Smith is a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in London, in the nation
of Oceania. Everywhere Winston goes, even his own home, the Party watches
him through telescreens; everywhere he looks he sees the face of the Party’s
seemingly omniscient leader, a figure known only as Big Brother. The Party
controls everything in Oceania, even the people’s history and language.
Currently, 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. Such
thoughtcrime is, in fact, the worst of all crimes.
As the novel opens, Winston feels frustrated by the oppression and rigid control of the Party, which prohibits free thought, sex, and any expression of individuality. 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, whom Winston believes is a secret member of the Brotherhood—the mysterious, legendary group that works to overthrow the Party.
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 spends his evenings wandering through the poorest neighborhoods in London, where the proletarians, or proles, live squalid lives, relatively free of Party monitoring.
One day, Winston receives a note from the dark-haired girl that reads
“I love you.” She tells him her name, Julia, and they begin
a covert affair ...
Analysis of Major
The Dangers of Totalitarianism
1984 is a political novel written with the purpose of warning readers in the West of the dangers of totalitarian government. Having witnessed firsthand the horrific lengths to which totalitarian governments in Spain and Russia would go in order to sustain and increase their power, Orwell designed 1984 to sound the alarm in Western nations still unsure about how to approach the rise of communism. In 1949, the Cold War had not yet escalated, many American intellectuals supported communism, and the state of diplomacy between democratic and communist nations was highly ambiguous. In the American press, the Soviet Union was often portrayed as a great moral experiment. Orwell, however, was deeply disturbed by the widespread cruelties and oppressions he observed in communist countries, and seems to have been particularly concerned by the role of technology in enabling oppressive governments to monitor and control their citizens.
In 1984, Orwell portrays the perfect totalitarian society, the most extreme realization imaginable of a modern-day government with absolute power. The title of the novel was meant to indicate to its readers in 1949 that the story represented a real possibility for the near future: if totalitarianism were not opposed, the title suggested, some variation of the world described in the novel could become a reality in only thirty-five years. Orwell portrays a state in which government monitors and controls every aspect of human life to the extent that even having a disloyal thought is against the law. As the novel progresses, the timidly rebellious Winston Smith sets out to challenge the limits of the Party’s power, only to discover that its ability to control and enslave its subjects dwarfs even his most paranoid conceptions of its reach. As the reader comes to understand through Winston’s eyes, The Party uses a number of techniques to control its citizens, each of which is an important theme of its own in the novel. These include:
|The Party barrages its subjects with psychological stimuli designed to
overwhelm the mind’s capacity for independent thought. The giant telescreen
in every citizen’s room blasts a constant stream of propaganda designed
to make the failures and shortcomings of the Party appear to be triumphant
successes. The telescreens also monitor behavior—everywhere they go,
citizens are continuously reminded, especially by means of the omnipresent
signs reading “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU,” that the authorities
are scrutinizing them. The Party undermines family structure by inducting
children into an organization called the Junior Spies, which brainwashes
and encourages them to spy on their parents and report any instance of disloyalty
to the Party. The Party also forces individuals to suppress their sexual
desires, treating sex as merely a procreative duty whose end is the creation
of new Party members.
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Book One: Chapter I
Summary: Chapter I
On a cold day in April of 1984, a man named Winston Smith returns to his home, a dilapidated apartment building called Victory Mansions. Thin, frail, and thirty-nine years old, it is painful for him to trudge up the stairs because he has a varicose ulcer above his right ankle. The elevator is always out of service so he does not try to use it. As he climbs the staircase, he is greeted on each landing by a poster depicting an enormous face, underscored by the words “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.”
Winston is an insignificant official in the Party, the totalitarian political regime that rules all of Airstrip One—the land that used to be called England—as part of the larger state of Oceania. Though Winston is technically a member of the ruling class, his life is still under the Party’s oppressive political control. In his apartment, an instrument called a telescreen—which is always on, spouting propaganda, and through which the Thought Police are known to monitor the actions of citizens—shows a dreary report about pig iron. Winston keeps his back to the screen. From his window he sees the Ministry of Truth, where he works as a propaganda officer altering historical records to match the Party’s official version of past events. Winston thinks about the other Ministries that exist as part of the Party’s governmental apparatus: the Ministry of Peace, which wages war; the Ministry of Plenty, which plans economic shortages; and the dreaded Ministry of Love, the center of the Inner Party’s loathsome activities.
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH (See Important Quotations Explained)
Read more about the other chapters...
