1984

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
1984 Book Poster Image
Classic dystopian novel about life under constant scrutiny.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 9 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 30 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value

George Orwell's 1984 is one of the most influential satires of the 20th century. Its vocabulary has become part of everyday discourse, from "Big Brother" to "Thought Police" to "doublethink." Its themes remain especially relevant at a time of when personal privacy is at a premium and when governments large and small manipulate language to promote their own particular ends.

Positive messages

Despite his failings, Winston Smith finds the courage to keep a diary, take a lover, and think of working to overthrow the Party and Big Brother.

Positive role models & representations

The protagonist, Winston Smith, has been beaten down by decades under the all-seeing eye of Big Brother. Nevertheless, he finds the courage for small acts of rebellion. As he begins to take bigger risks, he becomes more likeable, until the reader is rooting for him against all odds.

Violence

Oceania exists in a constant state of war, so violence is a daily part of life. Bombs rain from the sky. Disgraced members of the Party are executed for their supposed crimes. Worse is the emotional violence inflicted upon a populace constantly under surveillance and forced to report the slightest infraction. Winston Smith is tortured in the Ministry of Love, in scenes that are physically wrenching, but there are still worse things that await him in Room 101.

Sex

Winston Smith and his younger lover, Julia, engage in an illicit sexual relationship, presumably away from the attentions of Big Brother. The description of their lovemaking is not explicit, but there is no doubt that theirs is a thoroughly adult, physical relationship.

Language

Citizens of Oceania are forbidden from using objectionable language, but a few "hells" and "damns" slip out.

Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

Members of the Party are encouraged to smoke Victory cigarettes and Victory gin, but no one really seems to enjoy them. The poverty-stricken Proles partake in alcohol consumption as a form of "entertainment" provided by the Party.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that 1984 presents an unblinking portrait of life lived under constant surveillance and stands as one of the great dystopian satires of the 20th century. Author George Orwell also wrote Animal Farm, a satirical allegory about the abuse of power.  

User Reviews

Adult Written byAllie7768 March 25, 2012

Great for anyone

I read this book when I was 11. It was a real eye opener. ANYONE and EVERYONE should read it.
Adult Written byfriedch1cken June 9, 2012

Everyone should read 1984

There is intense detail in this book. Some kids won't have the capability to understand it. Mature 15 year olds should read it. There is some mild violence... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byxaltrockgirlx February 26, 2012

Best assigned book I've read!

My English class was assigned this book back in the late fall while others in our school were mostly reading Brave New World. After hearing people compare the... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bycalvimcmah January 5, 2013

a great book

1984, is simply put, the best book i have ever read. it has some great world building, an excellent story, and great characters. there is some sex, but the scen... Continue reading

What's the story?

In a dystopian future where nuclear war has divided the world into three repressive superstates, middle-aged Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth in the superstate of Oceania, in the city called Airstrip One (formerly London). He has no hope of escaping the watchful eye of Big Brother until he meets Julia, a younger woman who persuades him to sneak away with her and become her illicit lover. Even though he knows they will be caught, Smith cannot imagine what awaits him once he is captured and taken to the Ministry of Love for interrogation.

Is it any good?

Narrated with infinite precision, 1984 is one of the most famous dystopian satires in the English language. Its vocabulary -- "doublethink," "Big Brother," "down the Memory Hole," "Thought Police," "unperson" -- has become part of popular culture. Winston Smith's quest for freedom under the gaze of all-seeing, all-knowing Big Brother still resonates strongly today, when privacy is hard to come by and governments adopt intrusive policies, supposedly to keep their citizens safe.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how being constantly watched and listened to affects how people conduct their lives and what it does to their mental states.

  • 1984 is an inversion of 1948, the year in which Orwell began writing the novel. What historic events were happening in the world at that time, and how might they have influenced the construction of 1984? Is the future Orwell imagines completely made up, or is it based on real-life situations?

  • Three slogans adorn the entrance to the Ministry of Truth: WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. How is it possible for anyone to believe such paradoxical statements?

  • Orwell includes "The Principles of Newspeak" as an appendix to the novel proper. Why do you think he wanted to include this information? Why is the control of language so important to the Party in the novel? Can you give examples of how authority figures today manipulate language to their own advantage?

  • 1984 is considered a classic and is often required reading in high school. Why do you think that is? 

Book details

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