English Advanced - Nineteen Eighty-Four

A summary and analysis of 1984 by George Orwell.

Table of Contents

SPOILERS!!! (duh)

1984 Pre-Work - Plot Summary

Background

  • Location: London, Airstrip One, Oceania
  • Set in a totalitarian oligarchy
    • Permanent state of war
    • Totalitarian: government has total power and control over citizens
    • Oligarchy: Power is in the hands of a minority
  • Government is the English Socialist Party, referred to as “the Party”
    • Figurehead is Big Brother
    • Follows “English Socialism” or Ingsoc
      • Socialism is a political ideology that advocates for greater economic equality through a state-controlled system of labour
      • In essence, the government controls how much money everyone earns (which is the more or less the same for everyone), and big businesses are owned by the government
      • English Socialism distorts the socialist ideology, so that the government works for its own benefit (and the benefit of the members of the Party) rather than the common good
    • The Party uses mass surveillance, torture, manipulation, propaganda, and fear
  • The Party created its own language, called Newspeak, “designed to diminish the range of thought,” and to make vocabulary as efficient as possible for Ingsoc to thrive
    • Newspeak limits the amount of words available in everyday speech, and the breadth and nuance of individuals' thoughts
    • The effect is that if you cannot communicate disagreement with the Party, then you have no way to disagree

Plot

  • Our story begins with our hero, Winston, writing down his thoughts on life in his personal (illegal) diary, hidden from the camera in his room.

  • Winston is just your average Joe government worker. He’s got a job he hates, a coworker he’s got a crush on, and a crushingly dystopic government hovering over him that has him and everyone else under the constant monolithic surveillance of the godlike Big Brother.

    • Truth is whatever the Party claims it to be, and the only entertainment to be found is in the regular public executions of prisoners of war and citizens that dared step a toe out of line.

    Mondays, am I right?

  • So Winston is an employee at the Ministry of Truth, the innocently-named government agency in charge of dispensing truths to the eager citizens at large.

  • But of course, the normal truth is nowhere near accurate enough for the illustrious Party.

  • So instead of relying on the facts of reality to conform to the narrative they need, the Party instead makes liberal use of, shall we say ‘alternative facts,’ in order to keep their citizens “informed”.

  • That way, if the Party benefits from the citizens believing that 2+2=5 for a day, the Party can say it with confidence and their citizens will happily oblige.

    Or at least they’ll be smiling.

  • So the citizens are routinely subjected to this thing called the Two Minutes Of Hate, wherein Goldstein, the Party traitor supposedly bent on bringing Oceania to its knees, spews a whole mess of propaganda about the Party and how it’s wrong and evil and tyrannical and junk.

    • Interestingly, we’re directed by the author to observe the fact that a persistent fear brought on by the Two Minute Hate is that, even though the propaganda is obviously lies, someone less level-headed might be taken in by it.
    • This obviously promotes a feeling of persistent paranoia, that the people around you might have been brainwashed by the opposition.
    • But it also ends up promoting the tactic of sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and not listening to the opposition’s arguments, in case they end up making too much sense.
    • Because if your enemies make sense to you, that must mean they’ve successfully brainwashed you.
  • As the hate continues, listening citizens get more and more freaked out, shouting and screaming over the broadcast to drown out the voice in order to avoid listening to the words that might subvert them from loyal citizens into spies and rebels if they let the message sink in.

  • The message here is pretty clear: listening to people you disagree with is ill-advised by the Party, because, what’ll happen if you start agreeing with them?
  • Better to pretend like nobody else could have a valid perspective.
  • After all, there’s only one truth, and it’s whatever the Party says it is.
  • It’s worth noting that even though it looks like Orwell is prompting the idea that fair and reasoned debate is the only real way to oppose the Party, that because one side is shouted down the solution must be to listen to what they’re saying, he’s actually kind of subverting that idea. Because, see, there is no reason debate because the Party is everything and the opposition is an illusion. The Party produces the illusion of alternative perspectives to convince their citizens that those perspectives have been fairly defeated, when in actuality, all they’re doing is propping up straw men and tearing them down as a show of strength.
  • But the thing, is even though there is no real opposition in the form of Goldstein’s party, the Party does occasionally face real, internal opposition from citizens that have failed to be properly assimilated.
  • And in those cases, we see the failure of “reasoned debate,” because our citizens are usually in the right.
  • They’re usually having a crisis of faith brought on by the collision between real truth and what the Party claims truth to be.
  • And they only lose because the Party gets to redefine truth, and essentially break the citizen’s mind until they agree.
  • What may look like reasoned debate is actually un-winnable from one end, because the other is defining the nature of truth itself. It’s not always possible to defeat someone who’s demonstrably wrong, because there will always be people who believe them, no matter what they or you say.
  • People are stubborn, and it’s not always possible to change someone’s mind.
  • It doesn’t make them right, it doesn’t make you wrong.
  • Orwell talks more about this later.
  • The bad news for our buddy Winston is that, while he was having his flashback, apparently all his oppressed hatred of living in the iconic dystopia boiled over, and he’s written ‘down with Big Brother’ in big letters all over his diary, which means he’s officially committed a Thoughtcrime, and the Thought Police are pretty much inevitably gonna find him and do horrible, dystopian things to him.

