Nineteen Eighty-Four (sometimes written 1984) is a 1949 dystopian novel by George Orwell about a degenerated workers’ state. The novel depicts an oligarchical, collectivist society where life in the Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, and incessant public mind control. The individual is always subordinated to the masses, and it is in part this philosophy which allows the Party to manipulate and control humanity. In the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue, in Newspeak), protagonist Winston Smith is a civil servant responsible for perpetuating the Party’s propaganda by revising historical records to render the Party omniscient and always correct, yet his meagre existence disillusions him to the point of seeking rebellion against Big Brother, eventually leading to his arrest, torture, and conversion.
As literary political fiction, 1984 is a classic novel of the social science fiction subgenre, thus, since its publication in 1949, the terms and concepts of Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, Memory hole, et cetera, became contemporary vernacular, including the adjective Orwellian, denoting George Orwell’s writings and totalitarianism as exposited in Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm (1945). Other classifications for the novel may include science fiction and satire.
History and title
George Orwell “encapsulate[d] the thesis at the heart of his unforgiving novel” in 1944, then wrote most of it on the island of Jura, Scotland, during the 1947–48 period, despite being critically tubercular.On 4 December 1948, he sent the final manuscript to the Secker and Warburg editorial house who published Nineteen Eighty-Four on 8 June 1949; by 1989, it had been translated to more than 65 languages, then the greatest number for any novel. The title of the novel, its terms, its Newspeak language, and the author’s surname are contemporary bywords for personal privacy lost to the state, and the adjective Orwellian connotes totalitarian thought and action in controlling and subjugating people. Newspeak language says the opposite of what it means by misnomer; hence the Ministry of Peace (Minipax) deals with war, and the Ministry of Love (Miniluv) deals with torture.
The Last Man in Europe was one of the original titles for the novel, but, in a 22 October 1948, letter to publisher Frederic Warburg, eight months before publication, Orwell wrote him about hesitating between The Last Man in Europe and Nineteen Eighty-Four; yet Warburg suggested changing the Man title to one more commercial. Speculation about Orwell’s choice of title includes perhaps an allusion to the 1884 founding centenary of the socialist Fabian Society, or to the novels The Iron Heel (1908), by Jack London, or to The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904), by G. K. Chesterton, both of which occur in 1984, or to the poem “End of the Century, 1984″, by Eileen O’Shaughnessy, his first wife.
Moreover, in the novel 1985 (1978), Anthony Burgess proposes that Orwell, disillusioned by the Cold War’s onset, intended to title the book 1948. The introduction to the Penguin Books Modern Classics edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four, reports that Orwell originally set 1980 as the story’s time, but the extended writing led to re-titling the novel, first, to 1982, then to 1984, because it is an inversion of the 1948 composition year. Nineteen Eighty-Four has been, at times in its history, either banned or legally challenged as intellectually dangerous to the public, just like Brave New World (1932), by Aldous Huxley, We (1924), by Yevgeny Zamyatin, Kallocain (1940), by Karin Boye, and Fahrenheit 451 (1951), by Ray Bradbury. In 2005, Time magazine included it in its list of one hundred best English-language novels since 1923.
Nineteen Eighty-Four will not enter the US public domain until 2044, and in the European Union until 2020, although it is in the public domain in Canada, Russia, and Australia. On July 17, 2009, Amazon.com withdrew certain Amazon Kindle titles, including Nineteen Eighty-Four, from sale, refunded buyers, and removed the items from the Amazon Store after discovering that the publisher lacked rights to publish the titles in question. After this removal, upon syncing with their Amazon libraries, items from purchasers’ devices were likewise “removed” due to the syncing process. Notes and annotations for the books made by users on their devices were also deleted. After the move prompted outcry and comparisons to Nineteen Eighty-Four itself, Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener stated that the company is “[c]hanging our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances.”
In the essay “Why I Write” (1946), Orwell described himself as a Democratic Socialist. Thus, in his 16 June 1949 letter to Francis Henson of the United Automobile Workers about the excerpts published in Life (25 July 1949) magazine and The New York Times Book Review (31 July 1949), Orwell said:
My recent novel [Nineteen Eighty-Four] is NOT intended as an attack on Socialism or on the British Labour Party (of which I am a supporter), but as a show-up of the perversions . . . which have already been partly realized in Communism and Fascism. . . . The scene of the book is laid in Britain in order to emphasize that the English-speaking races are not innately better than anyone else, and that totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere.
