The book that changed my life: 1984
Print Screen Editor Olivia Garrett outlines why Orwell’s 1984 is much more than a personal statement staple, with an unwavering relevance for every generation.
George Orwell’s 1984 – A book ahead of its time in every way. The title could be 2050 and it would somehow still be relevant. There’s a reason this novel is a cliché on book reports and personal statements across the world. However, this book didn’t change my life because it opened my eyes to political injustice or the degradation of language or the hyper-visibility of society. It changed my life purely on the basis that it doesn’t end happily.
Up until this book my reading list had consisted entirely of tween fandoms and YA heaven. Plucky, dystopian trilogies that all end with a teenage triumph over the evil Matrix-style overlords. But this was the first time I’d read a book that said ‘no’, that said being a pretty, juvenile brunette didn’t equal the end of fascism.
It changed my life purely on the basis that it doesn’t end happily
That last line, ‘he loved Big Brother’ made me feel bereft and disorientated as I never had before. I remember turning over the page and finding the acknowledgements, then going online and looking for ‘1985’, then checking if Orwell had died mid-write. Instead, that was it. Completely unsatisfying yet completely genius. It built the bridge for me to discover whole new vistas of meaty, harsh literature. Literature that leaves you with feelings of joy, excitement and devastation.
The last line made me feel bereft and disorientated as I never had before
This ending, where the hero is left a broken, partner-less sheep gave me my first true dose of reality, and politics. Orwell’s simple language combined with the unsubtlety of the metaphor showed the potential literature had to reflect on us. It might be depressing but there is beauty in the tragedy of our own downfall and excitement in the ability to avoid it. Again, I know it’s a mighty pretentious choice, but this book was the gateway to literature, psychology and history for me, and I’d be stupid not to want to honour it.