Oops!

  • Now one of the many joys of living in dystopic London is that literally nobody can be trusted. Like, ever.
  • Children are taught from a young age to recognize and report treasonous behavior, like wearing foreign shoes, or not being super chill all the time, and the behavior extends into adulthood, where anything less than ideal citizenship is liable to be reported by even one’s closest comrades.
  • On top of that, almost all the citizens are under near constant surveillance, where although it’s not guaranteed that they’re being watched at all times, it is guaranteed that they COULD be being watched at any time.

It’s like your laptop webcam!

  • Winston believes that this has led to a loss of unconditional love, as it’s now impossible to carry on any kind of close relationship with any degree of privacy, and trust is a thing of the largely erased past.

  • So as Winston does his. Party-mandated morning workout, he contemplates the fact that the most terrifying thing about the Party is the nigh-universal gas lighting that it’s been doing to its citizens for decades.

  • See, the Party really likes claiming that certain things happened and certain things didn’t, and since nobody else keeps records, who do you trust; your own memories or the grand and illustrious Party?

  • After all, your memories are tiny. They only exist in the three pounds of sponge that lives in your head.

  • But the Party? Well, the Party’s huge; the Party’s everything. So obviously they’re more likely to be right than you are, right?

  • How real are your memories? How real is your past?

  • Someone’s personal existence seems very small and unlikely when faced with the universal insistence that it never happened.

  • So the Party has turned this unending existential crisis into something of an art form, called ‘doublethink’.

Doublethink

  • Doublethink is the art of simultaneously accepting two fundamentally contradictory concepts.

  • For example, the idea both that democracy is impossible, and that the Party is a bastion of democracy.

  • Doublethink is a necessity for every loyal citizen, but poor Winston can’t seem to get the hang of it.

  • He always hits a snag when he has to choose between his observed reality and the Party’s version of reality.

  • So Winston goes to work and sets about doing his job, which includes such matters as rewriting various forecasts who have been retroactively accurate.

  • For example, some government promises need to be un-promised, and everyone’s favorite Big Brother needs to have a recent speech retroactively corrected in light of current events.

    • See, the Party is, by definition, always right.
    • So whenever they make a prediction that turns out to be tragically misquoted in a way that would make it seem like they were wrong, the ‘misprint’ needs to be retroactively corrected and all evidence of the mistake destroyed.
    • That way, the Party gets to still be always right without having to actually do anything right.

    They also have a machine that makes pop music, because it wouldn’t be a dystopia without one.

  • But the most complicated and rewarding part of Winston’s job is definitely unperson-ing people.

  • See whenever the Party sees fit to disappear someone, they have to be completely unperson-ed, meaning no record of their existence can be anywhere.

  • Depending on how illustrious that person was, this means that sometimes Winston has to rewrite speeches from Big Brother himself, if he happened to have congratulated the accomplishments of someone who has now never existed.

  • So Winston takes his lunch break with a coworker. Syme, who’s been tasked with compiling the. Eleventh Edition of the Newspeak Dictionary, ‘newspeak’ being a paring down of the English language that Big Brother hopes will be able to eliminate thoughtcrime entirely by removing the freedom of thought required to have illegal thoughts.

  • Syme is pretty explicit about the nature of the whole thing, which leads Winston to conclude that he’s probably gonna get vaporized one of these days, not for disloyalty, but for being too honest with his loyalty.

  • But Winston notices one of his coworkers, a girl who works at the Fiction Department, giving him a kind of weird look, which he immediately interprets to mean that she somehow sensed his traitorous thoughts and is already planning on handing hime over to the Thought Police.

