Banned Books Week “1984” by George Orwell Review

The classic dystopian novel “1984” by George Orwell was challenged in 1981 in Jackson County, FL because the book was “pro-communist and contained explicit sexual matter.”

The main character Winston Smith does have a sexual relationship for a significant part of the novel as a way to rebel against Big Brother and the Party that the figure represents because sex is prohibited, so parts of the book are sexually explicit.

Yet, pro-communist is a bit of a stretch. Sections such as the ending, Winston’s employment at the Ministry of Truth and O’Brien’s character are pro-communist. Winston changes all the newspapers and history books to match the current narrative of the Party when the narrative changes for his job. O’Brien is an inner party member who lures Winston into a false sense of security.

Because the book is a dystopian novel and the main character is against the Party ideals for a considerable portion of the book, sections of the novel are not only anti-communist, they are anti-government. Winston’s thoughts and diary entries, Winston’s sexual affair with Julia and the entire character of Julia, Winston’s love interest, are anti-government.

Winston knows the second he opens his diary the Party will catch him in his crimes. “It was absurd since the writing of those particular words was not more dangerous than the initial act of opening the diary…Whether he wrote DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER, or whether he refrained from writing it made no difference. Whether he went on with the diary, or whether he did not go on with it, made no difference. The Thought Police would get him just the same.”

Even though Julia joined the anti-sex league, she’s been having sexual affairs with party members since she was sixteen.

Julia’s philosophy in life is best summarized by Orwell in section III in book two. “Life as she saw it was quite simple. You wanted a good time; “they” meaning the Party, wanted you to stop having it; you broke the rules the best you could. She seemed to think it just as natural that “they” should want to rob you of your pleasures as that you should want to avoid being caught.”

Her character is not completely anti-government and anti-communist because the Party’s control is all she’s ever known and she sees their power as inevitable, but in some ways, that knowledge that she will never completely evade Big Brother helps her evade the Party more successfully. For example, she tells Winston that they have to switch up the routes they take to come to their secret spot and have sex.

Whether you agree with the parents of Jackson County, FL or not, George Orwell modeled the society in “1984” based on what he saw happening in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. Students should read the book to learn more about the dangers of totalitarianism and the roles of truth, facts, and narrative spin within society.