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Nineteen Eighty-Four. Understanding the characters, themes, context and ideas presented in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Background Understanding . George Orwell The Spanish Civil War The Russian Revolution English Socialism Publication and reception context The world of 1984.

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nineteen eighty four

Nineteen Eighty-Four

Understanding the characters, themes, context and ideas presented in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four

background understanding
Background Understanding
  • George Orwell
  • The Spanish Civil War
  • The Russian Revolution
  • English Socialism
  • Publication and reception context
  • The world of 1984
george orwell aka eric blair
George Orwell, aka Eric Blair
  • Eric Blair, who wrote under the pen-name George Orwell, was born in 1903 in Bengal, India
  • After education in England and working for the Indian Imperial Police in Burma (resigning in 1927), he spent time drifting around working on the poverty line while formulating ideas about politics.
  • He became a socialist, yet an independent thinker
  • He fought in the Spanish Civil War and reported on the events. Due to injury he was unable to fight in WWII.
  • He was a patriot but not a nationalist (he respected traditional values and was happy to defend his country, but not to state it was superior to others). He believed that most faults in his society arose from social and economical inequality.
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four was his last text, written when he was ill and isolated. It was written post WWII and reflects how appalled he was by Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin
  • At the time when Orwell wrote "1984", it was fashionable for intellectuals to admire Stalinist Russia. They thought of it as the opposite of Nazi Germany. Not long before his death, Orwell published this warning in the hope that people would realize that all dictatorships are basically the same.
the spanish civil war
The Spanish Civil War
  • “The Spanish Civil War …turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I know it.” – George Orwell

George Orwell volunteered and fought on the side of the P.O.U.M. (Party of Marxist Unity) during the Spanish Civil War

In Republican Spain he fleetingly experienced a world where "the working class was in the saddle". This was the kind of world in which Orwell wanted to live. His great Russian Revolution fable, Animal Farm, is essentially the story of the hope for equality cruelly betrayed.

politics betrayed
Politics Betrayed

Orwell fought on the republican side, which was a loose grouping of left wing factions.

He witnessed the brutal suppression by the pro-communist forces of the more equality minded factions he was involved with.

He was not only dismayed by this, but was disturbed that none of this was faithfully reported in the British press. This caused him to loose faith in the media.

He was further disturbed that British left wing intellectuals still slavishly supported the Soviet Union and failed to see Stalin’s handiwork in Spain.

the spanish civil war1
The Spanish Civil War

Orwell\'s fleeting experience of the suppression behind Republican lines in Spain led him to an understanding of the atmosphere of the totalitarian state.

On the basis of the astonishing dishonesty of the ideologues and the press concerning what was happening in Spain, Orwell came to fear a future world from which the ideal of objective truth had vanished and where those who held power were able to control the future through their control over the past. It was in Spain, moreover, that Orwell first saw the peculiar corruption to which those intellectuals who attached themselves to a country or a cause were prone.

For Orwell the essence of totalitarianism was the attack it waged against freedom. After Spain he lived with a permanent dread that the liberal civilisation into which he had been born was gradually being destroyed. This was the source of 1984, the most important warning he wrote about the abuse of absolute state power in the technological age.

russian revolution
Russian Revolution
  • The theories of Karl Marx were more than fifty years old when Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized power in October 1917. The response of people around the world was one of hope, that this was the beginning of an International Workers’ movement that would bring Communism into existence. The reality was that Stalin rose to power, instituted a police state, developed a cult of personality around himself and purged millions of people whom he thought might stand in his way. His capacity for cruelty was unprecedented in human history. He controlled all avenues of information, falsified history, and through the use of five-year plans forced the population to overwork. He developed a public enemy for the people to hate, in Nazi Germany, but signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler in 1939. Through show trials and purges, he removed almost every member of the Soviet Army down to the rank of captain

