“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”
But what if even that isn’t granted? What if the oppressive regime wants not only that two plus two do not make four but also that if they so desired it would mean five?
Dear friends, Nineteen Eighty Four happens to be the most challenging book I have read so far. Challenging, not in the story or plot structure (though that is very well construed and I will talk of that quite later) nor in the language, which by the way was lucid and fluid, but in the ideas. The ideas are so strong and the world view it represents so scary that no matter how you try to find a way out, you fail. You are bound to fail. And it’s scary because it’s true.
Thoughtcrime, already exists. Not in seemingly undemocratic countries of Middle East or Africa* but even in a fast developing country like India (it does exist in European countries and America but it’s so subtle that many inhabitants fail to see). Don’t believe me? Ask Urdu writers. National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL), has recently asked the writers to sign an agreement which in essence states that concerned writer will not criticize either the government or the nation-state, if they wish to seek its favours.**
Let’s although focus on the course of book and not on current political scenarios across the globe which at best could be described quite trumpish. The story begins as many stories often begin with our protagonist’s life and we see the world through his viewpoint and come to sympathize with him. There is love. Not the way we have known it but differently. And love itself is a rebellion, a force potent enough to threaten the Party, to bring it to its ruin.
What Orwell achieves magnificently in the story is that we know this is not a happily ever after story and yet the charm and hope is so strong, the faith in human nature is so strong that we believe that no matter what something good will happen. It is only after three fourth of the book is over that we realize there is no good in this story and all that appeared to be good was a malignant trap.
For those of you who haven’t read Nineteen Eighty Four, my review may seem as absurd as possible because there is too much to say and the story is so complex that you cannot understand or fully appreciate it unless you read it yourself. Oh boy! I sound like the supporter of IngSoc. You cannot, they say, fully appreciate the ideas of English Socialism if your view was formed before the Revolution. The socialism of this dystopian world is not only totally different than the ideals of socialism but in fact opposite and contradictory.
A masterful and savage criticism of the then political scenario and the path it was taking, Nineteen Eighty Four may have spoken directly to all those who speak of freedom and equality. Even today, it stands very relevant. People do get picked up by police and military and are never found. Not in North Korea or Somalia (prejudice again!) if that’s what you were thinking but in America, Russia, Britain, India, China, you get the picture. Precisely the reason why Harold Pinter’s masterful play The Birthday Party remains relevant. (On a totally irrelevant note, I am in contact with someone who has worked with Harold Pinter and next year I may announce something huge. Don’t jinx it though. OK, you can.)
What we see in Nineteen Eighty Four is not only a scathing criticism of the Socialist-Communist regime but it goes a step further than Animal Farm, which showed the evils of a Communist regime, and we face the fact which we somehow always knew that all revolutions are bound to fail to fulfill the promises they made. French Revolution with its promise of equality, liberty and fraternity gave way in the long run to Napoleon, Industrial Revolution with its promise of eradication of unemployment and widespread prosperity paved way for the extreme pollution that we see, Enlightenment with all its Scientific Revolutions made possible the weapons of mass destructions.
I know, I know you will say I am looking at the revolutions from a rather crooked angle but the fact of the matter is that it is true that any revolution which involves violence no matter how subtle and small is bound to fail. Only a completely non-violent, which is rather a negative term, and I am looking for a more positive term which would mean a revolution guided by compassion and love and people who are willing to adapt to different ideals as the time might be; would be able to fulfill its promises.
To the people who have read the book I think I am making sense, to those who haven’t read it believe me I’m not praising the book without meaning. I’m quite vocal about the books I don’t like, I still haven’t read that nightmare of Dickens’s Great Expectations. Even Fifty Shades with all its shitty grammar and horrible writing couldn’t deter me from not finishing it. (Okay fine, that just means I’m a creepy pervert, but still.) I have been thinking about Nineteen Eighty Four predominantly ever since I finished it. Twice. In a row. Even while I was reading Taslima Nasreen’s Lajja, which is a wonderful and powerful narrative of atrocities done by majority on minority.
Though it [Lajja] gets quite boring when it starts presenting statistics. Horrifying of course, but boring. No one picks a novel for a list of names and numbers of people killed, tortured or abused. There are reports for that, more reliable and specific. I pick a novel for story and fluent language. Lajja has a story, not a very outstanding or beautiful one, but a story nonetheless. I can’t say about the language as I read it in English and not in original language it was written, Bengali. And the translator I believe did not do a very good job. All the hype around it maybe because of it has been banned in Bangladesh. I found it an average book and not a masterpiece as has been often claimed.
Ah look! A review within a review. I’m not sorry at all. What did you expect from me? A normal review? Yeah, that’s not happening.
And while we were discussing language, Nineteen Eighty Four has immensely beautiful and poignant prose, almost poetic. It moves stealthily and rhythmically and the reader is captivated in some sort of trance at the choice of words. Here are a few examples:
‘…he sank as suddenly as though the [bullet] holes had let in the water…’
‘It was not by making yourself heard but by staying sane that you carried the human heritage.’
‘All this march up and down and cheering and waving flags is simply sex gone sour.’
‘The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour.’
‘To die hating them, that was freedom.’
So do our characters die hating them? Read to find out! Because this is one book you mustn’t not read.
Like this? Check my other reviews here. Oh and please hit share if you loved this. Or not. Whatever. I’m not desperate. ~makes puss in boots eyes~
*I am not saying that these countries are more undemocratic than others, that’s just a prejudice I am invoking to make a point. And by ‘undemocracy’ I mean violation of principles of equality, liberty and fraternity which happens all over the world.
**This clause was taken back before this article went online.