Monday, August 19, 2013

The How Novel Bookclub: 1984 Part II

Welcome back, gentle readers! Yes, it's been a while since we revisited George Orwell's seminal novel of a dystopian future, 1984, but it's time to put on your reading glasses and thinking caps and get back to it!

In our last session, we talked about Part I of 1984 with a focus on the historical context of the novel. I noted that Part I seemed to be more or less all set-up and was weak on actual plot. It was all hella depressing. But now we are forging ahead to Part II!

And NOW we're getting somewhere.

Summary of Part II (from Penguin Books):
Much to Winston’s surprise, the woman, Julia, slips him a note which says “I LOVE YOU.” They arrange to meet secretly and soon become lovers. They rent a room above the antique shop from the kindly owner, Mr. Charrington. At the height of Winston’s affair with Julia, he is approached by an Inner Party member named O’Brien whom Winston has long suspected of being a subversive. On the pretense of discussing one of Winston’s Newspeak articles, O’Brien invites him to his home. When he arrives there, Winston is amazed at the amenities available to the Inner Party about which Outer Party members might only dream. One of these luxuries is a telescreen that can actually be turned off for privacy. O’Brien reveals to Winston that the Brotherhood, a mutinous underground organization, does exist, and he makes arrangements to give Winston a copy of a book which details the control techniques that Party uses. Excited about the prospects of helping overthrow the government, Winston takes the book to the room above Mr. Charrington’s shop. However, before he can make any plans or even finish the book, he and Julia are arrested in the room that had been their refuge. They discover that quiet Mr. Charrington is actually a member of the Thought Police. He and O’Brien had been working together to trap Winston. 
Part II has a lot going for it: sex, intrigue, secret societies, and lots of foreshadowing. Let's just say that it's clear things are not going to end well for Winston and Julia. After all, we spent the entirety of Part I learning how insidious, omnipresent, and omniscient the Party is.  There's definitely a sense of a ticking bomb in the background during all the scenes where Winston and Julia have a tryst. In a book like 1984 if your main character is ever happy and hopeful, it's pretty clear that things are going to go bad pretty soon.

It's a credit to Orwell abilities as a writer that when the axe falls, it is still a surprise. Part II contains a large portion of Goldstein's book (given to Winston and Julia by O'Brien).  This book is essentially a textbook of the revolutionary group, The Brotherhood, and details the rise of the Party as well as it's techniques. Orwell painstakingly differentiates the Party's totalitarian ideology from others the reader may already be familiar, and in a move I thought was interesting, explains that the Party's power and doctrine arose in the twentieth century because "human equality had become technically possible." With the development of machine production, "it was no longer necessary for [human beings] to live at different social or economic levels. Therefore, from the point of view of the new groups who were on the point of seizing power, human equality was no longer an ideal to be striven after, but a danger to be averted."

I have to be perfectly honest though--the large section of Goldstein's book was a bit of a slog to get through. It's interesting in theory, but the plot was just starting to get going in Part II and it feels like it comes to a screeching halt so Orwell can finally explain the origins of the Party and WHAT IT ALL MEANS. However, it does serve the purpose of making the reader forget about that ticking time when the Thought Police bust into Winston and Julia's secret getaway and Mr. Charrington is revealed as a party agent it's shocking. If 1984 was a tv show, the end of Part II would be a smash cut to commercial with lots of dramatic music. Basically, it was a big DUN moment.

I also want to take a moment to talk about Julia. I found her a fascinating character. It was not a surprise to me that the first place she takes Winston is a secluded grove in the country. She has a bit of a "child of the forest" vibe where she thinks only of the moment and only commits acts of rebellion against the Party to the extent it serves her pleasure. Sex, food, make-up--all of her acts of revolution are self-centered and serve nobody but herself. But she still is more of a radical than anyone Winston has ever met and joins the Brotherhood as readily as him. Through all of Part II I wondered whether in a normal world (like our world) Winston and Julia would have ever even looked twice at age other. I think the clear answer is no.

And 1984 isn't a love story. Despite the fact that it gets the plot moving, I get the feeling that Orwell doesn't view their relationship as anything more than a means to an end. It fans the flame--not of passion, but of rebellion inside Winston and finally gives him hope. Though even in the throes of his affair, Winston knows it won't last. There was a moment, after his first tryst with Julia, when he looked at her naked body and thought, "In the old days...a man looked at a girl's body and saw that it was desirable, and that was the end of the story. But you could not have pure love or pure lust nowadays. No emotion was pure, because everything was mixed up with fear and hatred." The Party takes everything. Winston also has a lot of internal monologues about how he constantly expects the Thought Police to catch them at any moment. Not that this is anything new for Winston--from the moment he writes "Down with Big Brother" in his diary in Part I, Winston knows the writing is on the wall. And yet, when the inevitable crash occurs it's still a shock.

Predictions for Part III: Winston gets tortured and then killed. The book started depressing and I don't expect it to get cheery anytime soon. Sigh.

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