Nineteen Eighty-Four occurs in Oceania, one of three intercontinental super-states who divided the world among themselves after a global war. In London, the “chief city of Airstrip One”, the Oceanic province that “had once been called England or Britain”. Posters of the Party leader, Big Brother, bearing the caption BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU dominate the landscape, while the telescreen (transceiving television) ubiquitously monitors the private and public lives of the populace. The social class system is threefold: (I) the upper-class Inner Party, (II) the middle-class Outer Party, and (III) the lower-class Proles (from Proletariat), who make up 85% of the population and represent the working classes. As the government, the Party controls the population via four government ministries: the Ministry of Peace, Ministry of Plenty, Ministry of Love, and the Ministry of Truth, where protagonist Winston Smith (a member of the Outer Party), works as an editor revising historical records to concord the past to the contemporary party line orthodoxy—that changes daily—and deletes the official existence of politically incorrect people identified as unpersons.
Winston Smith’s story begins on 4 April 1984: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen”;yet the date is dubitable, because it is what he perceives, given the continual historical revisionism; he later concludes it is irrelevant. Winston’s memories and his reading of the proscribed book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, by Emmanuel Goldstein, reveal that after the Second World War, the United Kingdom fell to civil war and then was integrated into Oceania. Simultaneously, the USSR’s annexation of continental Europe established the second superstate of Eurasia. The third superstate, Eastasia, represents East and Southeast Asian region. The three superstates fight a perpetual war for the remaining unconquered lands of the world; they form and break alliances as convenient.
From his childhood (1949–53), Winston remembers the Atomic Wars fought in Europe, western Russia, and North America. It is unclear to him what occurred first—either the Party’s civil war ascendance, or the US’s British Empire annexation, or the war wherein Colchester was bombed—however, the increasing clarity of his memory and the story of his family’s dissolution suggest that the atomic bombings occurred first (the Smiths took refuge in a tube station) followed by civil war featuring “confused street fighting in London itself”, and the societal postwar reorganisation, which the Party retrospectively call “the Revolution”.
The story of Winston Smith presents the world in the year 1984, after a global atomic war, via his perception of life in Airstrip One (England or Britain), a province of Oceania, one of the world’s three superstates; his intellectual rebellion against the Party and illicit romance with Julia; and his consequent imprisonment, interrogation, torture, and re-education by the Thinkpol in the Miniluv.
Winston Smith is an intellectual, a member of the Outer Party, who lives in the ruins of London, and who grew up in the post–Second World War UK, during the revolution and the civil war after which the Party assumed power. During the civil war, the Ingsoc movement placed him in an orphanage for training and subsequent employment as a civil servant. Yet, his squalid existence is living in a one-room apartment, a subsistence diet of black bread and synthetic meals washed down with Victory-brand gin. His intellectual discontent leads to keeping a journal of negative thoughts and opinions about the Party and Big Brother, which, if discovered by the Thought Police, would warrant death. Moreover, he is fortunate, because the apartment has an alcove, beside the telescreen, where it cannot see him, where he believes his thoughts remain private, whilst writing in his journal: “Thoughtcrime does not entail death. Thoughtcrime IS death”. The telescreens (in every public area, and the quarters of the Party’s members), hidden microphones, and informers permit the Thought Police to spy upon everyone and so identify anyone who might endanger the Party’s régime; children most of all, are indoctrinated to spy and inform on suspected thought-criminals—especially their parents.
At the Minitrue, Winston is an editor responsible for the historical revisionism concording the past to the Party’s contemporary official version of the past; thus making the government of Oceania seem omniscient. As such, he perpetually rewrites records and alters photographs, rendering the deleted people as unpersons; the original document is incinerated in a memory hole. Despite enjoying the intellectual challenge of historical revisionism, he is fascinated by the true past, and eagerly tries to learn more about it.
One day, at the Minitrue, whilst Winston is assisting a woman who had fallen, she surreptitiously hands him a note reading “I LOVE YOU”; she is “Julia”, a dark-haired mechanic who repairs the ministry’s novel-writing machines. Before then, he had loathed her, presuming she was a fanatical member of the Junior Anti-Sex League, given she wears the league’s red sash, symbolising puritanical renouncement of sexual intercourse, yet his hostility vanishes upon reading her note. Afterwards, they begin a love affair, meeting first in the country, then in a rented room atop an antiques shop in a proletarian London neighbourhood, where they think themselves safe and alone; unbeknownst to Winston, the Thought Police have discovered their rebellion and had been spying on them for some time.
