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Topic: George Orwell's 1984

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Subject: George Orwell's 1984
Date Posted: 11/30/2009 1:30 AM ET
Member Since: 10/2/2007
Posts: 10,280
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I'm new to this forum, but since I joined the 2010 reading challenge I've popped in here a couple times and just now it occured to me this is THE group to post my thoughts to on my most recent read.

I finished reading Orwell's 1984 this past weekend and while half-way through the book I decided I really didn't like it, I am glad I finished the book.   I'm not sure if I'm glad simply because I can now say I've read it and really do understand when others make references to Big Brother and thought crime and other such ideas in this book --  or if there were parts that truly were redeeming.

I do feel frustrated by it and I feel like it left unanswered questions.  I also really disliked the ending.  I tried talking with my 20 year-old son this weekend (who enjoyed it), but we just seemed to be on such different planes, it wasn't a very satisfying discussion.

So, I'm curious.....Anyone read it recently enough (or enjoyed it enough) that you'd be interested in a bit of a discussion?  Nothing heavy or belabored (unless you so choose).  I just have a desire to talk about it a bit and hear others' perspectives.



Last Edited on: 12/1/09 10:31 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 11/30/2009 2:04 AM ET
Member Since: 12/27/2007
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I am just now listening to it on my Zune, so it will be a little while before I finish it.  I'll come back to this thread when I am done.  However, my son was here for Thanksgiving and told me that he taught this book last year to his junior or senior English classes.  He said that he was bored by it.

Date Posted: 11/30/2009 2:10 AM ET
Member Since: 10/2/2007
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It definitely drags through a good chunk of the book (I'd say half of the book drags - though this may be purposeful, I've concluded), though it does pick up at the end.  I cannot imagine being able to stay focussed listening to an audio version of this book.  Good luck, Vivian.



Last Edited on: 12/1/09 10:32 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 11/30/2009 8:00 AM ET
Member Since: 8/27/2005
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Becki, there are monthly readings in this forum sometimes led by (Vanessa, I think?)   Maybe this would be a good suggestion for a future reading, I'd like to reread it myself.  It's been about 30 years and I know my perspective would be very different now!

Date Posted: 11/30/2009 8:33 AM ET
Member Since: 6/24/2009
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Rereading 1984 is a great idea!  As I was searching through my (too) many unorganized bookshelves for books for this challenge, I found my copy of 1984.  I last read it in high school in the early 60's so can't remember many details but I do remember being horrified by it. The actual year 1984 was a couple of decades in the future so the possibility of it becoming reality was something to worry about.   Now I can read it looking back at 1984 and I'm sure the experience will be different.

Date Posted: 11/30/2009 8:49 AM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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I really liked 1984 and discussed it with others here a couple of years ago. Here are a few of my thoughts from that thread:

 it is a grim but thought-provoking read. I really enjoyed it - perhaps because I read it a second time for a bookclub discussion. Sometimes reading and discussing it with others adds another dimension to the book.

One of the things we discussed was rather Winston was a hero or not. He does not seem heroic - he is thin, not very robust, aging, kind of an ordinary guy. But, despite his weaknesses, he is rejecting the prevailing attitudes/conventions – seeking answers to the slivers of memories he has. I certainly sympathized with him.

Could he be considered a hero because of his acts of revolution (the diary, his affair with Julia, etc)? He is aware of the danger (the almost certitude) that accompanies these actions but he proceeds nonetheless.

This line from the book (last part, chapter 3) gave me pause. O’Brien said:

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.

 

Orwell was opposed to totalitarianism and this novel was his argument against it.

Date Posted: 11/30/2009 9:49 AM ET
Member Since: 10/2/2007
Posts: 10,280
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I do think the year one read or will read this book would surely have a great impact on how one receives it and internalizes it.   I can imagine if I'd read it as a young person prior to 1984 it could have felt very foreboding to me (and it may have kept my interest better).    But reading it from the vantage point of 2009, it read a little cliche to me (again, probably because of being so familiar with terms like Big Brother and thought crime). 

It's not too difficult to understand what these terms mean (even never having read the book), but I did find it enlightening a bit to actually read Orwell's descriptions of these things in order to understand their origins, but  then again the idea was, at times, ridiculously overdone (from my 2009 vantage point, anyway).

I kept thinking...this book is really more a reflection of Orwell's time than it is a projection of what anyone surely can believe a future time would be like.  In that regard the book almost seemed quaint - if it weren't so tedious in parts.

Sometimes reading and discussing it with others adds another dimension to the book.   Which is exactly what I'm after. 

One of the things we discussed was [whether] Winston was a hero or not.  I have thoughts about Winston as a hero (or not) - and I'll add that my thoughts have little or nothing to do with his physical descriptions.  To elaborate on that would be to share from the end of the book.  If it is thought this would be a good book for a future discussion I don't want to give away too much of the book by discussing now.  I'll be honest, though...I don't know that I will be revisiting the book at a future point, so while I may participate in a future discussion, my thoughts are likely to be less than they are at the moment.

I'll just try to hang tight to see what is decided.



Last Edited on: 12/1/09 10:35 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 11/30/2009 11:04 AM ET
Member Since: 3/27/2009
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"One of the things we discussed was [whether] Winston was a hero or not."

Maybe he's actually an anti-hero. I read the book 15- 20 years ago. I can't remember much other than that I liked it. I am up for re-reading it again.

