Tuesday, June 18, 2013

1984

Can a book be simultaneously brilliant and nauseating? Can you ever reach a point in a book where reading the next word takes an excruciating amount of effort and yet, you cannot put it down? The last Thursday, I started reading a book like that and that's why I did not blog on Thursday and Friday. I know that's the kind of thing I was supposed to avoid when I took the one month challenge. But then, I simply couldn't put the book down. Not even to blog about it. The weekend I happened to go out and so couldn't find the time to blog either. I hope that doesn't happen in the future.

The book in question was '1984' by George Orwell. It's supposed to be a classic book (I was prompted to read it by a 'list of 10 books to read before you die'!). I remember reading 3-4 pages of a pdf copy sometime during my college days and like all other pdf books I have begun, I didn't get any further. So, the last time I visited India, I got a hardcopy.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead!) The book is about a dystopian communist society set in the future (the book was written in 1950) and a sort-of individualist who is unable to bear the communist regime and tries to break out. He also falls in love with a woman (in a world where marriage for love is banned) and eventually gets caught by the system. Whether he fights or loses forms the rest of the story.

If you have read 'The Anthem', you would realize it has the same outline as above. In fact, as I read on, I found so many elements to be the same- a society with no technological progress, one that glorifies obedience, one where all individuals follow the same routines and are forced by the government not to express their opinions, and so on. Even the fact that the party controls marriages. I tried to look up if 1984 had been influenced by The Anthem, but couldn't find anything. However, the more I read the book, the more I thought that both are simply extensions of reality in communist societies.

That being said, I definitely think 1984 is a lot more realistic. The Anthem is an inspiring novel but it assumes an almost stupid ruling class.1984, on the other hand, brings up the scary possibilities of smart people being evil and in power. It builds a world that is complete and makes sense within itself. A society where everyone is being spied on all the time, and any small breach from the expected conduct can lead you to 'vanish'. 

And the best part is this- a society where any piece of evidence about the past that contradicts with the government views about the present is destroyed and falsified. (Eg: If the government wants to prove  production has increased by 5% but had predicted it to increase by 10%- they just change all existing records of the previous announcement and replace it with ones that predict 5%). This brought up some very interesting questions about the past- does the past exist only in records? In fact, an even harder question- if a set of people refuse to acknowledge reality by consensus, is there any reality at all? (Eg: if everyone in the world see something falling down but refuse to admit that the thing has moved- has the thing moved at all?) While we are tempted to say 'obviously it has', in a  world where that reality is not accepted, for all practical purposes the thing might not have moved at all. (I find that idea mind-blowing!)

The last part of the book was haunting. The protagonist is tortured so much that he converts from the reality-acknowledging, sane-thinking, individualist to the typical party-supporting, communist with too much double standards. He doesn't just say what the society wants him to say- he actually believes in their ideas. It made me think- 'Until what point of adversity would I hold on to my ideals and values?' And if you do give up your values in the face of the worst torture imaginable to you, would you be considered moral? (Something about which I hope to write later)

As I said earlier- this was one book which was simultaneously brilliant and nauseating. There was a point I reached in the book where I did not want to read another word. And yet, I could not keep the book down. 

And 3 days later, the book still haunts me.

For anyone who reached this far without having read the book- I might have spoilt the best of the book's ideas for u, but I have not half-conveyed the details. So, highly highly recommend you to read it...

I hope to read 'Animal Farm'- the other popular title by Orwell- some other day..

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