George Orwell - Homage To Catalonia Book Review


Some might say George Orwell's '1984' was way off the mark, and, in truth, for 1984 it was, but fast forward over 20 years, and things look a little different.

We now live in a world with surveillance cameras everywhere, and a Government seizing on terrorism to strip away people's freedoms. Just as in '1984', we are asked to believe, without questioning, that certain countries can change from being our friend to enemy, back to friend again - just like that. Iraq was our friend, then enemy, and now is our friend again. All in 20 years. The working classes in '1984' were kept happy by beer and pornography, and add to that the stupefying plethora of dreadful reality TV shows, which insults our intelligence, then where's the difference - between the leisure time of the working classes of '1984' and now?

There's no state torture yet, of course, but '1984' is a warning. If you allow bad things to happen then they will happen. The planned implementation of ID cards, with prison being a very real consequence for those who don't comply, is another example of the slippery slope combined with the greasy pole!

Winston Smith is one of literature's great heroes. O'Brien one of its great monsters. Okay, Smith is scared of rats, and suffers agonies of conscience and very real pain, but he takes on the state in his own small way. Big Brother is not someone to be worshipped. Hitler and Stalin gained power because people were slow to spot the danger, and there's Orwell's warning. Let's just keep Room 101 as an offbeat TV show!

- Paul Rance/

1984's Central Character, Winston Smith

Winston Smith was one of British literature's most famous rebels, and an unlikely one at that. Smith was the central character in George Orwell's classic, '1984', about the dangers of totalitarianism.

Smith's Disillusionment

In '1984', the supposedly avuncular Big Brother is the omnipresent head of State. But there is always an undercurrent of menace attached to Big Brother, underlined by the "Big Brother Is Watching You" message that is constantly drummed into the populace.

Smith himself is trusted enough to be put in charge of altering documents in the deceptively named Ministry of Truth. Smith is expected to rewrite history in a way that is favorable to the Party. This job begins to gnaw away at Smith's conscience, and he becomes seduced by an organization supposedly out to change things. The organization, however, turns out to be a trap, and is set up by a henchman for the State, O'Brien. A man without any pity whatsoever, O'Brien breaks Winston's spirit to such an extent that he betrays his girlfriend, Julia.

The Betrayal of Julia

In Room 101, each individual's worst fear is used as a weapon by the State to break them. Winston Smith has a particular fear of rats, and that fear is used against him, resulting in his yelling out: "Do it to Julia!" Orwell's bleak portrayal of human nature when under immense psychological and physical stress, and indeed what a State is capable of when allowed to have a vice-like grip on power, is chilling. Julia reveals that she had also betrayed Winston. O'Brien had allowed the couple to meet, allowing their revelations to chip away at what remains of their individualism.

Though not an obvious rebel, Winston Smith was an example of how an individual, when pushed too far, will feel the need to react. He is brave until the State finds that he is scared of rats, then he is prepared to do anything to save himself, even hoping that his girlfriend suffers instead of him. But there is still a heroism in the fact that he actually rebels in the first place.

The fact that Winston Smith is reduced to a shell, despite his rebellion, by the State is not really the important point George Orwell was making. Orwell is warning us what can happen when we allow the State to have too much power. He also wrote this book shortly after World War Two, which was a war that pushed the dictatorships in Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union into the spotlight.

Psychological Brainwashing of Smith

In '1984', the psychological brainwashing of Smith is complete, when he finally concedes that two and two equals five - because the State says it does. There is no reward for Smith for finally being cowed, so his eschewing rebellion proves to be futile.

- Paul Rance/

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