Important Quotations Explained
|1. WAR IS PEACE FREEDOM IS SLAVERY IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
|These words are the official slogans of the Party, and are inscribed in
massive letters on the white pyramid of the Ministry of Truth, as Winston
observes in Book One, Chapter I. Because it is introduced so early in the
novel, this creed serves as the reader’s first introduction to the
idea of doublethink. By weakening the independence and strength of individuals’
minds and forcing them to live in a constant state of propaganda-induced
fear, the Party is able to force its subjects to accept anything it decrees,
even if it is entirely illogical—for instance, the Ministry of Peace
is in charge of waging war, the Ministry of Love is in charge of political
torture, and the Ministry of Truth is in charge of doctoring history books
to reflect the Party’s ideology.
That the national slogan of Oceania is equally contradictory is an important
testament to the power of the Party’s mass campaign of psychological
control. In theory, the Party is able to maintain that “War Is Peace”
because having a common enemy keeps the people of Oceania united. “Freedom
Is Slavery” because, according to the Party, the man who is independent
is doomed to fail. By the same token, “Slavery Is Freedom,”
because the man subjected to the collective will is free from danger and
want. “Ignorance Is Strength” because the inability of the
people to recognize these contradictions cements the power of the authoritarian
2. Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present
controls the past.
|Author - George Orwell
Type of work - Novel
Genre - Negative utopian, or dystopian, fiction
Language - English
Time and place written - England, 1949
Date of first publication - 1949
Publisher - Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.
Narrator - Third-person, limited
Climax - Winston’s torture with the cage of rats in Room 101
Protagonist - Winston Smith
Antagonist - The Party; Big Brother
Setting (time) - 1984
Setting (place) - London, England (known as “Airstrip One” in the novel’s alternate reality)
Point of View - Winston Smith’s
Falling action - Winston’s time in the café following his release from prison, including the memory of his meeting with Julia at the end of Book Three.
Tense - Past
Foreshadowing - Winston’s dreams (making love to Julia in the forest, meeting O’Brien in the “place where there is no darkness”); the St. Clement’s Church song (“Here comes a chopper to chop off your head!”)
Tone - Dark, frustrated, pessimistic
Themes - The psychological, technological, physical, and social dangers of totalitarianism and political authority; the importance of language in shaping human thought
Motifs - Urban decay (London is falling apart under the Party’s leadership); the idea of doublethink (the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in one’s mind at the same time and believe them both to be true)
Symbols - The glass paperweight (Winston’s desire to connect with the past); the red-armed prole woman (the hope that the proles will ultimately rise up against the Party); the picture of St. Clement’s Church (the past); the telescreens and the posters of Big Brother (the Party’s constant surveillance of its subjects); the phrase “the place where there is no darkness” (Winston’s tendency to mask his fatalism with false hope, as the place where there is no darkness turns out to be not a paradise but a prison cell)
Study Questions & Essay Topics
|1. 1984 is full of images and ideas that do not directly affect the plot,
but nevertheless attain thematic importance. What are some of these symbols
and motifs, and how does Orwell use them?
|Some of the most important symbols and motifs in 1984 include Winston’s
paperweight, the St. Clement’s Church picture and the rhyme associated
with it, the prole woman singing outside the window, and the phrase “the
place where there is no darkness.” In addition to unifying the novel,
these symbols and motifs represent Winston’s attempts to escape or
undermine the oppressive rule of the Party. Winston conceives of the singing
prole woman as an incubator for future rebels; she symbolizes for him the
eventual overthrow of the Party by the working class. The St. Clement’s
Church picture is a double symbol. For Winston it symbolizes a stolen past,
but it also symbolizes the Party’s complete power and betrayal of
humanity, since the picture hides the telescreen by which the Party monitors
Winston when he believes himself to be safe. The St. Clement’s song
is a mysterious, ominous, and enigmatic relic of the past for Winston and
Julia. Its ending—“Here comes the chopper to chop off your head!”—foreshadows
their eventual capture and torture.
Winston’s paperweight is another symbol of the past, but it also comes to represent a kind of temporal stasis in which Winston can dream without fear, imagining himself floating inside the glass walls of the paperweight with his mother. The phrase “the place where there is no darkness” works as another symbol of escapist hope throughout the novel, as Winston recalls the dream in which O’Brien tells him about this place and says that they will meet there one day. The phrase therefore orients Winston toward the end of the novel, when the phrase becomes bitterly ironic: the place where there is no darkness is the Ministry of Love, where the lights remain on in the prisons all day and all night.
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