Your Favorite Book Sucks: '1984'

'Your Favorite Book Sucks' is an ongoing column, written by different people, that takes a classic or popular book and argues why it isn't really all that great. Confrontational, to be sure, but it's all in good fun, so please play nice.


While some classics seem to be symbolically great rather than actually great, there is one work that falls so far short of its legend that it makes me blood froth. That book is George Orwell's famous 1984. I'm going to go through and highlight some of the more major flaws and terrible moves in 1984, and then I'll tell you the real reason I didn't like it.

(And **spoilers**. Obviously.)

Totalitarian Evil

I'm going to try to avoid making this too much of a biography of Orwell or a history lesson, but a few facts are worth talking about. First, Orwell had some bad experiences with communism. He once believed in communism and even volunteered to serve in the Spanish Civil War alongside the reds. Things didn't turn out so well for him. In addition to war injuries that would never fully heal, Orwell's faith in communism shattered when he saw the bureaucracy, greed, and heartlessness within it.

1984 is a caricature of...totalitarian evil, and not a particularly subtle one

Having lost faith in Marxist communism, Orwell became one of its harshest critics during the time of Josef Stalin. Many of these criticisms were certainly warranted, but many were founded in Orwell's imagination. Lucky for Orwell and for the success of 1984, Orwell's imagination was a reflection of the imagination of his time. The simplistic ideas of how the communist USSR functioned and remained in power were widespread but not particularly accurate. Little study was made of the psychology of citizens or how the USSR's culture compared to the Russian culture that preceded it.

The result of these false comparisons, emotionally charged arguments, and the heat of Cold War fears was that the communist rule in the USSR was simplified into a totalitarian evil. 1984 is a caricature of the totalitarian evil, and not a particularly subtle one. The mustachioed figure of "Big Brother" is a hair's breadth away from Stalin and the notion of directly brainwashing the people is a hyperbolic expression of the assumptions about loyal communists.

Flaws of the Orwellian Caricature

The problem with this caricature is three-fold. First, it fails to make any critical argument based on facts. Its emotionally charged rendition amounts to saying, "This is how terrible it is! I'll prove it by showing you what I've made up about it!" Second, it gives absolutely no critical self-analysis to the culture of 20th-century capitalism. And third, it's a poor reflection of the actual dangers and functionality of totalitarian rule.

While the death toll of the Stalin-era USSR is truly impressive, the assumption Orwell makes is that a small, elite group of evil people who just wanted power stepped into authority by force and maintained power through a combination of brainwashing and violence. The truth, however, is far more complicated.

The Bolsheviks and their supporters were not responding to imaginary elements in the world. The harsh reality of wage labor's inequalities were apparent, the injustice of Russia's aristocracy abhorrent, and the trials of the general population far greater than we now imagine. And for all its terrible elements, the USSR was not just kicking people into the dust: After the communist party came into power, the literacy rate skyrocketed, the child mortality rate dropped substantially, and the recently agrarian country was able to arm itself with guns and tanks quickly enough that they won World War II. (The Red Army suffered three times as many casualties as the rest of the allied forces combined—and as a result they stopped Hitler on his eastern front.)

I'm not saying that the Soviet  Union was a lovely place to live. The mass murders, the "purges," the "political choices" that led to millions starving in Ukraine—these are all well-documented realities. But so are the good bits. The Communist Party kept going because they were able to point to very real threats in both the political and military spheres. Orwell, however, paints all of these problems as fabrications of the totalitarian government—and never gives a moment for critical self-analysis.

How to Rule the World

Orwell's totalitarian government is an unsustainable one. As history has shown us, when you're a mass-murdering douche canoe like Stalin, you don't breed a whole lot of friends—and the power structures start to collapse. The reality of totalitarian rule is more dangerous. It is not a spy network and party purges that allow you to remain in power. It is converting people—honestly converting them, not just causing them to fear you enough that they obey—because converting them allows you to sit back while the population governs itself. 

Plus, it's expensive to spy on everyone, collect and analyze that information, chase down everyone who violates your plans. And in Orwell's 1984, the evil government is thorough. Quoth Winston (the book's protagonist), "The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself."

