Friday 23 May 2014

Novella review: Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell

[Post published by Liviu, on Liviu's [Personal] Blog]

This is a novella review of Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell, which I've read at the end of March and start of April 2011.
(Complete book title: The Complete Novels, by George Orwell; ISBN 0-14-118515-5; the last novel, i.e. the 6th, is Nineteen Eighty-Four)

It's been quite a long time, I know, but only now have I had the time to move the review from draft to published state.

General considerations

The author somehow has something against women. He portrays them as easier to get manipulated, i.e. they seem the most obedient.

There's also the stereotype of "dumpy men, growing stout very early in life" as the most obedient male followers of the Party's doctrine.

The words of Newspeak are simply amazing: thoughtcrime, crimethink, facecrime, doublethink,  speakwrite, ownlife, cold - pluscold - doublepluscold, good - ungood etc. Just read the Appendix at the end of the book, since it's incredibly fun (given you have grown a strong sense of humor) and amazing at explaining he Newspeak.

Orwell has a fixation on using the word "orthodoxy".

My take on the telescreens

The constant surveillance of people is quite cool: the telescreens... cool idea, I'd say! :) - I bet Orwell imagined the tablets (i.e. iPad-like devices) of today, but couldn't give them the proper marketing name :)

Although it seemed so SF for its day, i.e. the technology presented in the novel was beyond anyone would even dream at that time, the telescreens are quite possible by present day standards. Of course, we still have to improve the networks and so on, but just think of tablets we buy today: if they
- become larger (and that's possible in the future)
- get better audio output
- get really better cameras built in
- connect to faster networks, in order to allow high quality real-time video to and from the cloud
- access software in the cloud for speech recognition & conversion into text (and that is possible today quite accurately) in order to have it then automatically processed/filtered for whatever you feel like - heck, we can even translate it today from one language to another...
- access software in the cloud for face recognition, so we know who every person is and where they're located (we can do pretty accurate face recognition in pictures at the current time, so face recognition for video should be there in the future, shouldn't it?) - heck, with everyone carrying mobile/communication devices we kind of already know where everyone is
... well, in that case, people, the telescreens are just around the corner... and the whole telescreen-like phenomenon is quite more powerful than Mr. Orwell imagined...

So, am I the only imagining the telescreens as larger tablets with really good cameras? I mean, they should be iPad-like devices, shouldn't they? :D

I wonder what Mr. Orwell would think of present day tablet-like technology - I'd just want to see his face, you know, that face saying "omg, it's real, it's more than I thought possible although at that time it felt even to me that I was exaggerating (is there a term like "exaggerate too much" I wonder? :D) and had doubts about it..."

Nota bene - just to make a bitter joke:
The telescreens would be
... with your permission of course, if they were deployed by Google
... or directly without your permission, if they were deployed by Facebook - Hey, we thought you'd enjoy it :p No? Oh, there's in the privacy settings a complicated pay to turn it off, just in case you want to, but better not, just share everything, you know...
... delivering only 140 characters messages at a time if operated by Twitter and popping all the time references (whenever you pass by a telescreen) to your activities like @John The Thought Police is following you! or @John Your kid has just told Thought Police you're a traitor and not loyal to the Party!

War and the society? (according to the last chapter in Part 2)

To put it short, the purpose of war is to produce more war, to keep people in dirt, subjugated, always afraid and obedient to the Party.

As mentioned in _the book_ of the Brotherhood (quoted in the novel, in Part 2, Chapter 9), the 3 states at war (Oceania, EuraAsia, EastAsia) constantly fight each other only for a large piece of densily populated land (containig the Equator area in Africa, the Middle East and India) and the North Pole, by never have their main territory conquered since it would be impossible even for 2 of them to conquer the third, since they have natural geographical advantages to protect each of them. So, their borders float around predefined area, in order to use the people from those areas for some time, in order to produce more, in order to have a better position in the next war and so on. Basically, war has become a way to keep natural balance both inside each super-state and outside (i.e. between super-states). Actually, no state doesn't need those areas, but they must fight for something, you know... what's important is that a state of war continues forever...

