Friday, June 28, 2013

Nineteen Eighty-Four - Book Club Meeting

Nineteen Eighty-Four

George Orwell, 1949

Good Evening Lovelies!  And welcome to The Vintage Project Book Club's May meeting.  This meeting seems to be quite late, but the May selection piqued the interest of my Mad Men partner in crime, Bridget and was officially the first time the Book Club had more than one member (that one member being me).  We had the official meeting right after I got back from my trip to Georgia, but it's taken me a while to get this post put together.  In an effort to not have this happen again, I have already set the date for the June Book Club meeting - and things just keep getting better and better as this time we've added yet another member!  Looks like The Vintage Project Book Club is becoming more and more appealing to you guys and I couldn't be happier about that!

If you've been paying attention, you already know that I have quite an affinity for old books.  Since this novel resonated with me so deeply when I first read it (despite not remembering many of the details), I found a first American edition!  This has been my most exciting literary purchase to date!!

I tried my hardest to do our Book Club Meeting for Nineteen Eighty-Four before I left for Georgia, but that didn't work out as planned, so we moved the meeting to the day after I got back.  On June 18, at 8:00, the first official meeting with a second member was called to order.  Since my previous meetings consisted of me simply reviewing the novels, I was quite entertained when Bridget came up with a notepad and her IPad and asked me, "Okay, so just how hard is your Book Club?"  WHAT?  Really?  There is nothing hard about it, I just want to discuss the novels.  Port is cute and all, but he doesn't have much insight when it comes to analyzing literary devices.  This is usually his contribution:

So let's get down to it, shall we?

'It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.'  I am always fascinated with how a novel begins and this one very quickly established the bleak, cold world of Oceania.  In the world that Orwell creates in this novel, the globe is divided into three superstates - Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia.  Oceania is essentially the British Isles, North America, South America, and Australia, though there is always room for doubt when it comes to whether or not the world actually functions in this fashion.  Either way, the people of England are made to believe this is true and that the three superstates are at constant war with one another.

Bridget had never read this novel and was amazed at how many of Orwell's concepts have been adopted into our collective consciousness and how many of his phrases and terms are used in everyday speech.  The most notable is the idea of Big Brother and that he is watching you.  'The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. At the end of it a colored poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a meter wide: the face of a man of about forty-five with a heavy black mustache and ruggedly handsome features...the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it read.'  The poster of Big Brother is most likely the inspiration for the Obey clothing posters.  Though, credited as being inspired by Andre the Giant, the concept is straight out of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Every aspect of Oceania is rooted in propaganda.  London is cold, bleak, and grey.  It is a place where everyone is kept living in poverty and, thus, have no means of even attempting to question or stand up to the Party.  'Outside...there seemed to be no color in anything except the posters that were plastered everywhere. The black-mustachio'd face gazed down from every commanding the far distance a helicopter skimmed down between the roofs, hovered for an instant like a blue bottle, and darted away again with a curving flight. It was the Police Patrol snooping into people's windows. The patrols did not matter, however. Only the Thought Police mattered.'  The Thought Police could be in helicopters, co-workers, people you passed on the street, or they could be sitting in some back room somewhere watching you through your telescreens which were installed in every house or apartment.  'The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the line of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. 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.'

The Thought Police is ultimately what our protagonist, Winston Smith, is most afraid of.  Winston is a part of the Outer Party and works in the Ministry of Truth.  His job is to constantly re-write history to suit the needs of the Party.  The government of Oceania is run by the Inner Party and the Thought Police are an integral part of keeping everyone in line.  Winston fears the systematic brainwashing that the Party is successfully controlling people with - he knows how information is manipulated (sound familiar?) and how the Party is stripping people of their own individual memories and knows that it is only a matter of time before his treason of thought is found out.  'The Thought Police would get him just the same. He had committed...the essential crime the contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. It was always at night - the arrests invariably happened at night...People simply disappeared, always during the night. Your name was removed from registers, every record of everything you had ever done was wiped out, your one-time existence was denied and then forgotten. You were abolished, annihilated: vaporized was the usual word.'  The Thought Police sought out people guilty of Thoughtcrime by small tells - involuntary gestures, facial ticks, and whether you actually did anything or not, they put an end to the treason before you had the chance to do anything or corrupt anyone else.  '"...We are not interested in those stupid crimes you have committed. The Party is not interested in the overt act; the thought is all we care about."'  The concept of Thought Crime and the Thought Police was the inspiration for the novel and movie Minority Report.

'He was alone. The past was dead, the future unimaginable. What certainty had he that a single human creature now living was on his side? And what way of knowing that the dominion of the Party would not endure (for ever)?'  The brilliance of Orwell and this novel is how it impacts the reader.  There are sparks of hope that Winston can overthrow the Party, but overall, the bleakness of this society looms over everything.  Even when Winston meets Julia, a like-minded young woman, and they begin a relationship in secret, you are never able to forget that people who acknowledge what the Party is doing are few and far between.  The three slogans of the Party are absolutely terrifying when you consider that most people accept them whole heartedly...


As many of my Book Club posts have been quite lengthy so as to review the plot, this novel is less plot-driven and more terrifyingly political, focusing on the manipulation of facts, history, and human psychology.  While many of these concepts can be seen in a countries like North Korea, Orwell took this political ideology to an extreme that you can only hope is the exception rather than the rule in even the most extreme countries.  And while his concepts ARE extreme, when you think about it, in a society that is cut off from everything else, one that only receives government sanctioned information, many of these concepts could be possible.

'"Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your choosing...In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy - everything...There will be no loyalty, except loyalty toward the Party. There will be no love, except love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except laughter of the triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science...There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of love. All competing pleasures will be destroyed...If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face - forever."'

'"We control life, Winston, at all its levels. You are imagining that there is something called human nature which will be outraged by what we do and will turn against us. But we create human nature. Men are infinitely malleable...If you are a man, Winston, you are the last man. Your kind is extinct; we are the inheritors. Do you understand that you are alone? You are outside history, you are nonexistent."'

This concept is truly terrifying - a Rosemary's Baby kind of terrifying, but instead of all the people in your neighborhood being in on a dastardly plan, Orwell expands this to an entire government.  Sometimes I look at the Republican party in the this way.  In the United States, we have people who are trying to dictate what women, minorities, and the LGBT community can and cannot do based on religious fanaticism and fear mongering.  In the world today, you can see the manipulation of information to suit a specific need online, on TV, and in the few newspapers that are left.  Fortunately Orwell was not entirely correct with his timeline, for 1984 was a tacky and flamboyant year for fashion.  People were not relegated to the blue overalls of the Party, but brightly colored ensembles, usually incorporating parachute pants.

And instead of the songs for Hate Week, we had music that made people happy to be alive, unlike the zombies that Oceania was creating.

If you've read this novel, you know that I left out A LOT - there was just too much to cover.  But the question that I kept asking myself was, 'What's the point?'  What was the Party trying to do in creating a country of robots?  People with no thoughts of their own, no industry, no trade, nothing that would really sustain a country.  I love what Orwell did, how he was able to look to the future and give us a warning of the world we were in for if totalitarian nations were not stopped.  Without being a total downer, much of what he described is happening all over the globe, though to a lesser extent.  And that's the mark of a great novel - one that keeps you thinking and analyzing and applying concepts.

Though you've missed the Book Club meeting, if you didn't read this novel in May, you owe it to yourself to read it if you never have, or re-read it if you haven't read it since high school.

What did you think of this selection, Lovelies?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

See you at the next Book Club meeting!!

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