Not really sure if it works.
There's not much I can criticize regarding the novel in and of itself; the writing is flawless, as is the actual story. The problems I have are with the underlying implications.
My first problem is that I guess the moral is along the lines of, "If we allow totalitarianism, we get this shit, so don't let it happen," but this work didn't inspire or invigorate me at all, partly because George Orwell took apart and shattered what may well have been his own goddamn beliefs.
I don't mind a good Downer Ending
, and I know precious little about Orwell as a person, but Winston Smith seemed to be a bit of a mouthpiece for his own opinions regarding totalitarianism, a character the reader was supposed to take a lesson from and listen to. Then he got broken and absorbed by the evil mass. So, there's no point in being like him and fighting against totalitarianism, because we're all self-centered bastards deep down and it will always win? Animal Farm
didn't end too happily either, but at least there the message seemed clearer. Revolutions usually end up in a vicious cycle, repeating the patterns of their opressors, undoing their own good work and betraying their original intentions. That's significant. In Nineteen Eighty Four
, on the other hand, it's as if Orwell disagreed with his own values, crushing them and their vessel in a bizarre attempt to drive people to action by shooting their hopes down.
My second problem is that I'm not convinced totalitarianism is something a society or individual can consciously "avoid" or "prevent". It's not as if the Bolsheviks and the masses who supported them were cackling wickedly in 1917 that everything was going according to plan, that in a few years they'd have Stalin. It's not as if the Germans said to themselves, "Hey, let's put the Nazis in power so we can get a repressive military dictatorship and a Holocaust!" Society will follow the course it thinks is best; hindsight is 20/20. We can read 1984 and think, "Yeah, we'll never let this happen!", but those under the Weimar Republic and Nikolai II probably would have used it as toilet paper. If things get bad enough, so will we. Who needs liberty when you can have stability?
Short version: I think this book shoots its own message, and any lessons garnered from it will be forgotten under the right circumstances.