Later, when Inner Party member O’Brien approaches him, he believes the Brotherhood have communicated with him. Under the pretext of giving him a copy of the latest edition of the Newspeak dictionary, O’Brien gives him “the book”, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, said to have been written by Emmanuel Goldstein, leader of the Brotherhood, which explains the perpetual war and the slogans, WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.
The Thought Police captures Winston and Julia in their bedroom, to be delivered to the Ministry of Love for interrogation, and Charrington, the shop keeper who rented the room to them, reveals himself as an officer in the Thought Police. After a prolonged regimen of systematic beatings and psychologically draining interrogation by Party ideologues, O’Brien tortures Winston with electroshock, telling him it will cure him of his insanity—his manifest hatred for the Party. In long, complex conversation, he explains that the Inner Party’s motivation: power as an end unto itself, achieved by abolishing the family, the orgasm, and the libido—thus eliminating every obstacle to loving Big Brother and Ingsoc in a ruthless, anti-intellectual society without art, literature, and science to distract from devotion to the Party.
Asked if the Brotherhood exists, O’Brien replies that Winston will never know whilst alive; it will remain an unsolvable riddle in his mind. During a torture session, his imprisonment in the Miniluv is explained: “There are three stages in your reintegration,” said O’Brien. “There is learning, there is understanding, and there is acceptance” of the Party’s reality; afterwards, Winston will eventually be killed.
Confession and betrayal
During political re-education, Winston admits to and confesses his crimes and to crimes he did not commit, implicating others and his beloved Julia. In the second stage of re-education for reintegration, O’Brien makes Winston understand he is “rotting away”. Countering that the Party cannot win, Winston admits: “I have not betrayed Julia”. O’Brien understands that despite his criminal confession and implication of Julia, Winston has not betrayed her in that he “had not stopped loving her; his feeling toward her had remained the same”.
One night in his cell Winston suddenly awakens, screaming: “Julia! Julia! Julia, my love! Julia!”, whereupon O’Brien rushes in, not to interrogate but to send him to Room 101, the Miniluv’s most feared room where resides the worst thing in the world. There, the prisoner’s greatest fear is forced on them; the final step in political re-education: acceptance. Winston’s primal fear of rats is imposed upon him as a wire cage holding hungry rats that will be fitted to his face. When the rats are about to devour his face, he frantically shouts: “Do it to Julia!” – in his moment of fear, ultimately relinquishing his love for Julia. The torture ends and Winston is reintegrated to society, brainwashed to accept the Party’s doctrine and to love Big Brother.
During Winston’s re-education, O’Brien always understands Winston’s thoughts, it seems that he always speaks what Winston is thinking at the time.
After reintegration to Oceanian society, Winston encounters Julia in a park where each admits having betrayed the other and that betrayal changes a person:
“I betrayed you,” she said baldly.
“I betrayed you,” he said.
She gave him another quick look of dislike.
“Sometimes,” she said, “they threaten you with something—something you can’t stand up to, can’t even think about. And then you say, ‘Don’t do it to me, do it to somebody else, do it to so-and-so.’ 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.”
“All you care about is yourself,” he echoed.
“And after that, you don’t feel the same toward the other person any longer.”
“No,” he said, “you don’t feel the same.”
Throughout, a score recurs in Winston’s mind:
Under the spreading chestnut tree
I sold you and you sold me—
The lyric is an ambiguous bastardization of a Glen Miller lyric, which in form has many sinister implications.
Capitulation and conversion
Winston Smith, now an alcoholic reconciled to his impending execution, has accepted the Party’s depiction of life, and sincerely celebrates a news bulletin reporting Oceania’s decisive victory over Eurasia. The metaphoric bullet had entered his brain, at that moment “. . . he had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother”.
- Winston Smith — the protagonist is a phlegmatic everyman.
- Julia — Winston’s lover is a covert “rebel from the waist downwards” who espouses Party doctrines whilst living contrarily.
- Big Brother — the dark-eyed, mustachioed embodiment of the Party governing Oceania (viz. Joseph Stalin), whom few people have seen, if anyone. There is doubt as to whether he exists.
- O’Brien — the antagonist, a member of the Inner Party who deceives Winston and Julia that he is of the Brotherhood resistance.
