Nineteen Eighty-Four

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Nineteen Eighty-Four is a novel written by George Orwell in 1948. The book is about what Orwell thought the world could have looked like in the year 1984. It describes a frightening world where governments control and watch everyone's lives. The main character is Winston Smith. He lives in a country that is ruled by a powerful "Party" and its leader Big Brother, and dreams of changing this. He falls in love with Julia, who agrees with him.

The book is very famous. Many of its ideas are also famous. Among these are Big Brother, Newspeak, Room 101 and unperson. In 2005, Time (a magazine) called it one the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005.

Plot[change | change source]

In the year 1984, the world is divided into three massive countries that are in endless war with each other: Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. Each country has a totalitarian government, meaning that the government tries to control everything that its people do. Great Britain is now named "Airstrip One" and is part of Oceania. Oceania is ruled by "the Party". They use the "Thought Police" and "telescreens" (two-way televisions) to spy on people. People also have to show love for the Party and its leader, Big Brother. While pictures of Big Brother are everywhere, he is never seen for real, and he may not even exist.

Winston Smith is an ordinary member of the Party. He works for the "Ministry of Truth". His job is to re-write history when the Party wants him to. The Party kills anyone whom it thinks threatens its grip on power, sometimes for reasons that make no sense. When these people are killed, the Party also hides any sign that they existed. Winston works hard and pretends to love the Party. His secret is that he hates the Party and dreams of fighting them. Winston buys a diary from a shopkeeper called Mr Charrington.

He hides the diary in his room, where he writes about his secrets. He falls in love with a woman called Julia. The Party will not allow this, so they go out into the countryside to meet in secret. Later, they start meeting in a room at Mr Charrington's shop. O'Brien, an important member of the Party, tells Winston that he also hates the Party. Winston and Julia meet O'Brien at his home, where he gives them a book. The book is about how the Party stays in power. It says that the Party can be stopped if ordinary people rise up against it.

Winston and Julia are betrayed. Winston is taken to the "Ministry of Love". This is the prison of Oceania. O'Brien tells Winston that he was only pretending to be his friend. Winston is hurt badly and told he must stop hating the Party and do everything they want him to do, even if he has to say that "2 + 2 = 5". O'Brien says that once this is finished, Winston will leave the Ministry of Love and will return to a normal life for some months or years. After this, they will shoot him. But first, they want to make him turn against Julia.

In the end, Winston is taken to "Room 101", where he must face his worst fear: rats. As a cage of hungry rats is pushed against his face, Winston tells them to "Do it to Julia!" After Winston leaves the Ministry of Love, he meets Julia. He says he turned against her in Room 101, and she says she did the same. Winston then sits alone in a café. The last words of the story are: "He loved Big Brother."

Background[change | change source]

Orwell got the idea for the book when he saw in the newspapers of London that they listed how much the country's supplies increased (more supplies) during World War II when they were actually very low on supplies and were getting smaller. He started writing a political satire of the possible condition of Britain in 50 years. He wrote it in 1948, mostly during a visit to Jura, Scotland. He sent the writing to his publishers in December 1948.[1][2]

Setting[change | change source]

A map of the three countries that rule the world in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The main character, Winston Smith, lives in the town of London, United Kingdom (although in the novel, the United Kingdom is called "Airstrip One"). Airstrip One is only a small part of the mega state (big country) of Oceania. Oceania is a very large country. The Americas, Greenland, Iceland, South Africa, Madagascar, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea, all come together to create the country of Oceania. There are two other countries in the novel - Eurasia, and Eastasia. Europe (not including the United Kingdom), Russia, and half of Mongolia, make up the country of Eurasia. China, Japan, Korea, and some north-west countries in Asia, make up the country of Eastasia. The equatorial countries (the Middle East, North Africa, etc.) are all disputed, fought over by Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia.

People in Oceania belong to three groups:

  • Inner Party: The most powerful people in the country. They live like rich people.
  • Outer Party: People like Winston and Julia. They have a better life that most people. They are always being watched.
  • Proles: Ordinary people. They are poor, but have more freedom than the Outer Party.

Party workers belong to four ministries:

  • Ministry of Truth: They tell people what to think. They also make all of the country's art.
  • Ministry of Peace: They run the military
  • Ministry of Plenty: They run the economy
  • Ministry of Love: A prison

The leader of Ocenia is Big Brother. His picture is seen everywhere, along with the words "Big Brother is watching you." However, it is not clear if he is a real person. Emmanuel Goldstein and O'Brien both say that the main role of Big Brother is to be a symbol for the Party. O'Brien also says that Big Brother will never die.

