1984 (1949)

‘Neither of us will even know whether the other is alive or dead. We shall be utterly without power of any kind. The one thing that matters is that we shouldn’t betray one another, although even that can’t make the slightest difference.’

‘If you mean confessing,’ she said, ‘we shall do that, right enough. Everybody always confesses. You can’t help it. They torture you.’

‘I don’t mean confessing. Confession is not betrayal. What you say or do doesn’t matter; only feelings matter. If they could make me stop loving you—that would be the real betrayal.’

She thought it over. ‘They can’t do that,’ she said finally. ‘It’s the one thing they can’t do. They can make you say anything—anything—but they can’t make you believe it. They can’t get inside you.’

‘No,’ he said a little more hopefully, ‘no; that’s quite true. They can’t get inside you. If you can feel that staying human is worth while, even when it can’t have any result whatever, you’ve beaten them’ (166).

[Spoiler alert!]

1984 is heartbreaking, perhaps because it is so plausible. I’ve just finished it and find it hard to reflect on it, other than to feel deep sadness. Sadness for Winston and Julia, whose relationship in Part Two of the book seemed so powerful against the forces of dehumanization. The block quote above, about feeling the importance of being human, of resisting the Party and their made up histories and memories, encapsulates the hope of humanity in 1984. Staying human is the hope, goal; staying human cannot be tolerated by the Party, by Big Brother. It’s a clear-cut us-versus-them situation. Together Winston and Julia believe that, even when they get arrested, their love for each other will give them the strength to resist. But the Party has ways of ending love. The saddest scene in the book comes as Julia and Winston happen to bump into each other after having each been tortured.

‘I betrayed you,’ she said baldly.

‘I betrayed you,’ he said.

She gave another quick look of dislike.

Through torture, manipulation, re-education, they had each come to a moment of choosing their own well-being, their own lives, ahead of their former lover’s. The Party ended their love for each other, triumphing over them.

It’s heart-wrenching, to me at least.

There are other themes besides the theme of what it means to be human. The notion of doublethink struck me: holding two opposing “facts” in one’s mind, allowing both to be true. That seems like a word for our time. Winston had defined freedom as the ability to know that two plus two equals four; something else the Party destroys in him.

It’s just dystopian, and severely so. But also a brilliantly written novel, a page-turner.

“We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.”

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