Author: George Orwell
Date of Publication: 1949
Genre: Dystopian Fiction
Biographical information about the author (for my knowledge only, but very helpful):
George Orwell is the pseudonym for Eric Arthur Blair. He wrote about the despairing realities of British colonialism and the working class struggles. Many of his works were influenced by this, and later influenced by the aftermath of the World Wars.
Information about the literary period (for my knowledge only, but very helpful):
1984 was heavily influenced by Orwell’s thoughts and experiences particularly during and after World War 2.
Winston Smith is a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in London, in the nation of Oceania. The Party is forcing the implementation of an invented language called Newspeak, which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating all words related to it. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is illegal. Winston dislikes the party and has illegally purchased a diary in which to write his criminal thoughts. He has also become fixated on a powerful Party member named O’Brien. Winston works in the Ministry of Truth, where he alters historical records to fit the needs of the Party. He notices a coworker, a beautiful dark-haired girl, staring at him, and worries that she is an informant who will turn him in for his thoughtcrime. He is troubled by the Party’s control of history: the Party claims that Oceania has always been allied with Eastasia in a war against Eurasia, but Winston seems to recall a time when this was not true. The Party also claims that Emmanuel Goldstein, the alleged leader of the Brotherhood, is the most dangerous man alive, but this does not seem plausible to Winston. Winston begins an affair with the dark haired girl, who’s name is Julia. As Winston’s affair with Julia progresses, his hatred for the Party grows more and more intense. At last, he receives the message that he has been waiting for: O’Brien wants to see him. O’Brien confirms to Winston and Julia that, like them, he hates the Party, and says that he works against it as a member of the Brotherhood. He indoctrinates Winston and Julia into the Brotherhood, and gives Winston a copy of Emmanuel Goldstein’s book, the manifesto of the Brotherhood. Winston and Julia are separated and Winston finds that O’Brien, too, is a Party spy who simply pretended to be a member of the Brotherhood in order to trap Winston into committing an open act of rebellion against the Party. O’Brien spends months torturing and brainwashing Winston, who struggles to resist. At last, O’Brien sends him to the dreaded Room 101, the final destination for anyone who opposes the Party. Here, O’Brien tells Winston that he will be forced to confront his worst fear. Throughout the novel, Winston has had recurring nightmares about rats; O’Brien now straps a cage full of rats onto Winston’s head and prepares to allow the rats to eat his face. Winston snaps, pleading with O’Brien to do it to Julia, not to him.
Giving up Julia is what O’Brien wanted from Winston all along. His spirit broken, Winston is released to the outside world. He meets Julia but no longer feels anything for her. He has accepted the Party entirely and has learned to love Big Brother.
Memorable quotations significant to meaning:
- war is peace
freedom is slavery
ignorance is strength
- Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.
- In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy.
- And when memory failed and written records were falsified—when that happened, the claim of the Party to have improved the conditions of human life had got to be accepted, because there did not exist, and never again could exist, any standard against which it could be tested.
- And perhaps you might pretend, afterwards, that it was only a trick and that you just said it to make them stop and didn’t really mean it. But that isn’t true. At the time when it happens you do mean it. You think there’s no other way of saving yourself and you’re quite ready to save yourself that way. You want it to happen to the other person. You don’t give a damn what they suffer. All you care about is yourself.
Significance of opening scene:
Winton is a low level worker, and the reader is introduced to the world of 1984, full of Telescreens and other oddities.
Significance of closing scene:
Nothing of this world is rectified as Winston sought it to be, he has succumbed to the whim of the Party. Presumably, just as all those before him and all those after him. Horrifying, because this world persists, with no end in sight.
Name Role in the story and significance Adjectives
- Winston Smith– A minor member of the ruling Party in near-future London, Winston Smith is a thin, frail, contemplative, intellectual, and fatalistic thirty-nine-year-old. Winston hates the totalitarian control and enforced repression that are characteristic of his government. He harbors revolutionary dreams.
- Julia– Winston’s lover, a beautiful dark-haired girl working in the Fiction Department at the Ministry of Truth. Julia enjoys sex, and claims to have had affairs with many Party members. Julia is pragmatic and optimistic. Her rebellion against the Party is small and personal, for her own enjoyment, in contrast to Winston’s ideological motivation.
- O’Brien– A mysterious, powerful, and sophisticated member of the Inner Party whom Winston believes is also a member of the Brotherhood, the legendary group of anti-Party rebels.
- Big Brother– Though he never appears in the novel, and though he may not actually exist, Big Brother, the perceived ruler of Oceania, is an extremely important figure. Everywhere Winston looks he sees posters of Big Brother’s face bearing the message“BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.” Big Brother’s image is stamped on coins and broadcast on the unavoidable telescreens; it haunts Winston’s life and fills him with hatred and fascination.
- Charrington– An old man who runs a secondhand store in the prole district. Kindly and encouraging, Mr. Charrington seems to share Winston’s interest in the past. He also seems to support Winston’s rebellion against the Party and his relationship with Julia, since he rents Winston a room without a telescreen in which to carry out his affair. But Mr. Charrington is not as he seems. He is a member of the Thought Police.
Alternate vision of 1984, in Oceania (what was once Britain)
the telescreens and the posters of Big Brother (the Party’s constant surveillance of its subjects)
The glass paperweight (Winston’s desire to connect with the past)
Themes for discussion:
The role of language and how it affects thought.
Freedom, and totalitarian vs socialist regimes.
How knowledge of the past or lack there-of can affect the present and fuure.