War enforces the objective of keeping people in misery - using machines to produces everything means creating a surplus of goods, everyone would get more stuff, better quality, therefore wealth would increase, therefore the standard of living would raise, right?... but the leaders don't want that, therefore the war is a way (or at least a pretext) to consume / not giving that surplus of wealth to the people, but making it disappear by being consumed for the war ("war effort" you know?), therefore the population remains in misery and is easily manipulable.

Why would wealth bad from the the standpoint of the Party leaders of that society? Simple: when everyone lives a good / comfortable life, the hierarchical structure of society fades and eventually _disappears_, therefore _privilliges_ disappear, therefore power can no longer be held by a small group of people (because everyone else would become literate and would be living a good / comfortable life, thinking for themselves, making their own decisions, questioning the current leaders and so on, in the end making the current leaders obsolete and changing them with new & better ones). So, through poverty and ignorance is the only way that the Party leaders can preserve their power...

Part 2, Chapter 9 - brilliant.

Therefore, overall, Part 1 and Part 2 combined explain the _how_.

The society from the 1984 novel, as explained in part 3?

Well, basically, the interrogatory and torture of Winston is a pretext for Orwell to talk/discuss/philosophize about power, using O'Brien's words to describe the society they live in, of course.

Main idea: power is concentrated in the hands of the few Party leaders for the sake of power itself - O'Brien is aware of that, he is not a hypocrite claiming he is saving the society and/or doing good to anyone by the way the Party rules, but simply admits the Party itself keeps power for itself, therefore Party members keep power for themselves, for the sake of having that power. And they enforce and enjoy it through torture on everyone else:
"[...] How does one man assert his power over another, Winston? [...] Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. [...] A world of fear, and treachery and torment a world of trampling and being trampled upon [...] Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain. [...] In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. [...] If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - for ever.".

And yes, part of the (or maybe the whole of?) _the book_ (from Part 2, Chapter 9) is bullshit and O'Brien helped writing it in part.

In the last pages of the novel, when sitting in the Chestnut Tree cafe, Winston wonders if there even is a war - I think this may be critical, since there might be no war whatsoever, i.e. not even a fake war. It might all be smoke and mirrors. - Ok, it seems pretty obvious to me that the party is the one launching the rockets over its own cities, but the idea that they're not even fighting a fake war... for all we know, the 3 powers might be at peace and each doing it's thing and manipulating information in order to seem as "fighting", or there may be no 3 powers, but actually only one power...

Therefore, Part 3 finally explains the _why_, the long searched _why_ until then.

On WW2, which influences the novel, and John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty"

Well, I must say WW2 has let a deep scar in the memory of the generations from that time...

I've been reading John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty" long time ago, while in highschool, and couldn't understand how given that those ideas first came to light in 1859 the humankind went through all the shit afterwards for more than a century.

Now, things went pretty bad in 1940s and people's morale had fell: 1984 technically shows this loss of hope, the paranoid & schizophrenic & torture-centered world that people were afraid of, doesn't it?

Spoilers (if you haven't guessed yet)

Mr. Charrington actually is an undercover Thought Police member/officer, therefore betrays Winston and Julia.

Of course, O'Brien works for the Party, too, and tortures & humiliates & brainwashes Winston throughout Part 3 of the novel.

Both Winston and Julia betray each other when each of them reaches room 101, i.e. the final stage of their torture & brainwashing.

Winston eventually dies, shot in the neck from behind, of course, as has long been expected & anticipated throughout Part 3. Of course, he has to go through all the steps of torture, humiliation, brainwashing, i.e. everything that crushes his soul / identity / believes etc. Well, that's how we write quality novels here in Europe: we kill the main character(s) in the end, squeeze all life from them in the meantime, we give no hope for the better, we present & foresee only the bad side of life and so on, 'cause art means feeling miserable, you know! - Just couldn't help not making fun of European literature :p Ok, it may be deep/profound, but too pessimistic...

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