This was a suggested book for us. I have not read this yet. We picked George Orwell’s book 1984.
In the year 1984, civilisation has been damaged by war, civil conflict, and revolution. Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain) is a province of Oceania, one of the three totalitarian super-states that rule the world. It is ruled by the “Party” under the ideology of “Ingsoc” (a shortening of “English Socialism”) and the mysterious leader Big Brother, who has an intense cult of personality. The Party stamps out anyone who does not fully conform to their regime using the Thought Police and constant surveillance through devices such as Telescreens (two-way televisions).
Winston Smith is a member of the middle-class Outer Party, working at the Ministry of Truth, where he rewrites historical records to conform to the state’s ever-changing version of history. Those who fall out of favour with the Party become “unpersons”, disappearing with all evidence of their existence removed. Winston revises past editions of The Times, while the original documents are destroyed by fire in a “memory hole“. He secretly opposes the Party’s rule and dreams of rebellion, despite knowing that he is already a “thoughtcriminal” and likely to be caught one day.
While in a proletariat neighbourhood, he meets Mr. Charrington, the owner of an antiques shop, and buys a diary. He uses an alcove to hide it from the Telescreen in his room, and writes thoughts criticising the Party and Big Brother, and also writes that “if there is hope, it lies in the proles”. To his dismay, however, an old man he meets has no significant memory before the Revolution. As he works in the Ministry of Truth, he meets Julia, a young woman maintaining the novel-writing machines at the ministry, whom Winston suspects of being a spy against him. He also suspects that his superior, an Inner Party official named O’Brien, is a secret agent for an enigmatic underground resistance movement known as the Brotherhood, a group formed by Big Brother’s reviled political rival Emmanuel Goldstein. Winston also has a lunch conversation with a co-worker named Syme, who is writing a dictionary for a revised version of the English language called Newspeak. After Syme admits that the true purpose of Newspeak is to reduce the capacity of human thought, Winston speculates that Syme will disappear as he is “too intelligent” and therefore dangerous to the Party.
One day, Julia secretly hands Winston a note confessing her love for him, and the two begin a torrid affair, an act of rebellion as the Party insists that sex may only be used for reproduction. Winston realises that she shares his loathing of the Party, but later shows that she is not interested in overthrowing the regime, thinking that it is impossible. They first meet in the country, and later in a rented room above Mr. Charrington’s shop. During his affair with Julia, Winston remembers the disappearance of his family during the civil war of the 1950s and his terse relationship with his wife Katharine, from whom he is separated (divorce is not permitted by the Party). He also notices the disappearance of Syme during one of his working days. Weeks later, Winston is approached by O’Brien, who invites Winston over to his flat, which is noted as being of far higher quality than Winston’s. O’Brien introduces himself as a member of the Brotherhood and sends Winston a copy of The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by Emmanuel Goldstein. Meanwhile, during the nation’s Hate Week, Oceania’s enemy suddenly changes from Eurasia to Eastasia, under the pretense that enemies of the state had sabotaged Oceania’s news reports. Winston and Julia read parts of the book, which explains more about how the Party maintains power, the true meanings of its slogans and the concept of perpetual war. It argues that the Party can be overthrown if proles rise up against it. However, to Winston, it does not answer ‘why’ the Party maintains power.
Soon, Mr. Charrington is revealed to be an agent of the Thought Police and Winston and Julia are captured and imprisoned in the Ministry of Love. Winston briefly meets his other colleagues who have been arrested for other charges. O’Brien arrives, revealing that he is actually a Thought Police agent as well and was simply part of a special sting operation to catch “thoughtcriminals”. Over many months, Winston is tortured and forced to “cure” himself of his “insanity” by changing his own perception to fit in line with the Party. O’Brien tells Winston that the Party “is not interested in the good of others; it is interested solely in power.” He says that once Winston is brainwashed into loyalty, he will be released back into society for an unspecified period of time, before they execute him. When he asks Winston if there is anything worse that can happen, Winston points out that the Party has not managed to make him betray Julia, and that while he accepts the Party’s doctrines, he still hates Big Brother.
O’Brien then takes Winston to Room 101 for the final stage of re-education. The room contains each prisoner’s worst fear, in Winston’s case, rats. The fact that the Party knows this indicates the level of surveillance on the population is far more thorough than Winston previously believed. As a wire cage holding hungry rats is fitted onto his face, Winston eventually betrays Julia. After being released, Winston meets Julia in a park. She says that she was also tortured, and both reveal betraying the other before parting ways. Later, Winston sits alone in a café as Oceania celebrates a supposed victory over Eurasian armies in Africa and realises that, now, “he loved Big Brother” as well.