  • This of course turns his mind to thoughts of banging, an act tacitly discouraged by the Party, except for the purposes of making smaller citizens.

  • See, Winston is repressed as all get-out, just like the rest of the Party citizens, and it’s really starting to get on his nerves that he can’t just have a nice night with a woman he likes and who likes him back and has more personality than a wooden mannequin.

  • We also learn about the “proles”, that is, the uneducated working class, or proletariat, which according to Winston, are controlled by the government by way of propaganda, bread and circuses, and the occasional Thought Policemen eliminating the ones that seem inclined to ask inconvenient questions.

  • Proles are allowed an unexpected degree of freedom of action, in the same way that a cow is generally allowed to graze wherever it wants.

  • The proles are given certain freedoms to keep them complacent, because that way they stay docile and harmless. The proles are relied upon to keep the infrastructure running, to breed, and to provide occasional trysts with the horrendously repressed Party members.

Because frankly, the Party couldn’t care less what the proles do in their spare time as long as they do it un-traitorously.

  • Winston believes that the proles may be their only hope of revolution, since they make up 85% of the population and could easily overpower the Party if they rose up.
  • But unfortunately, the Party has succeeded in keeping them complacent and unwilling to rise up.
  • Or, rather, they don’t even know that they should be rising up, because their lives are actually pretty cushy and the few proles that have access to the news obviously only have access to the Party propaganda.
  • Since the only truth they know is the one the party gives them, and they’re discouraged from exercising curiosity or questioning the Party, he proles live in comfortable, entertained ignorance, while the 15% of the population that might possibly think they should rebel, are so rigidly controlled as to make it impossible.
  • Winston also contemplates the fact that his problem with the world he lives in isn’t that it’s cruel or dystopic or whatever; it’s that it’s boring.

And it sounds dumb, but… hear him out.

  • The Party projects an ideal of megastructures, shining cities, a glorious and terrible future of beautiful people and even more beautiful conquest.
  • But the practicalities of the Party are dingy office environments, bombed out apartment complexes, poor health, a constant melancholic distaste for reality, and a longing for a past that the Party claims never existed.
  • Winston once again considers the malleable past and what it means for him to seemingly be the only Party member who’s bothered by this.
  • He wonders if he’s crazy, but he’s not so much worried about being crazy as he is about being wrong.
  • But good news! Winston’s life isn’t totally bleak.
  • In fact, he’s got faith in one particular coworker, a man named O’Brien, who Winston has a feeling might possibly share his thoughts about the Party.
  • He might even, he thinks, be a member of the fabled Brotherhood, the mythical rebellion led by Goldstein that no one’s sure really exists.
  • Regardless of the veracity of the rebel movement, Winston somehow trusts O’Brien, as a kindred spiritin an ocean of unfeeling puppets.
  • While contemplating truth and memory and gaslighting and all that jazz, Winston has a bit of a revelation, which I think bears repeating in its entirety, because I really like. (You might want to learn this quote, or at least part of it)

“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right!. They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change… Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall toward the earth’s center. With the feeling that he was speaking to O’Brien, and also that he was setting forth an important axiom, he wrote: …Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four. If that is granted, all else follows.”