The work's critique is not well-grounded in reality or reason. And, unfortunately, it takes itself too seriously for readers to believe that it wasn't meant as an actual critique. Nevertheless, the success of Orwell's story isn't hard to understand. Capitalist nations were terrified of communism, and Orwell was both a self-blinded proponent of the capitalist cause and an excellent fear-monger. He was, in many ways, the Rush Limbaugh of his time.

Orwell Sucks at Math. And Language.

Beyond the problematic core theses of this Orwellian "masterpiece," we also have various problems of thinking throughout the story. The most significant is the great dilemma of maintaining one's integrity in the face of bad math. Winston's core struggle centers around the "Big Brother" supporters telling him that two plus two equals five. The protagonist refuses to accept this. He must maintain his integrity and not violate what he knows to be true.

Here's the problem: Language is arbitrary. The only reason two plus two is four instead of five is that we assigned four to represent the abstraction that happens when two is added to two. There is nothing fundamentally true or false about the words we use, so when the "two plus two is five" problem is given to Winston, what's happening is simply that the government is simply re-defining what "5" means, and the protagonist is rejecting the authority of the government over language.

That would be a fine problem with this fictional government if Orwell had been making a point about how governments shouldn't be the authorities over language. Sadly, to Winston, this is always and ever a struggle for maintaining integrity and truth in the face of the big, bad, lying government. Our tragic ending illustrates Winston's ultimate defeat by having him accept this change in language. And Orwell doesn't seem to see a contradiction with the fact that Winston's already allowed the government to become the accepted authority over language through Newspeak.

And then Language Dies. Because Reasons.

Orwell seems to be oblivious to his own devotion to the cultural assumptions of his time, the objectification that lies within those assumptions, and the irony of his devotion.

But this isn't the only Orwellian miss-step when it comes to the nature of language. In the third chapter we go into depth on the purpose of Newspeak and the simplification of language. "Has it ever occurred to you, Winston," says the Newspeak expert, "that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?" The government is intentionally reducing language to reduce the level of thought for the general population until they simply can't think anymore. "There will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think." (I will also note again here how little subtlety comes into Orwell's style.)

The problem here is that language, even when guided rigorously, doesn't simply die and is never fully controlled. Language didn't come into being because there were people standardizing and spreading it. Cultures, sub-cultures, and sub-sub-cultures all put their own jargon into place all the time. We've developed new dialects for gamers, dentists, church-goers, and that's on top of all of our regional dialects. Language allows people to create new terminology to capture any point that they want to capture.

Orwell never gives a mechanism whereby Newspeak would somehow stymie the natural progression of language. While it's true that the introduction of Newspeak would influence the various education systems and connotations of language, and through them the thoughts of the population, the ability to turn people into mindless drones is another empty fiction.

Capitalism: For the Sake of Misogyny!

Despite all the talk I'd heard about 1984, no one had ever mentioned the misogyny that ran rampant through its pages. If you have any sensitivity to it at all, the sexism is loud. Winston, our protagonist, states early that, "He disliked nearly all woman, and especially the young and pretty ones."  Winston views lust and love to be basically identical. In what's passed off as some sort of romantic scene, Winston tells his new girlfriend Julia that, "I wanted to rape you and then murder you afterwards. Two weeks ago I thought seriously of smashing your head in with a cobblestone." And Julia remains vapid throughout, only ever rebelling against the government inasmuch as it helps satisfy her own sexual desires.

The only other strong descriptions given of women besides Julia is given to a stranger Winston sees: "The woman down there had no mind, she had only strong arms, a warm heart and a fertile belly." He seems to be saying this in envy since Julia and he cannot have children. The traditional assumptions Orwell makes can perhaps be forgiven, but ... then we come to the make-up scene:

He turned round, and for a second almost failed to recognize her. [...]  She had painted her face. She must have slipped into some shop in the proletarian quarters and bought herself a complete set of make-up materials. Her lips were deeply reddened, her cheeks rouged, her nose powdered; there was even a touch of something under the eyes to make them brighter. It was not very skillfully done, but Winston's standards in such matters were not high. He had never before seen or imagined a woman of the Party with cosmetics on her face.

