Spoiler warning at the end of this review. Please do not read the last paragraphs if you haven’t had the chance to read this classic dystopian.
In 1984 or thereabouts, Winston Smith is a hard-working member of the Party. There is only one Party and it rules with an iron fist. It is divided into divisions that specialize in different areas on the surface, but actually occupy themselves with maintaining power.
The country, an amalgamation of the countries we know now, is always at war with one or another of the two other world powers.
Winston works in a literary branch of the government. He is responsible for making changes to printed literature to make the past in-line with current party sentiment. “As soon as all the corrections which happened to be necessary in any particular number of the Times had been assembled and collated, that number would be reprinted, the original copy destroyed, and the corrected copy placed on the files in its stead.” pg 39.
In the course of his job, he notices things changing. For instance, he knows that at one time, they were at war with someone different than the enemy they fight now. “Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right. I know, of course, that the past is falsified, but it would never be possible for me to prove it, even when I did the falsification myself. After the thing is done, no evidence ever remains.” pg 155.
But this is not knowledge that he can share. The Party exerts control over everyone at all times through screens built into the wall of every home. You can see the state-sponsored programs like a regular television but they can look out through the screen and see you too.“The two aims of the Party are to conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought. There are therefore two great problems which the Party is concerned to solve. One is how to discover, against his will, what another human being is thinking, and the other is how to kill several hundred million people in a few seconds without giving warning beforehand.” pg 193.
The Thought Police drag away any trouble makers or those whose thoughts aren’t acceptable to the Party. That could be anyone. Winston knows that one day it will be him. But not just yet.
“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. … You had to live- did live, from habit that became instinct- in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.” pg 3.
The absolute powerlessness of Winston’s situation is terrifying. And then, he falls in love with a girl named Julia who works in his building. “He wondered vaguely how many others like her there might be in the younger generation- people who had grown up in the world of the Revolution, knowing nothing else, accepting the Party as something unalterable, like the sky, not rebelling against its authority but simply evading it, as a rabbit dodges a dog.” pg 131.
This was the first time I ever read 1984. I was still convinced, until a few pages before the end, that it was going to have a happy ending. The rat-mask part had me doubting but then, I still considered the possibility that Winston was faking his conversation. But, after he spoke to Julia one last time, I finally abandoned that theory too.
He lived through his ordeal, but at what cost? He lost everything- even his ability to think. I found it to be incredibly bleak, but worth the time, if only for the warnings that it contains.
Thanks for reading!