  • So Winston decides to be a little rebellious and goes for a walk, which, while not strictly illegal, is definitely frowned upon by the Party as a whole.
  • Winston stumbles into the antique shop he bought his precious diary from in the first place, and, in the fury of curiosity, sidles in and takes a look around.
  • The friendly proprietor gives him a rundown of various ancient artifacts, like a paperweight and some old prints, and the shop doesn’t have a telescreen, which leaves Winston feeling uncharacteristically at ease, as he can’t be being observed by the Party at this point. The shop and the upstairs room feel oddly familiar and comforting; relics of the world he half remembers from his childhood, but never got a chance to appreciate.
  • And the old proprietor himself, Mr. Charrington, is also a walking goldmine, casually expositing old nursery rhymes and notable but long since destroyed buildings.
  • Winston leaves in a good mood, which immediately dissolves into panic when he spots the very girl who he’d noticed at lunch and assumed had been spying on him.
  • Since this is no part of town for a Party member, obviously she must be following him and she probably saw him go into the shop, too.
  • So obviously Winston turns to thoughts of murder, decides he really doesn’t feel up to it, and starts considering suicide instead.
  • But he holds off, and this turns out to have been a good idea when four days later he runs into the girl again, and when he helps her up after a fall, she slips him a love note.
  • Turns out her name is Julia and she’s had her eye on him and the prole neighborhood, because she shares his distaste for the Party and his passion for some nice non-wooden banging.
  • After about a week of desperate maneuvering to try and get the chance to have a conversation with this girl without the Party getting suspicious, they managed to get somewhere private and even kind of pretty and share some chocolate, listen to the birds, and then have some genuinely nice anarchic sex.
  • Interestingly, Winston learns that Julia’s done this before with lots of men, and he finds that really hot, because the Party espouses purity and virginity and stuff, and Julia expressing her bodily autonomy by being the polar opposite of a virgin is super attractive to our rebellious hero.
  • So they carry on a surreptitious romance over the following months, wherein they manage to have a whole conversation and also some sex while holed up in a bombed-out bell tower.
  • They discuss why the Party is so anti-sex, and it turns out it’s entirely for practical reasons.
  • First of all, the Party wants to keep the population wound up like a spring so that they have boundless energy to be spent on patriotism; and second, if the people had a way to be really truly happy, why would they care about catering to Big Brother?

This is probably also why the chocolate is so bad.

  • So Winston decides to be really rebellious and surreptitiously rents the upstairs room in Mr. Charrington’s antique shop so that they can have a comfy, nostalgic place, free of surveillance, where they can bang without having to plan it for a whole month in advance.
  • They have a lovely afternoon where Julia smuggles out a mess of real, quality food, like bread and jam and real sugar and even some coffee and tea.
  • Julia also managed to get a hold of a makeup kit and dolls herself up a little, continuing the trend of embracing her identity as a woman as an act of rebellion against a Party that owns her right to bodily autonomy.
  • So the plot continues as the year advances toward the holiday known as Hate Week, which is heralded by an increase in nationalist propaganda, and also bombings; which riles the proles up in a very pro-Party-hate-foreigners sort of way.
  • Meanwhile, Julia & Winston enjoys some genuinely relaxing quality time together, squirreled away in there hidden antique bedroom, while contemplating how super, SUPER dead they are when they get caught.
  • They also discussed their differing views on the Party and the people it governs.
  • Julia thinks everyone secretly hates it and would rebel if they could, but doesn’t believe there’s some secret organized rebellion trying to sabotage it from within.
  • Winston, meanwhile, believes complacency runs rampant through some of the population, but there could be a secret cabal of rebels working to take the Party down and save them all.
  • Julia also doesn’t believe that a war is really happening. She suspects the Party is bombing its own people to keep them angry and on their toes, which is disturbingly plausible, even though it turns out to not be true.
  • So later on, O’Brien stops Winston in the hall and casually gives him his address, promising to lend him a copy of the latest Newspeak Dictionary.
  • But Winston is pretty sure he’s actually gonna give him a copy of Goldstein’s guide to rebelling against the state.
  • But before that, he has a dream about his mother and realizes something else about the Party: they convince their citizens that how they feel about stuff doesn’t matter. More specifically, how they care about other people.
  • They’re taught to dismiss things like human life. A building getting bombed is just another crater and the people who died weren’t much of anything really.
  • Compassion and empathy are completely squashed, most obviously for outsiders, but more impressively, even for other citizens.
  • He contemplates that when they inevitably get caught, he’s gonna focus on not betraying Julia, as in he’s not gonna let the Party make him stop loving her.
  • He and Julia agree that no matter what the Party makes them say, it can’t make them believe it.

Let’s hope that works out for ‘em.