The improvement in her appearance was startling. With just a few dabs of colour in the right places she had become not only very much prettier, but, above all, far more feminine. Her short hair and boyish overalls merely added to the effect. [...]

"And do you know what I'm going to do next? I'm going to get hold of a real woman's frock from somewhere and wear it instead of these bloody trousers. I'll wear silk stockings and high-heeled shoes! In this room I'm going to be a woman, not a Party comrade."

Beyond the obvious bits showing how incredibly important make-up is, we get confirmation from Winston's later reflection that make-up is one of the things the world is tragically missing. When combined with Winston's certainty that there must have been a time when life was better, we can generate a thesis for Orwell: We need capitalism to make the world better because capitalism allows women to paint their faces beyond the point of reconcilability—and that's what makes them really desirable. In fact, that's what makes them real women.

Orwell seems to be oblivious to his own devotion to the cultural assumptions of his time, the objectification that lies within those assumptions, and the irony of his devotion.

The Real Reason I Hate 1984

For all these shortcomings in Orwell's logic and conclusions, for all that the violent misogyny repulsed me, Orwell's greatest crime was something entirely different: He bored me.

The boredom was related to how unconvinced I was by Orwell's dystopia, but several other key factors came into play. One is that I expected Orwell's writing to be better. Obviously taste plays a role here, but to me Orwell's prose was dull, he lacked any form of subtlety, he used a surprising number of cliches, and he favored abstract descriptions over sensory details. There was nothing particularly admirable about his style. Ultimately, he struck me as a mediocre writer.

And then we got to "Goldstein's Book." For more than 50 pages (specifically page 399 to 469 in my copy), Orwell just shows us Winston reading a different book. I hadn't been particularly engaged before that, but at this point Orwell dove directly into abstract and less-than-critically thought out political discourse. Raw political abstractions—boring enough on their own—were this time targeting a poorly conceived fictional world.

Poor writing, poor thinking, 70 pages of sheer dullness ... and this is his famous work? I've read essays from Orwell that I felt were insightful, and I've heard good things about some of his creative nonfiction work, but 1984 bordered on nauseating. I was expecting something engaging and meaningful, but instead I found fear-mongering, a lack of self-awareness, poor critical thinking, and rabid misogyny. Yet all that could have been forgiven: What I can't forgive is a boring book.

[Image used in header comes courtesy of Sovereign Independent UK]

Robbie Blair

Column by Robbie Blair

Robbie Blair is a world-wandering author and poet who blogs about his adventures, the writing craft, and more. He was doomed to write when, at just three years old, his English-professor father taught him the "To be or not to be" soliloquy. Robbie has since published more than a dozen creative pieces in literary journals (including Touchstones, Enormous Rooms, Warp + Weave, and V Magazine). Robbie Blair's website is loaded with travel narratives; original creative work;  writerly humor; pretty pictures; writing games, lessons, tips, and exercises; and other uber-nifty™ content.

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Comments

Ryan Hartman's picture
Ryan Hartman from Philadelphia is reading The Neverending Story by Michael Ende September 25, 2013 - 7:49am

I hesitate to call this a critique, because there's so much specious inference. It's not that you didn't like 1984, you just didn't like this warped lens that you approached 1984 though. "Orwell was trying to say this!" Well do you know that? You think that, and that's fine. Your interpretation of the work is all well and good but to lament that the book was an abject failure on so many fronts because you assume the writer had verified personal vendettas a) doesn't give the author much credit and b) presupposes WAY too much about things you really can't confirm.

I won't deny it's plodding in parts though. Being bored with it is the only criticism that feels like it isn't a stretch. I was worried you might throw your shoulder out with all the over reaching in this piece.

jfitze's picture
jfitze from New York, NY is reading White Noise by Don DeLillo September 25, 2013 - 8:11am

Robbie,

Boredom I can't defend, but Orwell was a lifelong socialist, not a capitalist at all. His enemy was Fascism (which he believed to often be the result of certain strains of Communism). Yes, he had some bad experiences in the Spanish Civil War, but he certainly didn't take a Randian turn towards the savior of Capitalism. It does him a disservice to believe him so shallow as to discover some Communists are mean, therefore he decided to switch teams. His problem after his experience in the Spanish Civil War wasn't even particularly with Commumism, but with the different warring factions that identified as Socialism/Communist that could be every bit as bad as the Fascists. Reading Homage to Catalonia might shed some light on his views, as it seems a lot of the article is based on him being a Capitalist do-gooder. 