- Emmanuel Goldstein — a former Party leader, bespectacled and with a goatee beard like the Soviet revolutionary Leon Trotsky (an original leader of the Bolshevik Revolution whose real last name was Bronstein and who, after losing to Stalin in the struggle for power, was deported from the USSR and after some years writing against the Soviet regime was eventually murdered). Goldstein’s persona is as an enemy of the state – the national nemesis used to ideologically unite Oceanians with the Party, purported author of “the book” (The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism), and leader of the Brotherhood. The Book was actually created and collaborated on by O’Brien. Goldstein allows the Party to encourage Two Minutes Hate and other fear mongering.
Note that the physical existence of Big Brother and Emmanuel Goldstein is never made clear.
- Aaronson, Jones and Rutherford — Former Inner Party members. Winston vaguely remembers that they had been among the original leaders of the Revolution, long before “Big Brother” had been heard of. They were tortured into confessing to absurd crimes and then executed in the purges of the 1960s (analogous to the Soviet Purges of the 1930s, in which leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution such as Kamenev and Zinoviev were similarly treated). In the course of his work, Winston finds newspaper evidence proving their innocence and hastily destroys it (in the 1984 film version he finds an old bottle of gin bearing their portraits on the label, from when they had been leading members of the regime).
- Ampleforth — Winston’s Records Department colleague imprisoned for leaving the word “God” in a Kipling poem; Winston meets him again in the Miniluv. Ampleforth is a dreamer and an intellectual who takes pleasure from his work and seems to treat poetry and language with respect. This is his undoing as it interferes with his work and causes him to displease the Party.
- Charrington — An officer of the Thought Police posing as an antiques-shop keeper.
- Katharine — The indifferent wife whom Winston “can’t get rid of”. Despite disliking sexual intercourse with him, she continued because it was their “duty to the Party”. She is a “goodthinkful” ideologue. At some point before the novel begins, Katharine and Winston were separated as they were not able to produce children.
- Martin — O’Brien’s Mongolian servant.
- Parsons — Winston’s naïve neighbour and an ideal member of the Outer Party: an un-educated, suggestible man. He is utterly loyal to the Party and believes fully in its image of perfection. He is in a way like the proles, unable to see the bigger aspects of the world. He is active and participates in hikes and leads community group and fundraisers. Despite being a fool, Parsons does possess some good traits. He is a very friendly man and seems to believe in a basic form of decency despite his political views. He punishes his son for firing a catapult at Winston and shows fondness for his children despite his belief that the end of family life is a good idea. He is captured when his children claim that he repeatedly and unknowingly spoke against the Party in his sleep and he is last seen in the Ministry of Love, proud of having been betrayed by his orthodox children.
- Syme — Winston’s intelligent colleague, a lexicographer developing Newspeak, whom the Party “vaporized” because he remained a lucidly-thinking intellectual. Though Syme holds orthodox opinions in line with Party doctrine, Winston notes “He is too intelligent. He sees too clearly and speaks too plainly.”
The world in 1984
Ingsoc (English Socialism)
In the year 1984, Ingsoc (English Socialism), is the regnant ideology and pseudo-Philosophy of Oceania, and Newspeak is its official language.
Ministries of Oceania
In London, the Airstrip One capital city, Oceania’s four government ministries are in pyramids (300 metres high), the façades of which display the Party’s three slogans. The ministries’ names are antonymous doublethink to their true functions: “The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation”. (Part II, Chapter IX — The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism)
- Ministry of Peace (Newspeak: Minipax)
Minipax reports Oceania’s perpetual war.
The primary aim of modern warfare (in accordance with the principles of doublethink, this aim is simultaneously recognized and not recognized by the directing brains of the Inner Party) is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living. Ever since the end of the nineteenth century, the problem of what to do with the surplus of consumption goods has been latent in industrial society. At present, when few human beings even have enough to eat, this problem is obviously not urgent, and it might not have become so, even if no artificial processes of destruction had been at work.
- Ministry of Plenty (Newspeak: Miniplenty)
The Ministry of Plenty rations and controls food, goods, and domestic production; every fiscal quarter, the Miniplenty publishes false claims of having raised the standard of living, when it has, in fact, reduced rations, availability, and production. The Minitrue substantiates the Minplenty claims by revising historical records to report numbers supporting the current, “increased rations”.
- Ministry of Truth (Newspeak: Minitrue)
The Ministry of Truth controls information: news, entertainment, education, and the arts. Winston Smith works in the Minitrue RecDep (Records Department), “rectifying” historical records to concord with Big Brother’s current pronouncements, thus everything the Party says is true.
