Plot is important, grammatical accuracy is important, providing a metaphor for life on this planet is important. Above all those things, to me what makes a genuinely good book great is its ability to inspire emotions. The emotion a piece of literature evokes does not necessarily have to be sadness or existentialism, it can be happiness or carpe diem. The Lowlands by Jhumpa Lahiri, for example, was a fascinating book that was oh so well written. Her command on the English language is commendable to say the least but what it failed to do, at least in my view, was inspire some sort of empathy in the reader. I didn’t connect with a single character in the book as they went through tumultuous lives. What lies ahead from this point is wrought with spoilers, I must warn you. For I cannot express my absolute love for this book without telling you details about it. They may not be spoilers of a plot variety but of an emotional variety, something that I think is equally deplorable. So if you haven’t read 1984, look away, pick it up, read it and then read this piece. If you’re never going to, maybe my post will inspire you to do so. I’ll be buoyant if that is the case.
I’ve wanted to cry through the course of many books. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini is a fine example: the plights of the two women and the intricate nature in which Hosseini was able to craft the tale still chokes me up. 1984 though is a different sort of ride. No book has made so hopeful, so sanguine about humanity, only to be plunged into the deepest depths of despair in the end. The mark that it has left on my life and thinking is unquantifiable and deep-seated. 1984 has shaped my opinion on many issues that range from totalitarianism to freedom of expression and the importance of individuality. Politics was not something I was inherently interested in, I therefore credit 1984 for waking me up from my ignorant slumber to discover that the horrors of Winston Smith’s world were slowly coming to fruition.
For the uninitiated, 1984 is a book about one man, Winston Smith, coming to grips with the reality that The Party that rules a third of the world, that he has been serving since birth almost is not a force of protection but of oppression. He slowly starts conducting what is in his mind rebellions against The Party. The plot in itself is almost unimportant to me. The concepts discussed in the book, the theories that Orwell puts forward are fascinating and still widely applicable. I even read somewhere that the regime in the book was used as a blueprint for communist China and North Korea.
Discussions of 1984 have always centered around the totalitarian regime detailed in the book and how collectivization of culture probably slowly brought it to being. Something that I had in turn largely ignored was the means in which the totalitarian government of 1984 was imposing its will and maintaining its status of omnipotence and persistence. One of the primary methods The Party used to stay in power was the systematic oppression of individual thought. How? It invented and cultivated a new language called Newspeak that stripped English of all its beauty, leaving behind the barest of bare necessities.
Language is our only means of expressing individual thought. Language is the cornerstone to freedom in many ways, because as someone on the internet pointed out, if there was no language to express your disdain for something, it is as if the disdain never existed. True freedom comes from knowing that you have the ability to criticize something without facing backlash from the authorities. The problem with totalitarian governments, whether fictional like in 1984, or real like North Korea, is that they have to impose a strict crackdown of freedom of speech for fear of being exposed of their wrong doings. Within the many many concepts of 1984 lies a tribute to the one aspect of life we completely fail to appreciate – our ability to comprehend what it is that someone else is trying to say. Within the depths of 1984 Orwell is telling us the importance of language. Language is why I am able to type today and you are able to understand. Language was invented for wooing women, as Robin Williams famously says in Dead Poet’s Society. Language is the most important catalyst to free thought and it’s time we celebrated it.