Every serious reader has a book that opened everything up for them, a book that, to paraphrase The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, showed them that everything they’d been taught was a lie. For me, it was 1984. I was in 7th grade and I’d read a few “serious” books, including Orwell’s wonderful Animal Farm. Still, I don’t think I had ever really understood anything, not in any profound way at least. For some reason, there was a book of excerpts from Orwell’s work in our house. It contained the first chapter of 1984. Having heard someone mention it, I read that chapter and knew instantly I had to read the whole thing. When I finished the novel a few months later, literature was the chief concern of my life. It has been ever since. I had never encountered such ideas and I didn’t ever want to be away from them. Quickly, I moved to Waiting for Godot, Brave New World and the works of Albert Camus. They were all important to me but I wouldn’t have even started without 1984.
Aside from all the personal babble, this is a great novel. It is overwhelming in its power and pessimism. Actually, it had such an impact on me that I thought all great art HAD to be bleak and depressing! 1984 is also a philosophical and political parable that retains its relevance today. While the one world government, modeled on Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union, may seem unlikely today, 1984 doesn’t feel at all dated to me. That is because it is much more than a tale of futuristic tyranny. It is a story about humanity deciding to destroy itself by placing an idea, a system above people. Whenever we believe that people are expendable to the great progress of a theory, whenever we think people should service a system instead of the other way around, we are giving part of ourselves up to Big Brother. While one world totalitarianism probably won’t happen, I see plenty of other examples of humanity rushing to abolish itself. Actually, I kind of wish 1984 felt like an irrelevant antique. Sadly, it doesn’t feel that way at all and I doubt it ever will.