Skip to main content

11EN - 1984 - George Orwell: Home

1984:

One of Britain's most popular novels, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four is set in a society terrorised by a totalitarian ideology propagated by The Party.
Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth in London, chief city of Airstrip One. Big Brother stares out from every poster, the Thought Police uncover every act of betrayal. When Winston finds love with Julia, he discovers that life does not have to be dull and deadening, and awakens to new possibilities. Despite the police helicopters that hover and circle overhead, Winston and Julia begin to question the Party; they are drawn towards conspiracy. Yet Big Brother will not tolerate dissent - even in the mind. For those with original thoughts they invented Room 101. . .

Featured books:

Elements of Dystopia in 1984:

Themes:

Language is very important for mental and physical control. The Party has employed language to control the masses. The use of words such as Newspeak, doublethink, Ingsoc and various other words speak volumes about this tactic. O’Brien and Winston Smith are engaged in the Ministry of Truth to use and abuse language to rewrite history and distort facts for the public consumption.

Orwell has shown another theme that is the use of technology for governing the people. In this novel, the writer shows that the party uses telescreens and some other apparatuses as one of the primary tools control the public. The use of technology to monitor people is very much present in this century as George Orwell had predicted through 1984.

In the state of Oceania, there is a single party system where only the Party rules with its leader, Big Brother. It broadcasts, manages and distributes information and control the people. Though the information is taken from history, it is rewritten to suit the current occasion. Even Winston Smith has a hard time, thinking why the diary writing is punishable. The people are becoming unsure, and then sure that they are members of a great government, the Party. O’ Brien also harbors the same notions due to the subversion of information and rewriting of the history.

Political loyalty is another overarching theme that pervades 1984. It is present from the beginning to the end of the novel. Winston Smith is a loyal employee, yet he harbors thoughts against the Party and questions most of the information he is asked to feed. However, loyalty in Oceania does not expect only work dedication; they want every person to become loyal to the point of submissiveness with unconditional obedience. O’Brien, a secret ‘Thought Police’ is an example of such a loyal person. He senses rebellion in Winston Smith and befriends him, then hands him over to the police to brainwash him. He warns Winston that it is the Party whose perspective will prevail what he might do or not do. This is the loyalty that the omnipresent Big Brother wants from the people.

 

Subversion of reality is another major theme of this novel. The novel has presented most people living in abject poverty, while others are engaged in working against each other. The children are spying on the adults with what they have learned in “Spies” groups. Winston Smith has been taught not to enjoy a life of love and sex in romance. The language is turned topsy-turvy to make people believe in what they do not know. The facts are turned into lies, and then these lies are disseminated as truths. The public memory is being manipulated with new information that further alienate the people from reality.

Propaganda is another major theme of 1984. The novel clearly shows the way propaganda is used to control people, along with its impacts and pitfalls. Orwell has presented this theme through an organized propaganda machine of the Ministry of Truth in Oceania. Winston Smith is also involved in this propaganda. His work requires distortion of facts and truths and altering historical facts and then propagate them throughout the country. It means that the Party wants to have complete control over the thoughts and actions of the public. This propaganda has also invented new information and new words such as ‘Two Minutes Hate’, ‘Big Brother is watching’ and new mottos. The objective of propaganda is to make people loyal to the Party and the country.

Totalitarianism is one of the major themes of the novel, 1984. It presents the type of government where even the head of the government is unknown to the public. This theme serves as a warning to the people because such regime unleashes propaganda to make people believe in the lies presented by the government. Throughout the novel, there is no proof of Big Brother’s existence in Oceania. The Party exercises complete control not only on the sexual lives of their citizens such as Julia’s and Winston Smith but also on their thoughts, feelings and even writing a diary. The overall monitoring and surveillance of the people through telescreens and subversion of history through the Ministry of Truth are some of the common casualties of such regimes. The third casualty of the totalitarianism is the truth through language. This happens in the shape of mottos such as “War is Peace.

Totalitarian governments often adopt strategies that make people lose identities and independence so that the citizen will not question the supremacy of the governing class. Thus, proving that totalitarianism, which is one of its major themes in the novel has ripped people of their own personality. The uniformity in food, clothes and what the people hear and absorb in 1984 shows that the Party and its supposed head, Big Brother, are engaged in erasing the individualities and identities. Winston Smith’s feeling of criminality in writing his dairy is a dangerous act. The final torture scene when O’Brien confronts Winston to erase his integrity and his significant resistance brings out response from O’Brien. He explains Winston Smith that he is the last man on earth if he is harboring rebellious thoughts. This is an example of how individuality and identity are not tolerated in totalitarian regimes.

Another theme of 1984 is the subversion of love and feelings. It means that the people are taught not to love, and to curb their feelings or any passions of love. According to the regime, sex just as a duty of the government or “duty to the Party.” It means Winston Smith needs to engage in sex only to produce children for the Party. This has led to his failed marriage with Katherine and his rebellion by loving Julia and thus engaging with her intimately. The memory of his mother realizes Winston about the love of parents from which the Party has deprived him. In fact, his loveless life shows how the totalitarian regimes destroy family, love and individual’s lives to make the ruling class strong.

