Fiction — audiobook. Read by Frank Muller. Recorded Books, 1986. Originally published 1949. 9 hours, 48 minutes. Library copy.
Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two makes four. Yet in the city of London located in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain) — a province of the superstate Oceania (formerly known as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom) — men and women are denied that freedom by a political system called English Socialism, also known as Ingsoc in the government’s invented language, Newspeak. At the head of this political system is Big Brother, and Big Brother says two plus two makes five or three or, really, whatever Big Brother wants because Big Brother decides what is truth.
History is controlled by the Ministry of Truth, which is where the protagonist of the novel Winston Smith works rewriting newspaper articles so the historical record always supports the current party line. Those who question Big Brother or presume to insist two plus two makes four are often turned in by their neighbors and children, persecuted for “thoughtcrimes”, and tortured by the Ministry of Love. While Oceania is in a state of perpetual war, the Ministry of Abundance continues to tell the starving masses that agricultural yields and production levels continue to climb higher and higher.
Now that I have finished this novel, I’m wondering how and why I left it languishing on my to-read list for so many years. It truly is the masterpiece people claim it to be and I should not have resisted reading this novel for as long as I did.
The intricacies of the political system Orwell creates is particularly thought-provoking, and I found myself pausing the audiobook so I could ponder over a small detail Winston introduces into his narration. Although the year 1984 has long since passed, the message of this novel continues to resonate today, particularly as media outlets position themselves as supportive or critical of one political party and present the historical record in a certain light to reflect poorly on the opposing political party.
It is often stated that history is written by the victor, but is the record being continuously rewritten by each new regime? Is war a tool to motivate the economy? Is fear utilized by the political elite to control the masses and continue to perpetrate the need for war? Certainly, I can come up with examples to confirm the truth of all three questions in today’s society showing just how applicable the message of Orwell’s novel continues to be.
This is the second audiobook I have listed to narrated by Frank Muller, but this is the first where his narration really stood out in my mind. His ability to convey Winston’s anxiety and fear with the inflection of his voice caused me to tense, to feel those same emotions that the rather stark narrative might have caused me to miss.
The Classics Club:
I read this book for the Classics Club, which challenges participants read and discuss fifty or more books considered to be classics within a five year period. My personal goal for this project is to read seventy-five books in three years ending on August 15, 2017. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post, project post, or spreadsheet of titles.