In honor of Banned Books Week, I’ve decided to post a banned book recommendation each day. I will use only books I’ve read from the American Library Association’s list of the top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books of the decade (2010-2019). .
BANNED BOOK RECOMMENDATION: “1984” by George Orwell
1984 (or Nineteen Eighty-Four, depending on which edition you read) by George Orwell has been banned in different countries many times in the decades since its first publication in 1949. The Soviet Union banned the book for forty years, because of its warnings of totalitarianism; yet it’s also been challenged in the United States as being pro-communist (Jacksonville, Florida, 1981). One student had his Kindle edition of the book–along with his notes–removed from his device by Amazon: an ironic situation given the theme of censorship and information suppression throughout the book.
Besides its political warnings, the book does contain some sexuality, along with violence and other plot elements that usually offend people and get a book challenged and/or banned. Orwell, a democratic socialist, claimed he wrote the book as a warning of the potential excesses of socialism.
The book follows the life of Winston Smith, a resident of Oceania who works at the Ministry of Truth–the government department in charge of censoring the news, as well as editing fiction, creating government approved music, revising history, and paring down the English language (Newspeak) so that citizens are incapable of “thought crimes.” Other government departments include the Ministry of Plenty (in charge of rationing) and the Ministry of Love (in charge of political prisoners and torture).
The face of the Party is Big Brother, a strong mustachioed man of indeterminate age, a surrogate for the fractured family bonds that the totalitarian government destroys. Parents fear their children will report them for unorthodox behavior. Women and men have sex purely for procreation, with no joy allowed; it’s merely “duty to the Party” to produce a new generation. And everywhere there is surveillance. Danger behind every stray thought that is not party approved.
Winston rebels quietly at first by keeping a journal in a corner of his tiny flat where the cameras cannot see what he is doing. Later, his rebellions expand: he has a secret love affair, he rents another flat, he buys an object of beauty from the past, and he holds a hatred of Big Brother deep within his heart. Eventually he and his lover confide in a coworker O’Brien, in the hopes of joining a resistance to overthrow Big Brother–with tragic results.
1984 is not a happy book. It’s a profoundly disturbing read. The sexuality that it contains, however, is more political than anything else. An encounter with a prostitute shows the depths to which the Party has poisoned natural human sexuality. When Winston begins his love affair, the simple act of her removing her clothes and throwing them off becomes a political statement in itself. Their act of having sex for the sheer joy of it IS rebellion. And it’s beautiful. This is a terrible, heart-breaking, and disturbing story, and it also has one of the most tragically beautiful love stories ever written, the type of romance to make Romeo and Juliet weep with envy.
The violence of the book is also vital to the plot. Fear of the Party, obedience to the Party, is not enough. The Party, in the form of Big Brother, demands nothing less than absolute love and devotion. So those unfortunates guilty of “thought crime” are ultimately sent to the Ministry of Love to be tortured until they are brain-washed into total love and devotion to Big Brother.
So yes, the book has violence and sex and politically charged themes. Many of the terms from the novel have saturated our culture: Big Brother is watching, thought-crime, and double-think–to name a few. And it will make you think. It will make you question authority and possibly your own assumptions. It’s an amazing read. One you aren’t likely to forget.
Next Friday, I’ll also post on my Patreon. If you’d like to read about my progress and plans for this year, you can subscribe to my Patreon and support my work for just $1 a month! Until next time, stay safe and well, and read often!
**sources: Why ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’ Aren’t Banned in China – The Atlantic, Belarus has banned the sale of 1984. ‹ Literary Hub (lithub.com), Banned Book Highlight: Literature lifts the veil in Orwell’s “1984” | The Collegian (kstatecollegian.com), Was George Orwell’s ‘1984’ Banned in the United States and the USSR for Conflicting Reasons? – Truth or Fiction?, CENSORED: The Story of Five Banned Books – Dorrance Publishing Company, | PCWorld