I would also make the case, re: "two plus two is five", Orwell was making an impassioned case throughout the book that government control of language was terrible. Just because our Protagonist doesn't see it doesn't mean it wasn't been clearly illustrated for us all along. It shouldn't take Winston seeing everything clearly for the reader to. 

And then there's, "Orwell never gives a mechanism whereby Newspeak would somehow stymie the natural progression of language." What Orwell was getting at, I believe, was the idea that a shifting language, a less expressive one, a limited one would also limit our ability to think freely. Which is not to say it would be 100% successful, as yes, language is primarily an oral tradition, but remember that this is a world where people will, on the drop of a dime, change opinions on just who their country is fighting at any given time, for fear of arrest. There is also no privacy in which to carry on conversations outside of the limits of Newspeak in order to develop a more complex language without being arrested as a thought criminal. 

As to your point about jargon and dialect, how many languages and dialects have died even in the last hundred years? More than you might think, and most due to the standardazation of language, one that is culturally required to communicate in an increasingly connected world, but one that could realistically be implemented by a Totalitarian state. And just how are the jargons of new sub-cultures supposed to crop up under an oppressive, surveillance-based government? Seems to me, that's how language, and my proxy expression, is stifled. 

That said, all that was typed hastily in the spirit of good, old-fashioned debate. Keep up the good work, Robbie!

Stouffer's picture
Stouffer September 25, 2013 - 8:43am

I wouldn't say the book is that great- iconic and important, maybe, but not great as a story.  But it feels like about 80% of this critique is because you couldn't treat the book as a work of fiction.  There also isn't much/any sign of research on Orwell (calling someone who AFAIK always referred to himself as a socialist a 'proponent of the capitalist cause' needs justfication, at the very least), which is odd because, as Ryan says, the whole thing depends on assumptions about his intentions in writing.

 

Also, just a point that leapt out at me:

when the "two plus two is five" problem is given to Winston, what's happening is simply that the government is simply re-defining what "5" means, and the protagonist is rejecting the authority of the government over language

That's a nice postmodern twist on it, but I'm pretty certain it's not what's happening.  The conversation turns to what he SEES, not the words he uses- is it four fingers, or five?  That's why Orwell uses maths for this and not something more arbitrary.  So when you write

 

Our tragic ending illustrates Winston's ultimate defeat by having him accept this change in language

I think you're missing what the book actually says.  He literally sees five fingers in front of him.  You're probably right that Orwell assumes there's an objective truth/reality to be denied or overwritten, but then again, if you really wanted you could interpret that section in a more relativist/postmodern way and still find it powerful- Winston has his personal reality, and through the application of pain O'Brien can destroy it.

Brian McGackin's picture
Brian McGackin from NJ/LA is reading Between the World and Me September 25, 2013 - 9:09am

I agree completely, Robbie. This book is garbage. I've never understood how it's become so powerful. I think maybe it was the Apple commercial.

Tom1960's picture
Tom1960 from Athens, Georgia is reading Blindness by Jose Saramago September 25, 2013 - 9:16am

I've sometimes wondered if 1984 didn't benefit more from the red scare of the late forties and early fifties than from its literary merit. How popular would it have been if the image of Big Brother bore a stronger resemblence to Churchill, Truman, or Mao than Stalin.

As a dystopian novel, it's passable. If it is to be viewed within the context of speculative fiction, I agree with your analysis, Orwell failed to lay the proper ground work to show, in a believable way, how things can go awry.

 

EricMBacon's picture
EricMBacon from Vermont is reading The Autobiography of a Corpse September 25, 2013 - 9:24am

So, the largest critique is that 1984 was a work of fiction? And yes, the spying isn't as thorough as the narrator makes it out to be. That level would indeed be impossible, but fascism does create an undeniable paranoia. This is particularly true when anyone could be a possible spy, including children. Now, in reference to the number/language problem, this was hyperbolic in the novel, but what was being changed were facts. Orwell demonstrated by applying this to one of the most basic mathematical equations that we all agree on: 2+2=4. This was symbolic, not to be criticized literally.

