book by George Orwell
annotation by Philip Barragán
From the first line, “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,” the dark mood of 1984 is set and the alternate world unfolds before us. We find ourselves in Oceania. Sixty-two years after George Orwell wrote his dystopian masterpiece, the message of Big Brother remains in our psyche. Cameras now watch the lives of the citizens of the United Kingdom and we watch television shows called Big Brother where we watch every aspect of people’s lives, for entertainment. The world of 1984 is here, though it has unfolded differently than Orwell foretold, it has arrived.
The tone of Orwell’s story is sinister, weighty and depressing. The citizens are controlled and their emotions are moderated. Classes of people create divisions of society with the lives of the “proles” the most “human” of the group; a group left to emote and love in the most base manner and allowed to satiate their passions through unmoderated vice whereas members of the Party are forced to tow the line. The protagonist, Winston Smith, is the ordinary citizen who questions the world and pays the price for doing so.
Orwell’s prose is streamlined with limited flourishes, keeping his world tight and controlled. Orwell allows himself into enter into lyrical moments of complete physical pleasure allowing Winston the opportunity to enjoy the moment while allowing the reader to travel along for the ride. Orwell glides in and out of these moments with ease, a waxing and waning of desire, pleasure and then directly into the aridity of emotion with no lubrication.
The characters in the story were restrained. There was tension in how they connected with each other and in the rigid way they were integrated into their world. Through Winston, Julia and O’Brian, the foreboding tone is set through their actions: Julia’s need for rebellion, Winston’s fear of getting caught as he begins breaking the rules, and O’Brian’s incarnation as the bad Big Brother.
Orwell worked so hard in creating his story that he added an appendix titled “The Principles of Newspeak.” This was a delightful insight into the author’s enthusiasm of having created such a detailed world that he wanted to explain to the reader how it all worked. Another instance of the author wanting to show the reader his creation, Winston is given Goldstein’s Book, a detailed bible of how their world worked and the philosophy to make it happen. I was amused when Orwell has Winston read the book thereby providing pages of details how why things have developed as they have in their world. The novel just stops and we are thrown into this very elaborate explanation. As a reader I was rather disappointed with being force-fed this material. As a writer I felt this vehicle for relaying information to the reader was rather heavy-handed and too obvious. Yes, Orwell worked must have worked so hard on his story, but to feel that the reader must know the underlying political implications and the minutiae of why everything has developed as it has ended-up making me laugh and wanting to read ahead and by-pass this chapter. It is not necessary to force the reader to understand every nuance, every detail of the world you have created as a writer.
There are limits a writer must respect in the reader/writer relationship. The writer must not force his world upon the reader. The novel does best to unfold and carry the reader along for the ride. I have often thought about ways to convey a lot of information within my own story, but I have found that a book or a newspaper article is much too obvious a medium for this purpose. In 1984, Orwell’s utilization of the book stopped my enjoyment of the novel. The writer must realize that his relationship with the reader must be respected. Forcing this material into my brain tore me out of 1984, and I want to be sure not to do that to the future reader of my own work.