- Ministry of Love (Newspeak: Miniluv)
The Ministry of Love identifies, monitors, arrests, and converts real and imagined dissidents. In Winston’s experience, the dissident is beaten and tortured, then, when near-broken, is sent to Room 101 to face “the worst thing in the world”—until love for Big Brother and the Party replaces dissension.
The keyword here is blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink. Doublethink is basically the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.
– Part II, Chapter IX — The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism
Three perpetually warring totalitarian super-states, control the world:
- Oceania (ideology: Ingsoc, i.e., English Socialism) comprises Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, Polynesia, Southern Africa, and the Americas.
- Eurasia (ideology: Neo-Bolshevism) comprises continental Europe and northern Asia.
- Eastasia (ideology: Obliteration of the Self, i.e., “Death worship”) comprises China, Japan, Korea, and Northern India.
The perpetual war is fought for control of the “disputed area” lying “between the frontiers of the super-states”, it forms “a rough parallelogram with its corners at Tangier, Brazzaville, Darwin and Hong Kong”, thus northern Africa, the Middle East, southern India and south-east Asia are where the super-states capture slaves. Emmanuel Goldstein’s book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism explains that the super-states’ ideologies are alike and that the public’s ignorance of this fact is imperative so that they might continue believing in the detestability of the opposing ideologies. The only references to the exterior world for the Oceanian citizenry (the Outer Party and the Proles), are Minitrue maps and propaganda ensuring their belief in “the war”.
Winston Smith’s memory and Emmanuel Goldstein’s book communicate some of the history that precipitated the Revolution; Eurasia was established after the Second World War (1939–45), when US and Commonwealth soldiers withdrew from continental Europe, thus the USSR conquered Europe against slight opposition. Eurasia does not include the British Empire because the US annexed it, Latin America, southern Africa, Australasia and Canada, in establishing Oceania gaining control a quarter of the planet. The annexation of Britain was part of the Atomic Wars that provoked civil war; per the Party, it was not a revolution but a coup d’état that installed a ruling élite derived from the native intelligentsia.
Eastasia, the last superstate established, comprises the Asian lands conquered by China and Japan. Although Eurasia prevented Eastasia from matching it in size, its skilled populace compensate for that handicap; despite an unclear chronology most of that global reorganisation occurred between 1945 and the 1960s.
In 1984, there is a perpetual war between Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia, the super-states which emerged from the atomic global war. “The book”, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchic Collectivism by Emmanuel Goldstein, explains that each state is so strong it cannot be defeated, even with the combined forces of two super-states—despite changing alliances. To hide such contradictions, history is re-written to explain that the (new) alliance always was so; the populaces accustomed to doublethink accept it. The war is not fought in Oceanian, Eurasian or Eastasian territory but in a disputed zone comprising the sea and land from Tangiers (northern Africa) to Darwin (Australia) to the Arctic. At the start, Oceania and Eastasia are allies combatting Eurasia in northern Africa.
That alliance ends and Oceania allied with Eurasia fights Eastasia, a change which occurred during the Hate Week dedicated to creating patriotic fervour for the Party’s perpetual war. The public are blind to the change; in mid-sentence an orator changes the name of the enemy from “Eurasia” to “Eastasia” without pause. When the public are enraged at noticing that the wrong flags and posters are displayed they tear them down—thus the origin of the idiom “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia”; later the Party claims to have captured Africa.
“The book” explains that the purpose of the unwinnable, perpetual war is to consume human labour and commodities, hence the economy of a super-state cannot support economic equality (a high standard of life) for every citizen. Goldstein also details an Oceanian strategy of attacking enemy cities with atomic rockets before invasion, yet dismisses it as unfeasible and contrary to the war’s purpose; despite the atomic bombing of cities in the 1950s the super-states stopped such warfare lest it imbalance the powers. The military technology in 1984 differs little from that of the Second World War, yet strategic bomber aeroplanes were replaced with Rocket Bombs, Helicopters were heavily used as weapons of war (while they didn’t figure in WW2 in any form but prototypes) and surface combat units have been all but replaced by immense and unsinkable Floating Fortresses, island-like contraptions concentrating the firepower of a whole naval task force in a single, semi-mobile platform (in the novel one is said to have been anchored between Iceland and the Faroe Islands, suggesting a preference for sea lane interdiction and denial).