And, yes. Orwell was a prominent backer of socialism, not capitalism.

M Elias Keller's picture
M Elias Keller September 25, 2013 - 9:45am

My rebuttal: "1984: A Literary Appreciation"

http://www.meliaskeller.com/2/post/2013/02/1984-a-literary-appreciation....

  • “Winston stopped reading for a moment. Somewhere in remote distance a rocket bomb thundered. The blissful feeling of being alone with the forbidden book, in a room with no telescreen, had not worn off. Solitude and safety were physical sensations, mixed up somehow with the tiredness of his body, the softness of the chair, the touch of the faint breeze from the window that played upon his cheek. The book fascinated him, or more exactly it reassured him. In a sense it told him nothing that was new, but that was part of the attraction. It said what he would have said, if it had been possible for him to set his scattered thoughts in order. It was the product of a mind similar to his own, but enormously more powerful, more systematic, less fear-ridden. The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.”

This past weekend I re-read Orwell's 1984. Or maybe re-reread since I'm fairly sure I've read it twice before. You might expect from the title of this blog entry that it would be an appreciation of the book’s themes and significance and how today’s world is more like Oceania than ever ... et cetera. But it (the blog) won't be.

It's not that I don't appreciate the significance and incisiveness of the book. I very much do. And reading it again I appreciated it more than ever, even to the point that it didn't seem all that ‘depressing’ – because it wasn't all that shocking. The photo posted here was taken yesterday on an NJ Transit train. Note the flat, built-in ‘telescreen,’ the surveillance camera, and the loudspeaker. Seem familiar?

Speaking of significance, as a brief aside, I recently watched The Wire, and I was struck at how well 1984 depicts the drug trade, with its 24/7 surveillance, its complete intolerance for dissention and individual thought, and its willingness to ‘vaporize’ anyone for any reason. The parallel works because 1984 is describing a dictatorship, which is what the drug trade is, and exactly as Orwell writes: a dictatorship not as much about money or luxury but pure power. (We especially see this in drug lord Marlo Stanfield.) But don’t get me started on The Wire.

Reading 1984 this time, I especially wanted to examine the literary merits of the story. Would I see through the story and recognize 1984 as 'merely' a brilliant essay disguised as a novel?

Nope. Don’t doubt Orwell, is the lesson. On this go ‘round, I was lock-and-stock sold on the literary quality of 1984. Let's look at just a few finer points:

First: the long section in the middle, "Goldstein's book," might have fallen flat, since that section clearly is an essay and a platform for Orwell to explain his take on dictatorship and collectivism. But it doesn't, and that's because Orwell made three excellent artistic choices:

  • The section is written in a genuinely different voice than the rest of the novel: not as fluid, precise, or lively as Orwell's ‘own’ prose. But that renders the section believable as an authentic document. In contrast, the long speech in Atlas Shrugged, while it is supposed to be the voice of John Galt, is clearly identical to that of Ayn Rand, the narrator. This takes away from some of the verisimilitude of the novel (though on the whole Atlas Shrugged is a superb literary achievement).
  • The reader experiences Goldstein's book as Winston, the novel's protagonist, experiences it: out of order, starting with Chapter 3 and then returning to Chapter 1. A subtle difference, but an effective one.
  • Orwell places this section in the perfect location, after the reader has seen the workings of Ingsoc and Big Brother. This ensures that the faux-book is believable and that the reader’s desire for an explanation has been thoroughly stoked. Any earlier in the novel, and the section would lack momentum; any later would interrupt the climax and denouement.

Second: Winston and Julia. The two main characters and their love affair are, of course, not explored as fully as the storylines in novels like Middlemarch or Daisy Miller. One of the first book reviews of 1984, written for the New Yorker in 1949 by Orville Prescott, went so far as to state that “Nineteen Eighty-Four is not impressive as a novel about particular human beings.”

