessities of freedom, love and companionship can and will emerge in even the most oppressive circumstances," the book does a wretched with each of those items, keeping them muted and monotonous, which is not just my observation, but one above defensive-commenters have actually claimed was a merit. Insofar as Orwell made a bland man be attracted to a bland woman in a rote manner that only set up for tragedy that made way for even more satire, all he did was manipulate some very obvious features of life.

message 33: by Katie (new) - added it

Katie Honestly, I don't personally agree with this review. Most people who have a sound mind probably wouldn't believe that a mere parking ticket could qualify them in any way to live in a 1984-dystopia. I think this review grossly over exaggerated to get a point across.I have come across many people who state that this is their favorite book...I understand that the reviewer was only relaying his personal opinions but I don't think over exaggerating and defaming was necessary to voice those opinions. But again that's only my opinion on the matter.

message 34: by John (new) - rated it 2 stars

John Wiswell Katie, just so you know, three people have compared New York state to 1984 to me because they got parking tickets. Two of them simply didn't feed the meter.

message 35: by Katie (new) - added it

Katie As stated before either they are mentally unsound or are probably just over exaggerating to get a point across similar to the review. I don't mean this in a nasty or offensive way and I know it's probably coming across like that. Also it doesn't help that I can't seem to find the right words to express myself at the moment. I just hope that you don't take what I said in both comments in the wrong way. I am merely saying that it was an over exaggeration.

message 36: by Tim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tim Smith If 1984 was an essay - I doubt it would be read as much as it has been...

message 37: by John (new) - rated it 2 stars

John Wiswell Tim wrote: "If 1984 was an essay - I doubt it would be read as much as it has been..."

Yes Tim, giving your propaganda narrative can increase marketability. It's not something I'm particularly inclined to praise.

message 38: by Katie (new) - added it

Katie It's not in the world is that propaganda? John you really need to a) stop over exaggerating and b) learn the definitions of certain words such as Marxist and propaganda.

message 39: by John (new) - rated it 2 stars

John Wiswell Katie wrote: "It's not in the world is that propaganda? John you really need to a) stop over exaggerating and b) learn the definitions of certain words such as Marxist and propaganda."

I gave you the benefit of the doubt until now, Katie. Given that you've only added the book to your shelves rather than read it, in your last comment have simply insulted my intelligence, and are exhibiting a deliberate misunderstand of words, I'm skeptical of your objections. Just in case you're actually misunderstanding us, here are three links to definitions of "propaganda":

"Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position."

"information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc."

"the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person" OR "ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect"

The novel sacrifices characterization and plot at almost every turn in order to preach at a world view. It was written not to entertain, but to argue a position. This is what I discussed in the above review and in comments directly above yours.

You're welcome to partake in informed discourse, but if you reply like that again, I am simply going to ignore you as a troll.

Jamie It's absolutely a true statement that the book is a propaganda tool, and is often used in such a way to undermine society or movements in modern context. There are so many ways in which you could argue for or against the 1984 or A Brave New World debate, but the truth as I see it is that our world is comprised of a little bit of both, with a smattering of other dysintopian futures as well.

message 41: by John (new) - rated it 2 stars

John Wiswell Jamie wrote: "It's absolutely a true statement that the book is a propaganda tool, and is often used in such a way to undermine society or movements in modern context. There are so many ways in which you could a..."

I think it's a much healthier point of view to see the real world as having some traits reminiscent of 1984 and Brave New World rather than one or the other. Also, Fahrenheit 451 and other dystopias. It's easy to see where the concerns of their authors came from.

message 42: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Skretvedt Your review and Dave's ( succinctly encapsulate everything I loved and all that I found disappointing about this book. As fiction, this was no PKD novel. Yet, it cannot be written off.

Charles This is just how I felt. I wasn't attached to the characters at all.

message 44: by John (new)

John Bendhiem Although I do agree that the book does preach propaganda, I don't see this as a bad thing at all. Propaganda is everywhere and books like this are what can opens one's eyes to it. I think that it would have made a superb essay, but I just have to say that as someone who relates to Winston personally, I find it insulting that so many can't apprieciate an everyman just trying to soak some enjoyment out of such a dreary, polarized world. I guess people didn't get enthralled as much as myself, it's my favorite book.

Regan John wrote: "...but I just have to say that as someone who relates to Winston personally, I find it insulting that so many can't apprieciate an everyman just trying to soak some enjoyment out of such a dreary, polarized world...."

I can't speak for others, but my lack of appreciation for the characters isn't that they're average, everyday people. It's that I think they're flatly written, average everyday people. It's not that I don't care about "regular" people at all, it's that Orwell has done nothing in the character development to make me care about these particular people.

It's one of writing's great challenges: To craft average people and make readers care about them.

message 46: by John (new)

John Bendhiem Well I did care, even if they're predictable they still felt alive until the very end, when the grandiose "surrender of life" occurred. The book wouldn't have had the same profound effect there if it were not presented as a narrative. It's the more subtle themes such as Winston's inability to understand why people accept the system they live within, even though he's part of that system. He just relishes the hatred over everything he does in yet, he does it all by choice. It presents a very dark dystopia that I liked far more than many other dystopian classics like those of Ayn Rand, Ray Bradbury or Orson Scott Card.

message 47: by John (new)

John Bendhiem I will admit though that I have a bit of a bias towards this book because it got me into reading much more. Like I said in my original comment, it's really an eye opener.

Matthew In the Society depicted by Orwell individuality is systematically driven from people and for me the power from the book revolves around wanting Winston to explode into life and follow his natural instincts. To say that the characters were bland in my opinion is ridiculous. I loved Obrien I loved how you just didnt know I loved the book full stop.

Faraz Your review exactly corresponds to my opinion regarding "1984." I didn't enjoy reading it at all.

message 50: by Casey (new)

Casey H Orwell's essays -- and "1984" -- were aimed quite squarely at the numerous flaws of nationalism. Ardent support of some group, idea, or even general concept -- at the cost of rationality -- was the stick in Orwell's spoke. You miss the point by focusing on the violence and technology in "1984". How does the book begin? With a clock striking thirteen, nobody bothering to notice the impossibility of that. How does it end? With conformity to an untruth. These are literary exaggerations, but they represent the novel circuitry of every day life on this planet.

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