Date Posted: 11/30/2009 2:10 PM ET
Member Since: 4/4/2009
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1984: usually classified as science fiction or fantasy. It was certainly not written as such. It was social criticism, pure and simple. Drags? Well, if your standards are Tom Clancy, David Koonz, and the ilk, definitely (they should definitely be classified as fantasy).  People don't killed at an average of 1.25 per page. There is no evil world conspiracy clearly established in the first chapter. Character development? Never a concern of the author. In days of not that old, it was regarded as a pretty prescient critique and warning of where we were heading. (Are heading? Hasn't gone down yet) That was, of course before today's really looney stuff by Dan Brown and whoever wrote the junk about "the rapture." Unfortunately, it takes all-out sensationalism today to get any attention from the young. And more than a few million of the not-so-young.
 

Date Posted: 11/30/2009 3:07 PM ET
Member Since: 1/30/2009
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I read it at least twice in high school (I graduated in '87 and it was being assigned pretty incessantly).  I remember reading it in 9th grade for a Utopian/Dystopian section and was really meh about it.  I read it a couple of years later for some kind of FutureShock oriented lesson in SS and wound up loving it.  It really stuck with me and it moved me tremendously.  Although I haven't read it in 25 years or so, certain things have stuck with me pretty viscerally (the rats!).  I had a pretty solid modernist/liberal education which likely influenced my feelings about it.  I also acted in a performance of Brecht's the Informer at around the same time, so I was reading and studying a lot about mid-century paranoia.  It's a shame that it feels clichéd, as it only does so because it has been so hugely influential.  I also realize that my memories of Orwell's book might be a little muddled with my memories of the film Brazil which I saw at around the same time.  I would love to reread it, particularly as I'm writing a piece on the rabid popularity of dystopian YA fiction. 

Another thing to put the book into context is remembering the bleakness and privations of post-war Britain.  Not important so much thematically, but in terms of mood.

If anyone has read Mary Gaitskill's Two Girls Fat and Thin (a flawed but truly extraordinary novel in its own right), one of the girls reads 1984 and there's a lovely and moving description of the feelings the book engenders in her. 

ETA - I found the passage - from Gaitskill's book, 153-154pp:

I read 1984 by George Orwell.  I read it voluptuously, loving the pitiless description of a panicked fat man weeping as he vainly tried to escape machine gun fire, of a terrified woman trying to protect a doomed child with her body, of the toothless old whore that Winston had mistaken for a pretty child-harlot.  It wasn't the brutality I loved, it was the bravado of Orwell's monotonous treatment of horror, and the pathetic human efforts to stans against it, or even to believe in the existance of something else.  The outburst of humanity between Winston and Julia was a feeble blow against the malign forces of Big Brother, beautiful only in the moment it dared to come into being before crumpling and dying like a leaf.  The unbeautiful monotony of Orwell's prose was like Winston's affair with Julia: a slight, spare poem pitching itself against the horror it evoked, and dying in the attempt.



Last Edited on: 11/30/09 3:53 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 11/30/2009 10:13 PM ET
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The unbeautiful monotony of Orwell's prose was like Winston's affair with Julia: a slight, spare poem pitching itself against the horror it evoked, and dying in the attempt.

Yes!   I struggled even thinking of Winston's relationship with Julia as a love affair.  So little love seemed expressed.  And Julia struck me as a pretty unlovable person, by and large.   And when Winston told O'Brien he could never betray Julia I just thought....what is there to betray?   It seemed to me little more than animal attraction and it all seemed so flat.  Given that the ending was so bleak (the whole story was mind-numbingly bleak), I suspect the monotony with which Orwell wrote this book was likely intentional.

John, I've never read Clancy or Koonz and somehow have managed to avoid Dan Brown ;^).   I am not a big fan of shoot-em-ups, fantasy or science fiction though I have read some marvelous books that would fit those descriptions.  I really don't think my frustration over how this book dragged on is a comparison to other books.  Much of it simply dragged for me and I had to push myself through portions of it.

Also, I know folks who seem to believe that elements of 1984 are going on about us now -- which was one reason I was interested in reading it lately.  Really, I was so ready to take it in and see the connections, but I'm afraid I did not (not in abundance, anyway and not in practice - so much).  But again, I recognized that the book was a reflection of post-war Europe and seemed to be a criticism of Stalin in particular.  Reconciling what it is with what I thought it would be is part of what I'm working through, too, I'm sure.

The rats!   I had never before read 1984, but I have read (at some point in the distant past) something very similar to that scene.  In fact, once O'Brien said that Winston knew what was in room 101, I, too, knew what it was and how it would play out.   I know there was an earlier reference to rats in the room he met Julia in, but that was not where my familiarity with this scene (or idea for the scene) came from.  I'm wondering what I had read in the past that had seared that image into my head? 

This little discussion is helping me get over my unsettledness (or maybe I should just say it -- my dissatisfaction) with this book.  So glad I stuck my head in here to see what you'd have to say.



Last Edited on: 12/1/09 10:44 PM ET - Total times edited: 3
Date Posted: 12/1/2009 7:32 AM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2007
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I struggled even thinking of Winston's relationship with Julia as a love affair.  So little love seemed expressed.  And Julia struck me as a pretty unlovable person, by and large.   And when Winston told O'Brien he could never betray Julia I just thought....what is there to betray?   It seemed to me little more than animal attraction and it all seemed so flat. 

It's been years since I read 1984, but I remember thinking the same thing, and then thinking that in 1984 Big Brother Society, Winson & Julia's relationship, even if it seems flat and unrewarding to us, was supposed to be the most important, emotional thing that ever happened to them.  And that because it was their relationship, because it was personal, not to be shared with or dictated by Big Brother, that's what made it worth fighting for to Winston.