But this, I think, is an overstatement. Winston and Julia are explored enough to make them far more than simply mouthpieces for Orwell. The small details of Winston's past, his selfishness as a child (which parallels his rebelliousness as an adult), his phobia of rats (which of course foreshadows Room 101, a literary device Orwell uses effectively) – all of this makes Winston more than an idea and into a person. 

The same goes for Julia, despite how little time the reader actually spends with her. Her industriousness in procuring chocolate and coffee, her simple-minded rebellion (depicted perfectly by her proclivity to fall asleep during intellectual discussions) – makes her, for the reader, real and fun-loving, sexy and attractive, and therefore the doomed romance between her and Winston is a point of human connection to the story, rather than merely a plot device to show the evils of totalitarianism.

I could go on. For example, I haven't even mentioned the crystalline prose and dialogue, Orwell's calling card, which also heightens the literary quality of the work. But I don't want to give too much away or drag this out.

Orwell wrote in 1947 that “the opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.” Reading 1984 was a reminder for me that great novels can convey definite ‘political’ viewpoints without being preachy tracts – provided the storytelling decisions, the depth of characterization, and the prose quality is up to snuff.

When I set down 1984 this time, I thought that Orwell had to have realized that even if the book is meant as a warning, it might well be used as a handbook for any ruling group that wants absolute power. But he published it anyway. Why? Because that was his duty, not as a political dissident or even a citizen – but as a novelist and artist. That’s why the passage I quote above is my favorite from the novel. Orwell – who is Winston – was writing his own story. And he was writing not merely with his powerful, systematic brain, not even “merely” with his heart, but from the place where great art comes from: his ego.

Andrewbee's picture
Andrewbee from Chicago is reading some YA book, most likely September 25, 2013 - 11:14am

That's certainly a lot of highbrow literary criticism, and it may well be valid, but I personally loved the book. It had been on my reading list since around 1984, and I just got around to reading it in 2011, thanks to the Kindle app for PC and an employer who didn't look at my screen too much!

I took his universe to be just that: his universe. Of course it didn't fully represent Communism, or accurately reflect or comment on all angles of it. Suspension of disbelief was a conscious choice (just like looking at one of my mother's paintings!).  The story's world is, at least, consistent with itself. The ending is indeed tragic. No Hollywood endings here (thankfully!).

I believe Orwell's biggest legacy is having introduced 'Big Brother' to the popular lexicon. He foresaw the current state of surveillance over all that we do. We don't push back against it as a society, sadly, but at least 1984 made us aware of the problem.

Robin J Thomson's picture
Robin J Thomson from Edinburgh is reading Man of Straw (H. Mann) September 25, 2013 - 1:52pm

I'm not a huge fan of 1984. It is not particularly well written or engaging - but this is a seriously weak critique. Really poor.
It wasn't full of "highbrow literary critsizm"...just a psueds thrashabout. I'm sure there will be the old vatted justification "...well,at least it forced you to think about..." but in truth any thinking person who has read the book will have considered all this before and ,one hopes, come to more profound musings.
If this is the standard to which Litreactor holds it's contributers then you might want to think about hiding the crayons

Christer Young's picture
Christer Young September 25, 2013 - 3:21pm

Wow. It's spooky to me how much this guy missed. I won't waste anyone's time, especially my own with a rebuttal, due mostly because there is nothing resembling an accurate point about the book. I will say a couple of things, however. The perpetual war, the fear tactics and blind Nationalism didn't strike a chord with you? What about switching from one enemy to another without warning or explanation? Nothing? (That would be like our government. all of the sudden telling us that, let's say, Al Qaeda was suddenly our allies in, oh I don't know, let's say Syria.) It should be noted that Orwell was not writing about the future in the USSR, he was, and this is important to note, writing about England in 1948. (1948 was the year he wrote the book) Let that resonate. It was a commentary on England in 1948 and it could be applied to the U.S. today. In regard to the 2+2 thing, even though it's about as subtle as a sledgehammer, I'll simplify it even more. It should be "2+2= whatever the hell we tell you it equals." That clear things up? Finally, in regard to Newspeak and how far fetched it is: idk, I think it's rather accurate, LOL, LMAO, BRB. But seriously, WTF?