VATE Inside Stories Nineteen Eighty-Four 4/4

capitalism and communism
Capitalism and Communism
  • Yet the gigantic evils committed by Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany were much more than unpleasant facts. Orwell believed that a totalitarian frame of mind existed both in Britain as well as Soviet Russia.
  • “Capitalism leads to dole queues, the scramble for markets, and war. Collectivism leads to concentration camps, leader worship, and war. There is no way out of this unless a planned economy can somehow be combined with the freedom of the intellect, which can only happen if the concept of right and wrong is restored to politics”. (‘Capitalism and communism: two paths to slavery, 1944. Article for The Tribune. See References.)
english socialism
English Socialism
  • Throughout the text Orwell refers to INGSOC – the newspeak term for English Socialism.
  • Orwell believed, during the 1940 that the British social class system was hindering the war effort against Hitler. He believed that the only way to defeat Hitler was through a Socialist society.
  • According to Orwell an English Socialist system would be able to gain power and keep it. The system would not accept traitors and would put law above state. The system would crush any open revolt, promptly and cruelly.
  • Orwell wrote the text :The Lion and the Unicorn projecting these ideas.
  • However, a few years later Orwell realised the true ability behind English Socialism and wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four as a warning of how the ideals can degenerate into the monstrous Big Brother
publication and reception context
Publication and reception context
  • From it the term Orwellian has evolved, in reference to an idea or action that is hostile to a free society. Yet, Nineteen Eighty-Four has proven to be a profoundly meaningful work and continues to be one of the world’s most widely read and quoted novels into the twenty-first century.
  • Inspired by YevgenyZamyatin\'s (1884-1937) We, Blair worked intensely, often writing ten hours a day and even when bedridden with tuberculosis in his last days continued to labour over it.
  • “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.”

Orwell explained that he set the book in Britain to emphasise“that totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere” [1].

Commenting on 1984, Orwell wrote, “I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily will arrive, but I believe that something resembling it could arrive.”[2]

\'\'Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.\'\'

publication and reception context1
Publication and reception context

Originally titled Last Man in Europe it was renamed Nineteen Eighty-Four for unknown reasons, possibly a mere reversal of the last two digits of the year it was written. It was first met with conflicting criticisms and acclaim; some reviewers disliked its dystopian satire of totalitarian regimes, nationalism, the class system, bureaucracy, and world leaders’ power struggles, while others panned it as nihilistic prophesy on the downfall of humankind. Some still see it as anti-Catholic with Big Brother replacing God and church.

understanding the world of nineteen eighty four
Understanding the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • Parallels to Stalinist Soviet Union and Hitler’s Nazi Germany
    • Social structure
      • Subordination of individuals to “the Party”
      • Rigorous distinction between inner party, outer party and everyone else
    • Activities within the society
      • Worship of a leader (comparable to the dictators)
      • Joycamps (Concentration camps)
      • Thought Police (Gestapo or NKVD
      • Daily exercise (Nazi propaganda movies
      • Youth League (Hitler Youth or Octobrists/Pioneers)
    • Propaganda
relevant quotes
Relevant Quotes
  • “The broad mass of the nation … will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.” –Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1952
  • “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” – Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels
  • “Voice of no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” Nazi Reich Marshal Hermann Goring, Nuremburg trial

In the late 19th century British philosophers coined the term ‘dystopia’. The term indicates an indefinite world in which the contradictions of the author’s society creates a pessimistic (not optimistic) vision of the future. Dystopian texts are written to stimulate reflection from the reader about the differences between reality and fiction with the final purpose of improving reality itself. Ultimately dystopian texts show what the possible impact of today’s values, behaviour and attitude may lead to.

dystopian texts
Dystopian texts

Dystopian texts usually have common elements:

  • A hierarchical society where division between the upper, middle and lower classes are definitive and unbreakable
  • The propaganda and the educational system have the purpose of preserving the class system
  • The cancellation of individuality
  • The constant surveillance by state police agencies
  • More advanced technologies
  • Back story of disaster that justifies the dramatic social changes
  • A protagonist who believes that escape or even overturning the social order is possible
structure of nineteen eighty four
Structure of Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • 3 parts (the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston’s relationship with Julia, Winston’s capture and torture)
summary of the novel
Summary of the novel
  • In George Orwell\'s "1984" the world is divided into the three super-powers Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia. Oceania is alternating at war with one power and allied with the other. The population of Oceania consists of three castes: the Inner Party (1%), the Outer Party (14%) and the Proles (85%). The Inner Party is the ruling caste and its sole desire is to gain power, have power, and keep the power - forever.
  • The official face of the party is "Big Brother", an oversized face on posters hanging on walls everywhere and staring from every telescreen, seeming to follow everybody with his eyes.
  • Children are instructed to spy on their parents. Adults like the hero Winston Smith, are employed to rewrite history so that it always show that the dictatorship was right. There is no escape. Any attempt to express oneself as an individual is discovered and the person is brainwashed.

Winston Smith -The main protagonist of Orwell’s 1984. He resents the authoritarian regime of the Party and tries to rebel, but is finally crushed in body and soul.

Julia -Winston’s girlfriend. She also starts out with a strident anti-party stand and is suppressed in the same way as Winston is.

