Tag Archives: dystopian

1984

I realize I’m late to the party with this book, but better late than never, right?

George Orwell’s 1984 is known as a sort of prophetic look at the future, and if you’ve read it you know how scarily relevant it is to our time.

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Winston Smith is a Party man. He follows the rules and performs the mental gymnastics required to accept contradictions without staying conscious of them and accepts that the Party is looking out for the greater good. But then he makes an impulsive purchase–a blank journal from a shop in the slums–and Winston’s once-easy life becomes complicated. Winston starts remembering and questioning, the first steps that lead him down a path of rebellion against the Party and all it stands for. Winston knows that he will be caught and killed, it’s just a question of when. But what he didn’t count on was the Party’s commitment to absolutely breaking him first, to eradicating everything individual and contrary from his very soul.

This book is intense, there’s no way around it. It contains some triggering scenes, like when Winston imagines raping and killing a young Party woman. And while it’s easy to sit back and scoff at the idea of “doublethink”–accepting contradictory information and not allowing yourself to consciously recognize the contradiction and in fact believing there is no contradiction–a glance at the world today shows that this is something our society is quite good at.

Reading through the processes of Orwell’s Party and how they control their population is eerily similar to the kinds of manipulations one can see seeping into society (but then, there’s nothing new under the sun, right? I’m sure Orwell saw plenty of it in his time, as well).

Though it was occasionally a slog to get through, for the most part the story moved quickly toward it’s inevitable conclusion. It also seems to be a kind of commentary on revolutionary action. Winston and Julia think they are being so rebellious fighting against the Party and breaking the rules. Yet their actions have little to no affect outside their own lives. At the same time, they recognize that true change will only come when a fire is lit within the people as a whole, and they know even if they work toward true change, it won’t be seen in their lifetime (and not just because they know they are doomed from the start).

All in all, a thought-provoking book that makes you really think about the things you’re being told and the motives behind the people in charge. In America, we say the government is for the people by the people, and yet the Party in Orwell’s world would make those same claims. It’s not enough to say it, it must be acted upon.

The Testaments

When I first heard that Margaret Atwood was writing a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, I was skeptical. Sometimes, when so much time has passed, it’s better to just let the story rest. But now that I’ve read it (late to the party, but I was late to the Handmaid’s Tale party, too, so…), I actually enjoyed it.

Set 15 years later, the Testaments isn’t quite a continuation of the story, but rather a continuation of the history, told from three perspectives. Agnes grew up in Gilead, unaware of any other way of life. She struggles against the decisions made for her, even as she struggles to maintain the proper attitude and respect. Daisy grew up in Canada, learning about the oppressive government in Gilead, but when her life is turned upside down, she sees the only course of action is working directly against Gilead. Aunt Lydia was involved in the founding of Gilead—though less than willingly—but she’s spent her years doing what she can to stand up for women and waiting for her moment to take action. When their lives collide, each woman must make choices and weigh the dangers against the greater good.

I’d put off reading this book for a while, because I wasn’t really interested and didn’t remember how the first book ended. But I finished the book within one day.

Atwood realized that simply picking up where she left off wouldn’t be the right way to continue the story, so she found an alternate way. Atwood’s three characters narrate their stories in a blatant way, owning their choices, mistakes, and humanity, which makes them relatable.

The story also moves quickly. Even though I’m some ways it seemed to zoom right through the crux of the plot, the buildup was the interesting part, I think, gaining the insight into what made each woman think and act as she did.

Though I didn’t find any of the story particularly surprising, in terms of plot points, it was engaging, and in some ways quite difficult to put down. But I would recommend at least a quick refresher on The Handmaid’s Tale, before diving in.