Michael R. Herrman's picture
Michael R. Herrman September 25, 2013 - 4:15pm

As a cautionary tale about the nature of power, it was good. Maybe not good enough considering recent history.

Gareth's picture
Gareth from Melbourne is reading Franz Kafka September 27, 2013 - 12:48am

This article needed much more research applied to its political argument.


“He once believed in communism and even volunteered to serve in the Spanish Civil War alongside the reds… Orwell's faith in communism shattered.”


Here, you are giving your readers information that is simply not true. The Republican Government comprised of many different political views. Some of these were even at complete odds with each other – they were not all ‘reds.’ Orwell et al. were all generally considered anti-Fascists fighting Franco’s regime, who himself was given arms by both Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. Orwell returned from war more angry and ideological than ever, believing totalitarian rule was a disgrace.


Orwell was an anarchist in early life, later switching to a self-proclaimed anti-totalitarian democratic socialist. He likely never considered himself an ideological communist.
His true enemies were all totalitarian governments, not simply communism as you say – they are not always the same thing.


As a side note, Nineteen Eighty Four was published in 1949; one year after North Korea was established as an official state. He was remarkably prescient.


"Second, it gives absolutely no critical self-analysis to the culture of 20th-century capitalism."

Orwell already did this. He wrote Down and Out in Paris and London, his first book published. Nineteen Eighty Four is a criticism of totalitarianism, not Capitalism. He needed to prove nothing with regards to this. In truth, people living in a totalitarian country don’t have access to what a capitalistic life is like – this is precisely what Orwell’s point is: they don’t know.

“Capitalist nations were terrified of communism, and Orwell was both a self-blinded proponent of the capitalist cause and an excellent fear-monger. He was, in many ways, the Rush Limbaugh of his time.”


Orwell’s relationship with capitalism was far from love. Orwell himself was worried that both ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ could be used for capitalist propaganda – something he was right to be worried about – and he was very far from a staunch capitalist. As said earlier, he was a self-proclaimed anti-totalitarian democratic socialist.


As for the misogyny argument, I would also disagree and say your anger is very misplaced. Being a misogynist and portraying a sexually repressed male who psychologically projects his lust as hatred onto women whom he desires is very different. But this argument is opinion. But:


"Beyond the obvious bits showing how incredibly important make-up is, we get confirmation from Winston's later reflection that make-up is one of the things the world is tragically missing."


Your make up case is a good point for your argument, but I feel that for what tastelessness this brings modern feminists, I’d like to think some agree that the make-up is used only show how utterly dull and colorless the world is and that even the slightest glimmer of color to that which he already desires brings Winston huge quantities of joy – it makes Winston’s joyless life quite sad, really.


In all honestly, if you want to really talk about where bad writing and misogyny meet, there are much better places to look.

I could go on, but I need to stop. Orwell scholars, intellectuals, critics and more have been debating the merits of his work for decades. To add something to the pot, these points need to be better. You are passionate about your hate for the book, but it doesn't hold water in print...and print is permanent.

Amanda Roberts's picture
Amanda Roberts from Hunan, China is reading American Gods September 29, 2013 - 9:41pm

I have never read this, so I didn't read your critique. But in the lens of "Your Favorite Book Sucks" I would vote for Catcher in the Rye. I tried reading it about two weeks ago and it is just...awful! The main character is awful and his prose is so bad. I couldn't finish it. I hate it!

Lina Kovzhik's picture
Lina Kovzhik from Russia is reading Tax planning October 1, 2013 - 11:11am

I agree with most comments above, I've been disappointed by the post because of its poor background. Tastes differ and it's possible to critisize any book, but do it correctly and profoundly. 1984 is a fictional book and it's useless to look for logic or something! It's like blaming Tolkien for the fact, that dragons don't exist! Also I haven't found any signs of misogyny in it. Not to say that argue about math is childish, it seems like the author of the post hasn't understood the book. 

nathanap's picture
nathanap February 19, 2014 - 5:37am

Lina, arguing about math may be childish, but the first one arguing about maths is Orwell. Robbie was just reacting.

However what Robbie says in his article isn't very correct : "2+2 = 4 " doesn't define 4. 4 is defined as the successor of 3 : "3+1 = 4" actually defines 4. 

