The Past in the Present: A Book Review of 1984

Angela McKinzie '21, Co-News Editor

One of the few against many, Winston Smith lives in Oceania, a region that encompasses America and the British Isles, where everything remains under the control and constant surveillance of the totalitarians that are Big Brother and the Party. Every citizen in Oceania is stripped of emotional, mental, and physical freedom with their every move scrutinized and punished if it goes against the will of the Party: Here, the government is always right, the past is forever changing, and everyone has fallen victim to mindless conformity. However, Winston finds rebellion against the Party within his own memories, for, to him, the Party can take everything from him except what they hold within his thoughts—or so he thinks. 1984 (published in 1948) follows the opposition between Smith’s internal struggle and opinions versus the Party’s doctrine and, in the end, only one of them can truly win. 

When this novel was on the list for Summer reading in AP Language and Composition, I could not wait to read another piece of work by George Orwell, for I had already read Animal Farm (1945) freshman year for English and thoroughly enjoyed his writing style. Once again, Orwell’s work did not disappoint and even exceeded my own expectations I had before reading it. The raw nature of Winston’s plight under Big Brother as well the bleak depictions of life within Oceania draws in the reader to his own perspective, evoking the same sense of helplessness and pain within yourself throughout the novel.

Even though 1984 was published roughly 70 years ago, the warning and advice that exists in Orwell’s work still resonates with our world today and may even become an image of our future. This dystopian world of infallible leaders, corrupt morals and mailable opinions may become our reality if we do not recognize the importance of freedom for everyone in different circumstances of life and if we do not closely examine who we choose to lead us. 

With all of this said, I highly recommend reading this novel and checking out Orwell’s other works Animal Farm and Down and Out in London and Paris (1933).

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”—George Orwell, 1948