  • So Winston and Julia seek out O’Brien to try and joined the rebellion. He grills them on what they’d be willing to do for the rebellion, - everything but separate, as it turns out - then he tells them that he’ll send them a super secret rebellion handbook and sends them on their way.
  • So Hate Week rolls around, complicated somewhat by the fact that the Party is abruptly at war with someone different than they were at the beginning of the week.
  • Which means five years of propaganda needs to be rewritten very suddenly to accommodate the change.
  • So poor Winston has been horrifically overworked for the past five days, rewriting history, but he finally manages to get his work done and crawls up to the antique bedroom to read a beginner’s guide to overthrowing an oppressive regime.
  • The book is a pretty solid rundown of the real history of the world, as well as a comprehensive study of why exactly the Party is at war all the freaking time.
  • The answer is, as it always is, cheap labor and free resources.
  • But more importantly, we learn why this dystopia happened, and you’re gonna love this: it’s because the vision of the future that was held in the wake of WWI was that the future would be bright and luxurious, and every citizen would be educated.
  • And that is what inspired the Party to make such a grody, dystopic world.
  • If the people become educated, they’re gonna realize they don’t need the bourgeoisie.
  • A hierarchical society can only be maintained by keeping the majority of the population both poor and ignorant.
  • Poverty wasn’t enough, and just strangling the economy wasn’t working, so they started the wars, because nothing keeps a population more poor and more ignorant than the routine devastation of their entire world.
  • War destroyed supply, and therefore creates demand, and when your citizens are overworked to the point of insanity just to break even, they don’t have time to do inconvenient things, like learn or think. War is a socially acceptable method of wasting absurd quantities of material & resources in a way that also directs the dissatisfaction of your citizens outward, at some evil, foreign party, so they never question why the war is happening and who started it for what reason.
  • They just embrace the certainty that their government is protecting them from the greater evil.
  • They embrace the far off victory with a religious zeal, and in the meantime, will accept any sacrifice to see it through, even thought the Party has a vested interest in keeping the war going forever in order to maintain their status quo.
  • Also, the book notes, the Party has removed the concept of science and empirical evidence from the English language, in order to better facilitate keeping the working population ignorant and unquestioning.
  • It also turns out that all three of the world’s super-countries, Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia, all follow basically the same dystopia how-to guide with marginally different names, and their social structures are all identical.
  • The beginner’s guide to eating the rich also outlines the structure behind the Party and how it conspires to keep everyone simultaneously complacent and full of zealous rage at the enemies of the state.
  • Ferociously angry and loyal, but not too put out of their way, and therefore unlikely to take action beyond government mandated hating-the-foreigners sessions.
  • And of course, doublethink is in place to make sure that even when faced with stuff that makes literally no sense, our enterprising citizens can still put their total faith in the Party without too much cognitive dissonance.
  • Unfortunately, he’s barely done through this part of the book when they discover that the quaint picture hanging on the wall has been, in fact, hiding a telescreen the whole time.
  • So basically they’ve been under constant surveillance since the first day they came up here, and the Party absolutely heard the whole thing about the tough guy dismantling the government and also probably all the sex.

Whoops.

  • So it turns out the charming old shop owner Mr. Charrington was a member of the Thought Police all along, and Winston and Julia gets super arrested.
  • Winston gets dunked in a cell to wait for like EVER, while in the meantime, along with a string of other prisoners, two of his coworkers get dumped in with him, one for failing to remove the word ‘God’ from a poem, the other for saying treasonous things in his sleep.
  • The days wear on, and Winston observes that whenever a prisoner is told that they’ll be taken to Room 101, they always freak the hell out. While he’s pondering this, O’Brien comes in, whereupon it becomes clear that O’Brien himself is also a member of the Thought Police, because Winston’s day wasn’t bad enough already.
  • So they take Winston and O’Brien tortures the crap out of him for a while to get the standard confessions out of him, and then tortures him some more in order to cure his faulty memory that makes him remember events the Party says never happened.
  • O’Brien systematically and calmly dismantled every memory he has that doesn’t line up with acceptable reality, and poor Winston once again revisits the age-old existential crisis of “did that happen or did I imagine it?” O’Brien explains that it’s an error to believe that reality is anything close to objective. After all, the only access you have to reality is through your own perceptions, and can’t your perceptions be wrong?
  • Really, it’s Winston’s fault for failing to properly manage his perceptions of reality, so as to make him think that the things he saw had to be real.
  • O’Brien explains to Winston that, even though they’re super gonna kill him, they’re gonna fix him first.
  • So they do something weird to his brain, and for about thirty seconds, he’s actually complacent, the way the Party wants him to be. He sees five fingers, he remembers that he made up his perceptions of reality, all that good stuff.
  • He snaps out of it, but he wants to go back, because it felt right. It felt like he was finally sane by the standards of society.
  • So that fun situation continues for a while and we learn that the beginner’s guide to joining the rebellion was actually written in part by O’Brien, in order to entrap wannabe rebels and then cure them of their crazy.
  • O’Brien goes back to the idea that reality is only what exists in the perception of humanity, and therefore by controlling perception, the Party controls reality. Winston is pretty insistent that reality is real, and something will make the Party fall, but his arguments get worn down, and eventually, he breaks.
  • They plop him down into a cell, let him actually eat and exercise, and he gradually becomes more of a human being, while doing his best to re-educate himself in the tenets of the Party. He practices doublethink and crimestop, the act of not letting your brain even think traitorous thoughts, and gets decently good at it. He’s even comfortable for a change.
  • He’s doing super well. But then he has a moment where he cracks and calls out for Julia, showing that there’s still work to do.
  • And this is when he gets sent to Room 101.
  • Now, Room 101 is specifically designed to be the worst nightmare of whoever’s being sent there.
  • In Winston’s case, he’s got this terrible fear of rats.
  • See, the idea is that, by using Room 101, the Party breaks down the last part of the subject’s mind, the one component that still holds out in the face of all the other stuff, and, using that, makes the subject love Big Brother rather than hate him, completing their assimilation into the Party.
  • So they rig up this mask thing with a long cage in front of it, put Winston’s face in the mask, and put a bunch of rats on the other end. If O’Brien presses a button, the rats eat Winston’s face.
  • Winston panics, panics a little bit more, then screams at them to do this to Julia, not to him.
  • And with that, he is a free man; a free, good citizen who’s definitely gonna get shot one of these days, but in the meantime is absolutely free to hang out in a corner cafe & read the paper and solve the chess puzzles.
  • He previously ran into Julia, who also looked rather the worse for wear. And it’s really clear that they can’t love each other anymore.
  • After all, they both betrayed each other in Room 101, and they both meant it 100%. Winston is every once in a while troubled by intrusive false memories, but overall, he’s a fine citizen. He’s successfully conquered himself and come to terms with the reality in which he lives. The end.