Ray Richards's picture
Ray Richards from Michigan and Iowa is reading The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S. Thompson June 1, 2014 - 11:58pm

Oh man, "It wasn't that you didn't like, you just didn't like the lense." It is clear to me that you didn't like it. It was boring. The language is disapointing. Everything is simplified. 

I don't know if a lot of these people have critiqued or been critiqued but if you tell someone that their characters, story, and logic was dumb and throw in that it is boring, it is a scathing critique. There is much room for improvement in this book.

Anthony Pirtle's picture
Anthony Pirtle November 21, 2014 - 4:25pm

When you called George Orwell the Rush Limbaugh of his time, I had to laugh.

But not with you.

dougom's picture
dougom November 29, 2015 - 2:49pm

I understand statements like, "The only reason two plus two is four instead of five is that we assigned four to represent the abstraction that happens when two is added to two" are all wonderfully post-modern and all, but:

  1. Orwell wasn't writing in a post-modern mode or era. 
  2. The vast majority of readers will accept the allusion in the spirit in which Orwell intended, i.e. 2+2=4 is a mathematical truth that the government was trying to get Smith to repudiate in order to show him knuckling under to the system. (Compare it with Picard and his four/five lights dilemma during his torture session in the ST:TNG episode "Chain of Command," where the very same drama is played out, only visually.) 
  3. I find these types of semantic, "symbols have no meaning" arguments to be so much vaporous hot-air. Would Blair have been okay if it had read "(1+1)+(1+1)=1+1+1+1" ?  Somehow I think he would have just ginned up another reason to dislike the book. 

Honestly, I suspect Blair knows exactly what Orwell is saying, but is disagreeing simply because he doesn't like the book and wants to be contrary. Which is understandable, if somewhat weak. C'mon, Blair: We've accepted that 2+2=4 for centuries. I know having mathematical absolutes irritates some folks—some of whom are poets with little math and science background, apparently—but I'm sure they'll deal. 

YnotAnonymous's picture
YnotAnonymous October 2, 2016 - 2:48pm

What is boring about it?

The concept?
The words used?
The story arc?
 

I can see how the concept can be boring anno 2016.
But I also feel you don't understand why these words where used in this book.
The use of words, or not use of other words, is a big part of the story of the book.

The story is dystopian, is there something like exciting dystopian?
I advice you to not watch Blade Runner, I think you'll totally would mis the story there as well.
 

T. Dahl's picture
T. Dahl January 26, 2018 - 9:24pm

Ahem ... "1984" was a dystopian view on THE WESTERN WORLD
- maybe You focus too much on Communism to actually read it ?!?

It was his previous book that nailed down STALIN & COMMUNISM
"Animal Farm", were Orwell gave humanity an ingenious remark ! 

So the fate of all revolutions, and in particular the Communist types,
can be summed up with the added line into these (immortal) words :

"All animals are equal
but some animals are more equal than others"

Rob K's picture
Rob K October 19, 2018 - 11:26am

"Orwell never gives a mechanism whereby Newspeak would somehow stymie the natural progression of language."
Newspeak IS the mechanism of petrification. 
This concatenation of absurdities only means that someone hasn't read the book.
The one in which the pure, sensual relationship between Julia and Winston represents the ultimate rebellion against The Party. Including its Puritanism.
Nobody who has read A Clergyman's Daughter can claim Orwell was a mysogynist. It is virtually a MeToo testament. He was well ahead of most other male authors of his time, and many women too.

Middlenamesjane's picture
Middlenamesjane June 7, 2019 - 12:29pm

The future will sorta scare you while reading this book when you realize how many people enjoy this crap. Its like asking a client's explanation to why a geisha is paying attention to him. Its mental masturbation for a first world man. None of it makes sense and none of the characters are likable. Garbage.

Middlenamesjane's picture
Middlenamesjane June 7, 2019 - 12:29pm

The future will sorta scare you while reading this book when you realize how many people enjoy this crap. Its like asking a client's explanation to why a geisha is paying attention to him. Its mental masturbation for a first world man. None of it makes sense and none of the characters are likable. Garbage.