Orwell's Message: 1984 and the Present


193 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 0-920080-86-3





Reviewed by Don Precosky

Don Precosky teaches English at the College of New Caledonia and is the
co-editor of Four Realities: Poets of Northern B.C.


If you are looking for an analysis of how George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four has a message for us today, you won’t find it in this book. But if you are looking for an extremely effective summing up and synthesis of the varied interpretations that Orwell’s novel has received and a detailed look at how it relates to his other writings, then this is the book for you. Three of Woodcock’s four main chapters are not about Orwell’s message at all (although they are all good chapters). Chapter one assesses Nineteen Eighty-Four with respect to genre, showing how it contains elements of realistic fiction, anti-utopian satire, fantasy, and comedy. The second, “The Roots of Orwell’s Vision,” shows how Orwell’s biography — service in Burma, the Spanish Civil War, working for the BBC — influenced him in the making of the novel. It also shows how he used materials from his earlier writings and re-worked them into his masterpiece. Chapter three examines his politics and shows how he mixed conservatism and socialism in fashioning his nightmare vision of the future. Finally, chapter four, “The Book and the Year,” gets down to Orwell’s “message” for us today. Sadly, this is the weakest part of Woodcock’s study. He goes about making obvious points about RCMP excesses, the Americanization of Canada (which, although unfortunate, is not necessarily sinister), and the resemblances between the Liberal party of Pierre Trudeau and the party of Big Brother. Woodcock implies that the Liberals are on the verge of becoming a permanent ruling class. He should have waited until after the election. Despite its failure to deliver on the promise contained in the title, this is a readable book, one that makes a contribution to our understanding of Orwell and his book.


Woodcock, George, “Orwell's Message: 1984 and the Present,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed September 30, 2023, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/37451.