1984/Vuonna 1984 by George Orwell

Rameau’s note: I read both the Finnish translation and the English original concurrently.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Written in 1948, 1984 was George Orwell’s chilling prophecy about the future. And while the year 1984 has come and gone, Orwell’s narrative is timelier than ever. 1984 presents a startling and haunting vision of the world, so powerful that it is completely convincing from start to finish. No one can deny the power of this novel, its hold on the imaginations of multiple generations of readers, or the resiliency of its admonitions. A legacy that seems only to grow with the passage of time.

The Finnish cover for George Orwell's 1984. There's an Insog logo in the middle and under it there's a masked face looking through a short square opening.Blunt instruments may have their uses but would you really use a claymore to remove mole when a scalpel will do? Important isn’t a synonym for good. 1984 may be a historically significant book, but a few good, scary ideas don’t make it into a great novel.

We all know that the Thought Police is alive and well—Hey NSA!—But that doesn’t mean we are living in an Orwellian society. George Orwell was too preoccupied in overtly criticising communism and listing his personal (and universal) grievances against the system to write a good story that would stand against the test of time and still be relevant today. Instead of using allegories and symbolism, he went for the brute force of unspeakable horrors and wrote his own anti-communism propaganda manifesto.

Except, are those horrors really that unspeakable? I was born in the 1980’s, went to school in 1990’s and grew up in the midst of global turmoil as one communistic state after another unravelled and democracy took its first wobbly steps right next door—it currently may have fallen flat on its arse but at least it’s trying. I’m not a scholar but I was there when people of oppressed nations learned to speak out again and things bled through the news and into everyday life. I am sure that whatever terroristic acts Orwell portrayed, out in the world there are real people who lived through it. Real, flesh and bone people you can’t help but care about when you hear their stories.

Orwell may have intentionally chosen two write Winston Smith as an everyman, who could be anyone in Britain to let his contemporaries imagine themselves in the Marxist paradise they dreamt of, but in doing so he failed to create an engaging character. If the readers don’t care about a character enough to hate or love him, how is anything that character is put through supposed to affect them? Even when Winston was being a little shit of a child and doing despicable things I didn’t care for him. I wasn’t repulsed by him or upset. I was utterly indifferent to him and subsequently to his plight.

I can sympathise with being watched, spied on, and manipulated on daily basis because that’s the society I live in. I can wince at the beatings, interrogations, brainwashings, random killins, because I know these terrors are real, were real, will be real for quite some time. Objectively I can recognise and react to these things. Objectively. There was nothing in the story that made me want to accept Orwell’s brand of indoctrination and take it as my own. With my propensity to over-counteract I’d probably have latched on to bolshevism instead. Except I know better than that. From real history.

Orwell deserves credit for being one of the first to speak out against communism when no one else would, but this ham-fisted attempt at fiction shouldn’t be placed over the accounts of real terror victims. 1984 still has a place in school as an example on how a blunt instrument—like a claymore—has its moments in history, but it should never be held as an example on how to write a good book.

A stack of books with the words

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9 Responses to 1984/Vuonna 1984 by George Orwell

  1. Another one I intend to reread because I quite remember liking it…when I was in the secondary school.

  2. blodeueddb says:

    I listened to the beginning but the audio was crap and I gave up

  3. heidenkind says:

    Coincidentally, I read 1984 just last week. I completely agree that Winston is not an engaging character and that the story isn’t engaging. But I think Orwell’s ideas are interesting and still relevant.

    By the by, 1984 isn’t about communism–that’s Animal Farm (a much better book, btw). 1984 is Orwell’s vision of the end result of totalitarianism.

  4. Nineteen Eighty-Four was published in June 1949, amid rising Cold War tensions. For most Western readers, the book was readily interpreted through the anticommunist prism of that period. Still I agree that 1984 is something more than just an anti-communist manifesto. It considers the psycho-social machinery of unaccountable state power in general—regardless whether it originates from a ruling bureaucracy or from finance capital. It explores the general problem of maintaining social stability in a highly unequal society, which can be done only through some combination of repression, and controlling the population’s consciousness. I suppose its keen insights into the connections between language, consciousness, conformity and power will be revelant no matter what era – that’s why the book is important. And yes, I agree that Animal Farm is a far better read.

    • heidenkind says:

      Hmm, well I’m not sure about how the book was interpreted on its publication, but Orwell himself was connecting the ideas in 1984 with the Nazis and totalitarianism years before the book was published. In one letter c. 1944 he wrote, “two and two might equal five if the Fuhrer wished it.” Of course, Orwell equally hated communism and totalitarianism, so I suppose it doesn’t matter much.

  5. Red Witch says:

    Down and Out in Paris and London is pretty darn good too. I can’t comment on 1984; I read it so long ago. Not that I can’t remember it but I think I would not view it like my 18 year old self did. I reread Steppenwolf 30 years after I first read it and ended up disliking the main character as too whiny.

    • Nice to see the Red Witch here! We’ve missed you! Yes, I know the dangers of rereading your childhood or teen favourites – you almost always end up liking them less.

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