Ideas[change | change source]

The book was an attack on totalitarianism (when a government tries to control people's lives) and dictatorship (rule by one person). George Orwell was a democratic socialist who was against any form of dictatorship. He once wrote:

"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".[3]

Later he repeated that idea, writing about 1984

as a show-up of the perversions . . . which have already been partly realized in Communism and Fascism [4]

Newspeak[change | change source]

Newspeak is a fictional (not real) language that appears in the book Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is the official language of Oceania. At the end of his book, George Orwell described Newspeak. It started out as the English language, but the number of words gets smaller each year. The Party are trying to stop people from rebelling, so it destroys words like "freedom" and "love", saying that people can not think of it if there is no word for it. In the society, this is supposed to prevent thoughtcrime, which is thinking against the Party, or thinking about the past. For example, a person could not say "I want to be free", because there was no word for "free" any more, so the person could not describe what he or she was feeling. At the time, it was supposed to make fun of what was later called "politically correct" speech, and "thoughtcrime" made fun of censorship. "Newspeak" is also used for military reasons, such as Oceania's Ministry of Peace (in Newspeak: "Minipax"), really the war department. Words like "Peace", "Truth", "Love", and "Plenty" were used in Newspeak a lot to mean their exact opposites. Another "Newspeak" word, joycamp, means "forced labor camp". Other "Newspeak" words were used for political reasons. Words like "crimethink" were defined by the "Party", and became laws of the land.

Others[change | change source]

  • doublethink: When someone can think that two opposing things are true. (e.g. "Oceania is winning the war." "Oceania will lose the war unless it sends more soldiers.")
  • endless war: These large wars are being fought just to keep people busy. The sides in the wars sometimes change. When this happens, they pretend there was no change and that the sides were always the same.
  • Ingsoc: This is short for "English socialism". This is the Party's idea on how Oceania should be run.
  • memory hole: A hole that things can be thrown down, which leads to a furnace.
  • Room 101: A room in the Ministry of Love where someone faces their worst fear.
  • telescreen: A type of television. People can watch things on the telescreen, but it is also has a camera for watching people.
  • Thought Police: A police who catch people who commit thoughtcrime.
  • thoughtcrime: When someone has thoughts that the Party does not want them to think.
  • unperson: A person who has been killed by the Party. When this happens, all signs that this person existed are destroyed.
  • vaporized: When someone is turned into an unperson.

Reception[change | change source]

Book magazine ranked the character of Big Brother as #59 on its "100 Best Characters in Fiction Since 1900" list.[5]

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. Bowker, p. 383, 399.
  2. Charles' George Orwell Links
  3. "Why I Write" (1946) in The Collected Essays: journalism and letters of George Orwell. Volume 1 - An age like this 1920–1940 p.23 (Penguin)
  4. The Collected Essays: journalism and letters of George Orwell. Volume 4 - In front of your nose 1945–1950 p.546 (Penguin)
  5. "NPR: 100 Best Characters in Fiction Since 1900". NPR.org. Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  • Aubrey, Crispin & Chilton, Paul (Eds). (1983). Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1984: Autonomy, Control & Communication. London: Comedia. ISBN 0-906890-42-X.
  • Hillegas, Mark R. (1967). The Future As Nightmare: H.G. Wells and the Anti-Utopians. Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 0-8093-0676-X
  • Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. A novel. London: Secker & Warburg. [1]
  • Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. A novel. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co. [2]
  • Orwell, George (2003 (Centennial edition)). Nineteen Eighty-Four. Thomas Pynchon (Foreword); Erich Fromm (Afterword). Plume.  Check date values in: |year= (help) Afterword by Erich Fromm (1961) pp. 324–337. ISBN 0452284236
Orwell's text has a "Selected Bibliography", pp. 338–9; the foreword and the afterword each contain further references.
  • Shelden, Michael. (1991). Orwell — The Authorised Biography. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-69517-3
  • Smith, David & Mosher, Michael. (1984). Orwell for Beginners. London: Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative. ISBN 0-86316-066-2
  • Steinhoff, William R. (1975). George Orwell and the Origins of 1984. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.  ISBN 0472874004
  • Tuccille, Jerome. (1975). Who's Afraid of 1984? The case for optimism in looking ahead to the 1980s. New York: Arlington House. ISBN 0-87000-308-9.
  • West, W. J. The Larger Evils – Nineteen Eighty-Four, the truth behind the satire. Edinburgh: Canongate Press. 1992. ISBN 0-86241-382-6

Other websites[change | change source]