See What This Must-Read Novel Is All About In Just 15 Minutes
You might have heard the terms “big brother” or “room 101,” but did you know they come from George Orwell’s novel 1984?
As well as giving us a few new words, the novel is frequently named as one of the books you must read before you die, despite making the list of America’s most banned books from 2010 to 2019.
And even though it was published back in 1949, the dystopian novel holds a lot of lessons we can apply to modern-day life. It tackles everything from authoritarian governments to propaganda to mass surveillance — topics that continue to spark debates decades later.
Always wanted to find out why this book published 74 years ago is still so relevant today, but don’t have the time to sit down to read it? Blinkist can help.
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Blinkist is an app that brings together the most important parts of a book and shares them in a bite-sized explainer. You can read or listen to these explainers in about 15 minutes.
Blinkist is known for its library of 5,500 nonfiction books. But the app is now expanding into fiction, too, and 1984 is just one of the titles available. Want to see why 1984 is so timeless? Here’s a sneak peek at the first section to see what Orwell had to say back then, and why it’s just as powerful today.
Winston Smith: Torn Between Rebellion and Conformity
It’s the year 1984, and Winston Smith is living in London. Except this isn’t London, England. London is now part of a superstate called Oceania, which includes Great Britain as well as the Americas and Australia. What was once England is now known as Airstrip One.
Winston spends his days working for Ingsoc, which stands for English Socialism and is the ruling party of Oceania. More often than not, it’s simply called The Party. Don’t let the name fool you, though. This isn’t socialism. It’s pure totalitarianism.
One of the main tools The Party uses to exert control over the people is surveillance. As Winston makes his way into his apartment, one poster after another bears the message “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU!”. Big Brother is the leader of Oceania, and in the poster, he’s represented as a robustly handsome man with a mustache. It’s one of those pictures where the eyes follow you wherever you go. But the words on the poster are more than just propaganda. In most homes and public places, there’s a telescreen. This is a two-way device that shows state-sanctioned programs (which you can’t turn off) at all hours of the day, and it also watches you – even while you sleep. Luckily, in Winston’s apartment, there’s a small alcove where he can sit out of view from the telescreen. It’s in this little alcove that Winston begins to write in his secret diary.
With the help of his diary entries, we begin to understand just how unhealthy and unhappy Winston is. Food is scarce. Things like clothing and razor blades are hard to come by. Winston seems to be surviving on stale bread and terrible-tasting gin. He’s wasting away and deeply conflicted about his position in the Outer Circle.
Now’s a good time to add that in Oceania there are three classes of people. At the top is the Inner Circle – the powerful people who run the ministries of the government. Below that is the Outer Circle, with people like Winston, who have bureaucratic jobs working in the ministries. At the bottom are the people they call the proles, who have manual labor jobs, like working in the mines.
Everyone, but especially the Outer Circle and the proles, is required to watch aggressive propaganda – like the daily Two Minutes Hate. This propaganda usually involves stirring up anger against enemies of the state, be it those who have betrayed The Party or dangerous foreigners.
As for Winston’s job, he works for the Ministry of Truth, where he essentially rewrites history. He does this by digging up old documents from the past and changing the contents to match whatever version of events The Party has recently decided should be “the truth.”
In addition to the Ministry of Truth, there’s also the Ministry of Peace, which deals with the ongoing wars between Oceania and the world’s two other superstates Eurasia and Eastasia. Then there’s the Ministry of Plenty, which deals with food, goods, and industry. Lastly, there’s the Ministry of Love, which controls the surveillance of the people, as well as the interrogation and torture of anyone believed to be guilty of thoughtcrimes.
The concept of thoughtcrimes is why Winston must always be aware of the telescreens. Surveillance in Oceania has gotten to the point that even certain facial expressions, or saying something in your sleep, could warrant your arrest by the Thought Police for harboring dissident ideas. If this happens, you could end up being vaporized – all traces of your existence scrubbed away.
The different government ministries also reflect The Party’s three main slogans, which are: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength.
Understand the World’s Most Important Books — Fast
That was an insight into what the start of 1984 is all about. Blinkist also includes an analysis after every section, highlighting the main themes and what they mean, so you can easily gain a deeper understanding of the key messages in the novel. You’ll also see key quotes pulled from the book.
“The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in.”
Learn from the World’s Best Fiction and Nonfiction Books
Beyond 1984, Blinkist has explainers on other top fiction books like The Alchemist and Animal Farm — another classic from Orwell. And there are also more than 5,500 nonfiction titles to learn from across 27 categories including personal development, entrepreneurship, and psychology.
Like what you read? You can use Blinkist to decide which books you buy and dedicate your precious free time to reading in full.