In 1984, the society of Airstrip One lives in poverty; hunger, disease and filth are the norms and ruined cities and towns the consequence of the civil war, the atomic wars and enemy (possibly Oceanian) rockets. When travelling about London rubble, social decay and wrecked buildings surround Winston Smith; other than the ministerial pyramids, little of London was rebuilt.
The standard of living of the populace is low; almost everything, especially consumer goods is scarce and available goods are of low quality; half of the Oceanian populace go barefoot—despite the Party reporting increased boot production. The Party defend the poverty as a necessary sacrifice for the war effort; “the book” reports that partly correct, because the purpose of perpetual war is consuming surplus industrial production.
The Inner Party upper class of Oceanian society enjoy the highest standard of living. The antagonist O’Brien, resides in a clean and comfortable apartment, with a pantry well stocked with quality foodstuffs (wine, coffee, sugar, etc.), denied to the general populace, the Outer Party and the Proles, who consume synthetic foodstuffs; liquor, Victory Gin and cigarettes are of low quality.Winston is astonished that the lifts in O’Brien’s building work and that the telescreens can be switched off. The Inner Party are attended to by slaves captured in the disputed zone; Martin, O’Brien’s manservant, is Asian.
Despite the Inner Party’s high standard of living, the quality of their life is inferior to pre–Revolution standards. Regarding the lower class, the Party treat the Proles as animals—they live in poverty and are kept sedated with cheap beer, pornography, and a national lottery. The Proles are freer than the members of the Party and are less intimidated than the middle class Outer Party; they jeer at the telescreens.
“The book” reports that the state of things derives from the régime’s theory that the middle class, not the lower class, usually started revolutions, therefore tight control of the middle class penetrates their minds in determining their quotidian lives, and potential rebels are politically neutralized via promotion to the Inner Party; nonetheless Winston Smith believed that “the future belonged to the proles”.
Nineteen Eighty-Four expands upon the subjects summarized in the essay Notes on Nationalism (1945) about the lack of vocabulary needed to explain the unrecognized phenomena behind certain political forces. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Party’s artificial, minimalist language ‘Newspeak’ addresses the matter.
- Positive nationalism: Oceanians’ perpetual love for Big Brother, who may be long dead or even non-existent from the beginning; Celtic Nationalism, Neo-Toryism and British Israelism are (as Orwell argues) defined by love.
- Negative nationalism: Oceanians’ perpetual hatred for Emmanuel Goldstein, who like Big Brother may not exist; Stalinism, Anti-Semitism and Anglophobia are defined by hatred.
- Transferred nationalism: In mid-sentence an orator changes the enemy of Oceania; the crowd instantly transfers their hatred to the new enemy. Transferred nationalism swiftly redirects emotions from one power unit to another (e.g., Communism, Pacifism, Colour Feeling and Class Feeling).
O’Brien conclusively describes: “The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.”
With the Junior Anti-Sex-League, the Party imposes antisexualism upon its members to eliminate the personal sexual attachments that diminish political loyalty. Julia describes Party fanaticism as “sex gone sour”; except during the love affair with Julia, Winston suffers recurring ankle inflammation, an Oedipal allusion to sexual repression. In Part III, O’Brien tells Winston that neurologists are working to extinguish the orgasm; the mental energy required for prolonged worship requires authoritarian suppression of the libido, a vital instinct.
In the book, Inner Party member O’Brien describes the Party’s vision of future:
There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always—do not forget this, Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.—Part III, Chapter III, Nineteen Eighty-Four
This contrasts the essay “England Your England” (1941) with the essay “The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius” (1941):
The intellectuals who hope to see it Russianised or Germanised will be disappointed. The gentleness, the hypocrisy, the thoughtlessness, the reverence for law and the hatred of uniforms will remain, along with the suet puddings and the misty skies. It needs some very great disaster, such as prolonged subjugation by a foreign enemy, to destroy a national culture. The Stock Exchange will be pulled down, the horse plough will give way to the tractor, the country houses will be turned into children’s holiday camps, the Eton and Harrow match will be forgotten, but England will still be England, an everlasting animal stretching into the future and the past, and, like all living things, having the power to change out of recognition and yet remain the same.