O’Brien -a prominent member of the Inner Circle of the Party. He traps Winston into betraying his unorthodox views and presides over his torture and degradation.

Mr. Charrington -a member of the powerful thought police, who disguises himself as a “prole” and entraps Winston.

Ampleforth -One of Winston’s colleagues at the Ministry of Truth, whose job is to “rewrite” old poems in keeping with Party ideology. He is arrested for thought crimes.

Parsons -Another colleague of Winston’s who despite his stupid and unquestioning adherence to the Party line, is still arrested. His children are such zealot pupils of the Party that they are prepared to ‘turn in’ any ‘thought criminal’, even their father

Symes–Winston’s colleague who is executed. He illustrates the truth that a high level of intelligence is not guarantee of humane thought or behaviour. He is a sadistic zealot.

Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford -three original leaders of the Party who were later denounced as traitors and executed.

Emmanuel Goldstein -The number one ‘Enemy of the People’ according to the Party. He is believed to have written a subversive book and to head a mysterious anti-party organization called The Brotherhood.

Big Brother -the omnipresent symbol of Party dominance. Big Brother’s presence is everywhere on posters, on cigarette covers, on coins and on telescreens.

newspeak and doublethink
Newspeak and Doublethink
  • One of the most dangerous aspects of totalitarian rule is the Party’s control of language. The sole purpose of Newspeak is “to narrow the range of thought”. This will ensure that thoughtcrime becomes a redundant concept because the words to express dissidence will have been eliminated.
  • The pinnacle of the Party’s success in controlling thought and language is evident in the concept of doublethink, which is the “power of holding two contradictory belies in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both of them”. Perhaps the most telling examples of doublethink are expressed in the Party’s slogans: “WAR IS PEACE; FREEDOM IS SLAVERY; IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH”
  • In "Nineteen Eighty-Four" Orwell draws a picture of a totalitarian future. Although the action takes place in the future, there are a couple of elements and symbols taken from the present and past. So, for example, Emmanuel Goldstein, the main enemy of Oceania, is, as one can see from the name, a Jew. Orwell draws a link to other totalitarian systems of our century, like the Nazis and the Communists, who had anti-Semitic ideas, and who used Jews as so-called scapegoats, who were responsible for all bad and evil things in the country. This fact also shows that totalitarian systems want to arbitrate their perfection.
  • Emmanuel Goldstein somehow also stands for Trotsky, a leader of the Revolution, who was later declared an enemy.
  • Another symbol that can be found in Nineteen Eighty-Four is the fact that Orwell divides the fictional superstates in the book according to the division that can be found during the Cold War. So Oceania stands for the United States of America , Eurasia for Russia and Eastasia for China. The fact that the two socialist countries Eastasia and Eurasia (in our case Russia and China) are at war with each other, corresponds to our history (Usuri river).
  • Other, non-historical symbols can be found. One of these symbols is the paperweight that Winston buys in the old junk-shop. It stands for the fragile little world that Winston and Julia have made for each other. They are the coral inside of it. As Orwell wrote: "It is a little chunk of history, that they have forgotten to alter".
  • The "Golden Country" is another symbol. It stands for the old European pastoral landscape. The place where Winston and Julia meet for the first time to make love to each other, is exactly like the "Golden Country" of Winston’s dreams.

winston s diary
Winston’s Diary

To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone-to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone. From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of doublethink-greetings! (p 32)


“We are the dead. Our only true life is in the future. We shall take part in it as handfuls of dust and splinters of bone. But how far away that future may be, there is no knowing. It might be a thousand years. At present nothing is possible except to extend the area of sanity little by little.”

O’Brien to Winston and Julia (p 204)

reviews of 1984
Reviews of 1984

Orwell provides compelling reasons for the people of the 21st century to, much as we did in the 60\'s, question authority. Winston holds these thoughts dear but because of how society has been allowed to evolve he must be careful with even his own thoughts. You\'ll go with him as he meets Julia and as, against all odds, develops a relationship. Surprises abound in this unique and, at the time it was written, futuristic look at a world that has allowed itself to be taken over by an entity that we know even today as Big Brother. You\'ll find yourself asking how this man who wrote the novel in 1948 could possibly have such foresight into what would evolve into the world as we know it today. Similarities between life as we know it and life as Orwell foresaw abound. The book will cause you to look around yourself and question the policies of our government and the policies of global governments and how they impact our daily life. Definitely a compelling read.

Submitted by Anonymous