I have just finished the second book off my Summer Reading List and want to share some of my thoughts from reading it. As with my book review of To Kill a Mockingbird, please note that I have not done any research on this book (although I know it’s been written about by many people) so the observations below are probably very old hat by now. So pardon my naivety. Also, spoilers.
I just finished reading the next book on my Summer Reading List: 1984 by George Orwell; I must admit to being slightly disturbed by the end, but I'm sure that's the point. The book is separated into three distinct chapters, or acts. In the first act, nothing happened, and everything happened. I could have stopped there and been familiar with the whole book. The second act made me happy. It made me feel like there could be a good ending: that love would conquer all, that the Brotherhood would overtake the Party and Big Brother. But then came the third act. I read all of the third act this morning because I couldn't put the book down. It was enthralling, but not in a good way. Everything that act one had said would happen, happened, only with excruciating detail.
Winston Smith is a member of the Outer Party, and therefore above the "Proles", but does not have so much power as the members of the Inner Party. He knows his every movement is watched, every facial tick examined, and every syllable he utters is overheard. This isn't because he is special. It's just how it is. And he begins to hate it. He is intelligent enough to know that the Party is re-inventing the past. It is telling everyone what to think and the people who question the Party are "vaporized".
The book, especially the first and third acts, is very thought-provoking. It questions the nature of reality and what makes the past true. We study history, and for the most part, we believe what we are told. We are sure that some scientist out there somewhere can provide the evidence we need to know for sure, and that is enough. We read about current events, and again, believe that the events are actually happening. But in 1984, the past and the present cannot be taken at the word of a newspaper or book. "Orthodoxy is unconsciousness."
The majority of the book is concerned with how the Party achieves the unconsciousness of the masses. But Winston wonders over and over again why. Why does the Party do what it does to ensure that it is never wrong by altering the past? And why does the Party keep the State constantly at war? He does finally get the answer: power. The Inner Party members are only concerned with power. Not even the luxury that power brings, just power in itself. By being Inner Party members, they have achieved a sort of immortality. If the Party is all-knowing, never wrong, and will last forever, and they are members of it, then they themselves are immortal. The Party's aims are to destroy all literature, art, science, even to abolish everyone's belief in God. In doing so, they are taking away all ways that people try to become immortal, or leave some kind of legacy behind. Even procreation will be turned into a once-per -year duty, and the resulting children will be taken away immediately. There is no way to leave a bit of legacy behind, unless through the Party. And even this is only reserved for Party members.
In the beginning Winston still has hope. At one point he says of the Party, "They could not alter your feelings; for that matter, you could not alter them yourself, even if you wanted to." But he finds in the end that he was wrong. There is no hope.