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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

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1984 - George Orwell, Erich Fromm

This review has not been approved by the Ministry of Truth.  It will not be approved.  It contain radical thoughts which counter Big Brother.  It also has too many italics.

Classic.  What is a classic?  And what makes a classic novel?  According to nearly every list produced by every opinionated and reputable source, George Orwell's 1984 is a classic novel.

Call me Emmanuel Goldstein, but I wouldn't call it a classic.  Well, maybe I would.  It's not the classic part I have a problem with so much as it is the attachment of the word novel.  1984 is a classic essay on the theory of political science.  In fact, of all the essays I've ever read on the theory of politics, it is my favorite.

Admittedly, I feel a little stupid.  You see, there are these “novels” that people call classics.  Many of them I love.  Occasionally, however, I come across one that makes my head spin.  What is it that fans of literature see in books such as 1984 or Camus' The Plague?  There is no story, no character development—nothing that makes these works literature.  Clearly, I'm missing something here—an unabashed love for the most “classic of classics”—and for that I feel really, really dumb.

What makes 1984 so great?

Where are the rounded, interesting characters?  Winston is boring.  Julia is drab.  O'Brien is the greatest menace since the Ferengi first terrorized the Enterprise on Stardate 41386.4.  Was Orwell's intent to show how these characters were devoid of personality because of their environment?  Possibly.  Even so, that doesn't mean that it has to be done so poorly (see David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas for clues on how to create characters and tension within a oppressed society).

Where is the story, the experience for the reader?  When it comes to actual story, 1984 is spread thin.  I estimate that about eighty percent of its content could be removed without any damage to the story whatsoever.  Orwell tells the reader about the history of the world for forty pages, tells the reader about the semantics of newsspeak for the next twenty pages, and then shows the reader a few pages of actual scene.

So what am I missing?

I will admit that Orwell was right on throughout much of his incrimination of big government.  In a satirical fashion, he nails what the superpowers have been up to for the last seventy plus years.  Periodically he may have been a little off, but largely he was spot on.  He was one smart cookie; however, that doesn't mean that he was one talented novelist.

Regardless of the techniques and how well Orwell did or did not utilize them, the problem was that in the end I was not convinced.  The story didn't draw me in.  The characters held none of my sympathies.  The world they lived in was as artificial as the cardboard cutouts of a high school play.  Point made, Orwell?  On many it seems it has been made.  Me, I'm not a believer.