Another pervasive theme of the novel is the class system. It means Oceania is divided into different classes. There is Inner Party that is considered the elite class, having servants and luxury lifestyle. The ordinary members like Winston Smith, on the other hand, live in state-run small apartments with no permission to enjoy conjugal or familial lives. The poor are living in the no-go area with constant propaganda to feed them with lies and program their minds to believe them as truths. That is why O’Brien thinks that the society beyond the suburban areas is living in a single moment, for the Party defines and controls this society based on a class system.

A possible map of George Orwell's 1984:

Many fictional locations resist mapping. Our imaginations may thrill, but our mental geo-location software recoils. Orwell’s speculative worlds are easily decoded, in other words, an opinion shared by many readers of Orwell suggests that: 

  • Oceania covers the entire continents of America and Oceania and the British Isles, the main location for the novel, in which they are referred to as ‘Airstrip One’.
  • Eurasia covers Europe and (more or less) the entire Soviet Union.
  • Eastasia covers Japan, Korea, China and northern India.

These three super states are perpetually at war with each other, though who's at war with whom is unclear. “And yet... the war might just not even be real at all”—for all we know it might be a fabrication of the Ministry of Truth, to manufacture consent for austerity, mass surveillance, forced nationalism, etc. It’s also possible that the entirety of the novel’s geo-politics have been invented out of whole cloth, that “Airstrip One is not an outpost of a greater empire," Jacobs writes, "but the sole territory under the command of Ingsoc.”

Read more
 

Online encyclopaedias:

Online encyclopaedias are great for short, concise and reliable information. It may be best to access these articles from the Online encyclopaedias through the Hale portal. Ready made citations are available.



 
  • Variety of reading levels
  • Quality resources including text, images, videos and ‘Web’s Best Sites’
  • Read aloud facility
  • Size your font up or down
  • Ready-made citation


 
  • Easy-to-understand articles
  • Built-in research tool
  • Text-to-speech tool can read aloud

 

Online databases:

Online collections of magazine and newspaper articles as well as interview transcripts, images and videos. You can sort your results by publication, full text versions and even date. Online databases are available through the portal and many require specific login details available on the Online databases' page.

Both EBSCOhost and Gale INFOTRAC have specialized databases so use these first.

Suggested articles would include:

  • Oceania's Totalitarian Technology - Writing in Nineteen Eighty-FourA literary criticism of the 1949 book "1984" by George Orwell is presented. The novel is set in 1984 and in Oceania where people were plagued with war, government surveillance, and public manipulation. Also examined are the main characters and the symbolic significance of these characters, a handwritten diary that is central to the story, and the novel's themes.

  • Totalitarianism:Topic overview from a political perspective.

1984 - Read online

Possible discussion questions:

What warnings can we take from Orwell's novel? 

If you were in Room 101, what would be waiting for you?

How is "doublethink" used in the novel? Do you think it could or is used in our current society?

What is the role of women in the text?

Is love relevant? Are relationships meaningful?

What are some symbols in 1984? How do they relate to the plot and characters?

How does George Orwell reveal character in 1984?

Reading extensions:

Suggested videos:

Professor John Bowen explores truth, fiction, repression and freedom in George Orwell’s iconic 1949 novel, 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'. The film is shot at Senate House in London, formerly the Ministry of Information, and the building on which Orwell based the Ministry of Truth.

Other suggested videos include:

1984 movie: In a totalitarian future society, a man, whose daily work is re-writing history, tries to rebel by falling in love. Directed by Michael Radford based on the novel by George Orwell.

Ted-Ed Interactive - What "Orwellian" really means - Noah Tavlin

Orwell's essay - Politics and the English Language:

"Politics and the English Language" (1946) is an essay by George Orwell that criticised the "ugly and inaccurate" written English of his time and examines the connection between political orthodoxies and the debasement of language.

The essay focuses on political language, which, according to Orwell, "is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind". Orwell believed that the language used was necessarily vague or meaningless because it was intended to hide the truth rather than express it. This unclear prose was a "contagion" which had spread to those who did not intend to hide the truth, and it concealed a writer's thoughts from himself and others. Orwell encourages concreteness and clarity instead of vagueness, and individuality over political conformity.

Read the essay here.

One-stop Search:

Research databases
Limit Your Results
Google Web Search

YouTube

Reference Generator:

It is important to provide evidence of using a variety of reliable resources. Use the online Reference Generator available through the Portal to create your citations. Make sure you alphabetically sort them afterwards. Click here for a Hale School guide to referencing.

A sample bibliography for 3 resources suggested on this page would look like:

Green, J 2017, 1984 by George Orwell, Part 1: Crash Course Literature 401, online video, 8 November, viewed 18 March 2020, <https://youtu.be/H9ipRaLa4Jw>.

Jackson, T. E. (2017) ‘Oceania’s Totalitarian Technology: Writing in Nineteen Eighty-Four’, Criticism, 59(3), pp. 375–393. Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=130091247&site=lrc-live (Accessed: 18 March 2020).

Nineteen Eighty-four 2020. Britannica School. Retrieved 18 March 2020, from https://school.eb.com.au/levels/middle/article/Nineteen-Eighty-four/101872