Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The How Novel Bookclub: 1984 Part III

Third time's the charm, y'all! This is it. The end. The third and final discussion of George Orwell's 1984.

I'll pause to let it sink in. And for you to get your hanky in case the emotion gets to be too much.

As far as experiments go, I think this whole blogging bookclub is working out pretty well. Sure, there was a long lag between our first and second discussions, but hey, life happens. And I have to admit: this was not my favorite book.

Don't get me wrong, I liked it. But at times it was a bit of a slog. After all, it was written in the 1940s and there has certainly been a shift in fiction prose in the last 60 or so years. The long dense paragraphs and slow plot movement were a bit of a challenge. But it certainly gets points for its importance to the Western literature cannon and how it basically created the dystopian future genre.

And now on to Part III! (summary from Penguin books)
Winston and Julia are separated and taken to the Ministry of Love where Winston is physically and psychologically tortured by O’Brien until he finally accepts the Party’s views. In a moment of utter terror, Winston betrays Julia, something he was convinced they could never make him do. The final lines of the book show Winston’s complete transformation into a model Party member: “…Everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”
The shit, as they say, hits the fan. Part III was a difficult read, but not for the reasons I discussed above. It's just hard to read about someone being tortured. And we're not only talking about physical torture--though that happens and don't even get me started on the rats--but the psychological stuff is pretty horrible too.

I admit it: I was surprised that O'Brien ended up being the big bad guy. In fact, I am surprised at how WRONG all my predictions were regarding the plot of this book. I thought for sure it would be about a man fighting the power and trying to bring down the fascist government. It turns out Winston never even had a chance. The Party always knew what he was doing and everything that he was thinking. This isn't a story about one man's triumph over evil--it's a story about how men are capable of creating evil that cannot be stopped.

Y'all this book is depressing as HELL.

Winston makes a good go of it. He hangs on as long as he can. He even feels a certain amount of pride in not betraying Julia...until he does. But if you were being threatened with having your face chewed off by rats, is there anything you wouldn't betray? And then, even when he can tow the Party line and has learned how to employ doublethink...he still hates Big Brother. Doesn't he? Until the end when the Party's victory is complete. Winston is released back into the world (such as it is) where he spends his days sitting at a desk doing nothing and drinking gin in a bar. On the last page is the final sad revelation. He loves Big Brother.

The scariest thing about 1984 is the utter hopelessness.  There is absolutely no happy ending here. There's a bit of ambiguity here about whether Winston gets his brains blown out, but honestly that seems like a better option. At least then he could be a martyr for an actual cause. But Winston gets turned into another brainless Party drone. Just another brick in the wall.

"Obedience is not enough...Power is inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself...Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm....there will be no love except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated foe. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent we shall have no more need of science." --O'Brien

Yeah, not a world I want to live in thank you very much.

Bottom line: A slow moving plot and theme of hopelessness combine for a tough read. Still, if you consider yourself a fan of dystopian future fiction, I'd recommend it purely for it's importance to the genre. Otherwise--skip it. It's gonna bring you down.

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