Context

British Imperialism

  • Imperialism is when one country tries to rule over other countries economically, politically, and sometimes culturally

  • To control other countries, empires usually turned to colonialism and slavery

  • Britain held the largest empire in the world during Orwell’s lifetime

  • Orwell joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, rather than going to university, as his school grades were fairly low

    • Orwell observed and participated in British imperialism firsthand
    • As a police officer, he was responsible for eliminating resistance to British rule, as Burmese independence would be a threat to the British Empire
    • Reducing Burmese resistance was achieved through violence, and fuelled by bigotry and racism

    There are clear parallels here to the Party in 1984. Both the Party and the British Empire worked to achieve total control, and to do this, they attempted to suppress any form of rebellion.

    Potential Thesis Statement: “Orwell portrays the brutal effect of total control through the lack of freedom of the characters in 1984."

    Potential Short Response Question: “Explain how Orwell portrays the effect of total control in 1984."

    • Orwell developed a deep hatred of authority and British imperialism

    • In his essay “Why I Write” (1945), he condemned the uneven power dynamics he had witnessed:

      “I felt that I had… got to escape. Not merely from imperialism, but from every form of man’s dominion over man.”

Spanish Civil War

  • The Spanish civil war was fought between the socialists and the fascists
  • It solidified Orwell’s political stance, and informed how he would write about Ingsoc in 1984
  • As this was the first war he had been exposed to, Orwell was extremely idealistic, and joined a socialist militia with the goal of fighting fascism
  • Orwell quickly realised that political ideologies are easily distorted by political power, and that the socialists were just as obsessed with worshipping a dictator as the fascists

1984 is an explicitly political novel that criticises dictatorships and totalitarianism.

The terrorism used by the party to rule over Oceania is heavily influenced by Orwell’s observations of the oppressive nature of dictatorships and totalitarianism.

The inconsistent ideologies of Ingsoc (e.g. “War is Peace, Ignorance is Knowledge, Freedom is Slavery”) links directly to the corruption of socialism for the sake of individual power in the Spanish Civil War.

Potential Thesis Statement: “Orwell uses the Party as a warning of the corruption present in the leaders of ideological movements."

Potential Short Response Question: “How does Orwell portray corruption in 1984?"

  • Orwell saw his dreams of socialism corrupted by the ideas it was designed to oppose: dictatorships and totalitarianism. This served as a major influence for the ideology of the Party in 1984.

