Winston stopped reading for a moment. Somewhere in remote distance a rocket bomb thundered. The blissful feeling of being alone with the forbidden book, in a room with no telescreen, had not worn off. Solitude and safety were physical sensations, mixed up somehow with the tiredness of his body, the softness of the chair, the touch of the faint breeze from the window that played upon his cheek. The book fascinated him, or more exactly it reassured him. In a sense it told him nothing that was new, but that was part of the attraction. It said what he would have said, if it had been possible for him to set his scattered thoughts in order. It was the product of a mind similar to his own, but enormously more powerful, more systematic, less fear-ridden. The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.
This past weekend I re-read Orwell’s 1984. Or maybe re-reread since I’m fairly sure I’ve read it twice before. You might expect from the title of this blog entry that it would be an appreciation of the book’s themes and significance and how today’s world is more like Oceania than ever … et cetera. But it (the blog) won’t be.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the significance and incisiveness of the book. I very much do. And reading it again I appreciated it more than ever, even to the point that it didn’t seem all that ‘depressing’ – because it wasn’t all that shocking. The photo posted here was taken yesterday on an NJ Transit train. Note the flat, built-in ‘telescreen,’ the surveillance camera, and the loudspeaker. Seem familiar?
Speaking of significance, as a brief aside, I recently watched The Wire, and I was struck at how well 1984 depicts the drug trade, with its 24/7 surveillance, its complete intolerance for dissention and individual thought, and its willingness to ‘vaporize’ anyone for any reason. The parallel works because 1984 is describing a dictatorship, which is what the drug trade is, and exactly as Orwell writes: a dictatorship not as much about money or luxury but pure power. (We especially see this in drug lord Marlo Stanfield.) But don’t get me started on The Wire.
Reading 1984 this time, I especially wanted to examine the literary merits of the story. Would I see through the story and recognize 1984 as ‘merely’ a brilliant essay disguised as a novel?
Nope. Don’t doubt Orwell, is the lesson. On this go ‘round, I was lock-and-stock sold on the literary quality of 1984. Let’s look at just a few finer points:
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