The geopolitical climate of Nineteen Eighty-Four resembles the précis of James Burnham’s ideas in the essay “James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution” (1946):
These people will eliminate the old capitalist class, crush the working class, and so organize society that all power and economic privilege remain in their own hands. Private property rights will be abolished, but common ownership will not be established. The new ‘managerial’ societies will not consist of a patchwork of small, independent states, but of great super-states grouped round the main industrial centres in Europe, Asia, and America. These super-states will fight among themselves for possession of the remaining uncaptured portions of the earth, but will probably be unable to conquer one another completely. Internally, each society will be hierarchical, with an aristocracy of talent at the top and a mass of semi-slaves at the bottom.
A major theme of Nineteen Eighty-Four is censorship, which is displayed especially in the Ministry of Truth, where photographs are doctored and public archives rewritten to rid them of “unpersons”. In the telescreens, figures for all types of production are grossly exaggerated (or simply invented) to indicate an ever-growing economy, when in reality there is stagnation, if not loss.
An example of this is when Winston is charged with the task of eliminating reference to an unperson in a newspaper article. He proceeds to write an article about Comrade Ogilvy, a fictional party member, who displayed great heroism by leaping into the sea from a helicopter so that the dispatches he was carrying would not fall into enemy hands.
The Newspeak appendix
The Principles of Newspeak is an academic essay appended to the novel. It describes the development of Newspeak, the Party’s minimalist artificial language meant to ideologically align thought and action with the principles of Ingsoc by making “all other modes of thought impossible”. Note also the possible influence of the German book LTI – Lingua Tertii Imperii, published in 1947, which details how the Nazis controlled society by controlling the language.
Whether or not the Newspeak appendix implies a hopeful end to 1984 remains a critical debate, as it is in Standard English and refers to Newspeak, Ingsoc, the Party, et cetera, in the past tense (i.e., “Relative to our own, the Newspeak vocabulary was tiny, and new ways of reducing it were constantly being devised”, p. 422); in this vein, some critics (Atwood, Benstead, Pynchon) claim that, for the essay’s author, Newspeak and the totalitarian government are past. The counter view is that since the novel has no frame story, Orwell wrote the essay in the same past tense as the novel, with “our” denoting his and the reader’s contemporaneous reality.
During the Second World War (1939–1945) George Orwell repeatedly said that British democracy, as it existed before 1939 would not survive the war, the question being ‘Would it end via Fascist coup d’état (from above) or via Socialist revolution (from below)?’ Later in the war he admitted that events proved him wrong: “What really matters is that I fell into the trap of assuming that ‘the war and the revolution are inseparable’ “. Thematically Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and Animal Farm (1945) share the betrayed revolution; the person’s subordination to the collective; rigorously enforced class distinctions (Inner Party, Outer Party, Proles); the cult of personality; concentration camps; Thought Police; compulsory regimented daily exercise and youth leagues. Oceania resulted from the U.S.’s annexation of the British Empire to counter the Asian peril to Australia and New Zealand. It is a naval power whose militarism venerates the sailors of the floating fortresses, from which battle is given to recapturing India the “Jewel in the Crown” of the British Empire. Much of Oceanic society is based upon the U.S.S.R. under Josef Stalin—Big Brother; the televised Two Minutes’ Hate is ritual demonisation of the enemies of the State, especially Emmanuel Goldstein (viz Leon Trotsky); altered photographs create unpersons deleted from the national historical record.
In the essay Why I Write (1946) he explains that the serious works he wrote since the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) were “written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism”. Nineteen Eighty-Four is a cautionary tale about revolution betrayed by totalitarian defenders previously proposed in Homage to Catalonia (1938) and Animal Farm (1945), while Coming Up For Air (1939) celebrates the personal and political freedoms lost in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).
Biographer Michael Shelden notes Orwell’s Edwardian childhood at Henley-on-Thames as the golden country; being bullied at St Cyprian’s School as his empathy with victims; his life in the Indian Burma Police—the techniques of violence and censorship in the BBC—capricious authority. Other influences include Darkness at Noon (1940) and The Yogi and the Commissar (1945) by Arthur Koestler; The Iron Heel (1908) by Jack London; 1920: Dips into the Near Future by John A. Hobson; Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley; We (1921) by Yevgeny Zamyatin which he reviewed in 1946; and The Managerial Revolution (1940) by James Burnham predicting perpetual war among three totalitarian superstates. He told Jacintha Buddicom that he would write a novel stylistically like A Modern Utopia (1905) by H. G. Wells.
