Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Me: Talk radio is depressing. In the scope of reading 1984.
Mom: I read that book in 1980. It was scary to think that that could happen.
Me: But obviously it didn't.
Mom: But it could have. People in search of power are capable of anything. Socialism, and totalitarianism, and even in a sense Big Brother, are all real.
Me: . . . yeah, it's a happy book.

I feel like I ought to have a tee shirt - "I survived 1984." For a book that was recommended to me largely by homeschoolers, it was not a homeschooler book. The first half was interesting. I even read most of the Appendix about Newspeak, that's how interesting the first half was. And the second half was also interesting, I read it straight through two rehearsals, I stayed up late after noveling to read it, but maybe that fervent reading was motivated by more of a desire to be done with the book, rather than its interestingness. The only part that wasn't interesting was the dissertation in the middle about the nature of The Party and Goldstein's book and blah blah that was later explained more succinctly by O'Brian anyway. (Somehow I suspect that that was the most beneficial part of the novel, but I couldn't bring myself to more than skim it.) So in terms of books that hold my attention, 1984 was a success.

It was a success in other ways, too: it ruined my perspective in life. I've previously been a bit of a pessimist, but about the time we did a study of Beautiful Girlhood (yeah, I know) I had a change of heart and nurtured my own strange apathetic version of optimism to things that annoy me. My success at this was, well, not amazing, but my siblings get less irritated at me for being negative. And then 1984 happened. I'm an urbanite, but for the past two weeks I haven't been able to enjoy the city or any form of industrialism without remembering Winston's greasy canteen or the Party's twisted Ingsoc. Suddenly America's tilt towards socialism was something I could not brush off, instead the thought consumed me with more of the hopeless pessimism espoused by Winston. Things that used to make me happy like hitting the streets of South Providence instead hearkened to the farce of The Party's prosperity. I really can't enjoy anything that reminds me of 1984 anymore, this includes: train stations, chocolate & coffee, makeup, fireworks, overalls, antique stores, tenant housing, parades, et cetera.

Further, there were a copious amount of my least favorite things in this book: varicose ulcers, bodily functions, military time, grease/oil, long boring discourses of extraneous historical information, and torture. It was not in any way a pleasant book. And that's okay, except that there was nothing to compensate. I had thought that the ideology and philosophy espoused by the story would make up for the more gruesome aspects of the book, but no. No such luck, at all. Winston was all wrong, the Party was right about the most horrible things, and the ending? Happy? Yes, the most miserable happy ending I've ever read. Maybe I missed the point (it's very possible, considering I skipped the discourse in the middle) but 1984 gave no commendation to democracy, or monarchy, or even anarchy. Oligarchy was set up as impenetrable as long as the people in charge were smart enough. And people? Far be it for people to prosper against the man. No. No hope there. Perhaps a warning against socialism and a reminder of the importance of history, but thanks, I already learned that lesson in a much less abrasive and vomit-inducing way. 

I liked Animal Farm. I like Eric Blair's writing style. I don't need a book to be all sunshine and roses and happy endings and positivity. But it was a squalid book. It left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I'm glad I read it, so I can say that I did, but I will never read it again.

Next up, Brave New World. I'll be listening to plenty of ska to keep me afloat.


QueenOfLillyFlowers said...

that's what i thought also. but i read awful books differently from you. i can't make myself read the part about the rats/torture, and i don't in any way love the book. but it is in my very subjective opinion, one of the most thought provoking books ever written, did you remember the part where, the girl ( Anna? i haven't read in a huge while) and Winston are trying to describe a lemon, and you read that Big Brother has erased words from use so people couldn't express themselves, etc.

Hayley said...

Good point, the critique of language in the book was really fascinating, especially the appendixes about Newspeak. The idea of erasing instincts by erasing the words for them was a bit of a stretch, but it was interesting how the limit on language limited human expression, and the implications of that.

K-Mac said...

I think I'm still going to read it. Unless you convince me in some other way that it's a bad idea.

When I'm done I'll come back and comment again ;)