Rise of Totalitarianism (1930s and 40s)

Josef Stalin

  • The rise of totalitarianism in Europe influenced the propaganda and censorship present in 1984
  • Orwell had a strong distaste for totalitarianism after his experiences in the Spanish Civil War
  • Although Orwell was pro-socialism, he was extremely against Stalin, the leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1922-1952
  • Orwell saw Stalin as a fraud who pretended to be dedicated to socialism in an effort to increase his own power and influence
  • Orwell believed that Stalin was a prime example of what could go wrong when a dictator was able to warp socialism for personal/political advancement

Adolf Hitler

  • Orwell was fascinated by the success of the Nazi Party and, in particular, their leader, Adolf Hitler

  • By the late 1930s, Hitler’s word was considered above the laws of Germany

  • Many of his political stances were rooted in racism (e.g. the Holocaust) and aggressive nationalism (e.g. Lebensraum)

  • Hitler used mass manipulation, racial purity programs, censorship, and the destruction of art and books, to fulfil his goals.

Totalitarianism was a breeding ground for restricted freedoms, censorship of information, and real life Big Brother figures.

The Party used the Ministry of Truth to revise historical material in order to support whatever standpoint was required at the time. This is one of many parallels between the Ministry of Truth, Glavlit (The Soviet censorship body) and the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda (the Nazi censorship body).

  • Orwell’s decision to set 1984 in London rather than in an existing dictatorship was intentional: he believed that giving power to a small group, using the front of an ideology, results in an oppressive government no matter where in the world.

The Cold War

  • After World War II, the USA and Soviet Union emerged as rival superpowers with contrasting ideologies. The USA believed in capitalism, while the Soviet Union believed in Communism

  • Orwell published 1984 in 1949, 2 years into the Cold War

  • However, Orwell was actually the inventor of the term “Cold War,” as he used it in his 1945 essay You and the Atom Bomb, a commentary on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

  • Orwell imagined a war between 2 or 3 superstates (hmm), each with extreme technological capabilities and, most importantly, nuclear weaponry, fighting for world domination

  • Orwell (and basically everyone not in politics at the time) was aware that a hot war between nuclear powers was MAD (MAD, in this case, stands for Mutually Assured Destruction, and yes, that is the techincal term for it). The idea of a Cold War is that the superpowers do not openly fight each other, but instead indrectly conflict, such as through proxy wars or arms races. You can read more about it here.

  • The fear of war and destruction by the enemy is used by the government to justify the more extreme components of the Party’s policies (e.g. constant surveillance)

    The war in 1984 is an example of “a peace that is no peace” (Orwell, 1948)

Analysis

  • You know, I don’t think I ever really got dystopias.
  • Actually, I think this dystopias might just be too familiar to a kid.
  • The people in charge have weird arbitrary rules about what kind of things you can draw or say, they insist that you treat them with respect, even though the only thing they have over you is age and authority, they don’t tend to be as objective or fair as one would like, and, to top it all off, you live with the knowledge that if you step out of line, one of your fellow kids might tattle on you.
  • A dystopia is written with the overwhelming attitude that the characters are largely powerless, but a kid already knows what that’s like.
  • It’s only when you become an adult and get used to having some kind of power that a dystopia really starts to sink in.
  • After getting used to having autonomy, a story where autonomy is impossible stop sounding like so much fun, and it becomes less ‘sticking it to your mean school principal’ and more ‘getting your kneecaps confiscated by the secret police’.
  • I’d say out of all the modern dystopias, the one with the least potential for fun is probably 1984.
  • Now, 1984 was written in 1949 by George Orwell, and it was pretty much 100% social commentary on Orwell’s criticisms of both Hitler and Stalin, who, despite being in opposite ends of the political spectrum, struck him as frighteningly similar. As a result, the antagonist of the story, the Party in control, manages to be completely unidentifiable party-wise, and could fall on either extreme of the spectrum. Un-personing, the Thought Police and the Party interrogation methods are all thinly veiled re-skins of Stalinist Russia, but Newspeak, doublethink & the Ministry of Truth have shades of Nazi Germany in their influences.
  • It’s kind of an apolitical fusion of both totalitarian regimes.
  • Our POV character, Winston, is basically a conduit by which Orwell can discuss his thoughts on the political climate.
  • The book is essentially a series of events, interspersed with inner monologue essays, as Winston tries to reconcile his thoughts on the Party and the nature of reality.

Lots of fun stuff.


References

Jesse Caminer
Jesse Caminer
Post Writer

First in NSW English Advanced and English Extension 2, studying Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge University

Pranav Sharma
Pranav Sharma
Site Owner

Year 12 Student, site owner and developer.

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