Extrapolating from the Second World War, the novel’s pastiche parallels the politics and rhetoric at war’s end—the changed alliances at the “Cold War’s” (1945–91) beginning; the Ministry of Truth derives from the BBC’s overseas service, controlled by the Ministry of Information; Room 101 derives from a conference room at BBC Broadcasting House; the Senate House of the University of London, containing the Ministry of Information is the architectural inspiration for the Minitrue; the post-war decrepitude derives from the socio-political life of the UK and the USA, i.e. the impoverished Britain of 1948 losing its Empire despite newspaper-reported imperial triumph; and war ally but peace-time foe, Soviet Russia became Eurasia.
The term “English Socialism” has precedents in his wartime writings; in the essay The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius (1941), he said that “the war and the revolution are inseparable . . . the fact that we are at war has turned Socialism from a textbook word into a realizable policy”—because Britain’s superannuated social class system hindered the war effort and only a socialist economy would defeat Hitler. Given the middle class’s grasping this, they too would abide socialist revolution and that only reactionary Britons would oppose it, thus limiting the force revolutionaries would need to take power. An English Socialism would come about which “. . . will never lose touch with the tradition of compromise and the belief in a law that is above the State. It will shoot traitors, but it will give them a solemn trial beforehand and occasionally it will acquit them. It will crush any open revolt promptly and cruelly, but it will interfere very little with the spoken and written word”.
In 1940 Orwell regarded English Socialism as desirable, hence his activities in achieving it. In the world of 1984 “English Socialism”—contracted to “Ingsoc” in Newspeak—is a totalitarian ideology unlike the English revolution he foresaw. Comparison of the wartime essay “The Lion and the Unicorn” and the post-war novel Nineteen Eighty-Four shows that he perceived a Big Brother régime as a perversion of socialist ideals and of his cherished “English Socialism”; thus Oceania is a corruption of the British Empire he believed would evolve into a “federation of Socialist states… like a looser and freer version of the Union of Soviet Republics”.
The effect of Nineteen Eighty-Four on the English language is extensive; the concepts of Big Brother, Room 101, the Thought Police, unperson, memory hole (oblivion), doublethink (simultaneously holding and believing contradictory beliefs) and Newspeak (ideological language) have become common phrases for denoting totalitarian authority. Doublespeak is an elaboration of doublethink, while the adjective “Orwellian” denotes “characteristic and reminiscent of George Orwell’s writings” especially Nineteen Eighty-Four. This originated the suffixes “–speak” and “–think”, i.e. “groupthink” and “mediaspeak”, for thoughtless conformity. Orwell is perpetually associated with the year 1984 and the asteroid 11020 Orwell was discovered by Antonín Mrkos in July 1984.
References to the themes, concepts and plot of Nineteen Eighty-Four have appeared frequently in other works, especially in popular music and video entertainment.
- Aubrey, Crispin & Chilton, Paul (Eds). (1983). Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1984: Autonomy, Control & Communication. London: Comedia.
- Bowker, Gordon (2003). Inside George Orwell: A Biography. Palgrave Macmillan.
- Hillegas, Mark R. (1967). The Future As Nightmare: H.G. Wells and the Anti-Utopians. Southern Illinois University Press.
- Howe, Irving (Ed.). (1983). 1984 Revisited: Totalitarianism In Our Century. New York: Harper Row.
- Meyers, Jeffery. Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation. W.W.Norton. 2000.
- Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. A novel. London: Secker & Warburg.
- Orwell, George (1984). Davison, Peter. ed (Hardcover). Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Facsimile Manuscript. London, United Kingdom: Secker and Warburg.
- Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. A novel. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co.
- Orwell, George (1977 (reissue)). 1984. Erich Fromm (Foreword). Signet Classics.
- Orwell, George (2003 (Centennial edition)). Nineteen Eighty-Four. Thomas Pynchon (Foreword); Erich Fromm (Afterword). Plume.
- Orwell, George. 1984 (Vietnamese edition), translation by Đặng Phương-Nghi, French preface by Bertrand Latour.
- Shelden, Michael. (1991). Orwell — The Authorised Biography. London: Heinemann.
- Smith, David & Mosher, Michael. (1984). Orwell for Beginners. London: Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative.
- Steinhoff, William R. (1975). George Orwell and the Origins of 1984. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
- Tuccille, Jerome. (1975). Who’s Afraid of 1984? The case for optimism in looking ahead to the 1980s. New York: Arlington House.
- West, W. J. The Larger Evils – Nineteen Eighty-Four, the truth behind the satire. Edinburgh: Canongate Press. 1992.