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George Orwell – 1984

15 December 2011 No Comment
George Orwell - 1984

George Orwell - 1984

Nineteen Eighty-Four (first published in 1949) by George Orwell is a dystopian novel about Oceania, a society ruled by the oligarchical dictatorship of the Party. Life in the Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, and incessant public mind control, accomplished with a political systemeuphemistically named English Socialism (Ingsoc), which is administrated by a privileged Inner Party elite. Yet they too are subordinated to the totalitarian cult of personality of Big Brother, the deified Party leader who rules with a philosophy that decries individuality and reason as thoughtcrimes; thus the people of Oceania are subordinated to a supposed collective greater good. The protagonist, Winston Smith, is a member of the Outer Party who works for the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue), which is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism. His job is to re-write past newspaper articles so that the historical record is congruent with the current party ideology. Because of the childhood trauma of the destruction of his family — the disappearances of his parents and sister — Winston Smith secretly hates the Party, and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother.

As literary political fiction and as dystopian science-fiction, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a classic novel in content, plot, and style. Many of its terms and concepts, such as Big BrotherdoublethinkthoughtcrimeNewspeak, and memory hole, have become contemporary vernacular since its publication in 1949. Moreover, Nineteen Eighty-Fourpopularised the adjective Orwellian, which refers to official deception, secret surveillance, and manipulation of the past in service to a totalitarian political agenda.


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

Winston Smith is an intellectual, a member of the Outer Party, who lives in the ruins of London, and who grew up in some long post-World War II England, during the revolution and the civil war after which the Party assumed power. At some point his parents and sister disappeared, and the Ingsoc movement placed him in an orphanage for training and subsequent employment as an Outer Party civil servant. Yet his squalid existence consists of living in a one-room flat on a subsistence diet of black bread and synthetic meals washed down with Victory-brand gin. He keeps a journal of negative thoughts and opinions about the Party and Big Brother, which, if uncovered by the Thought Police, would warrant death. The flat has an alcove, beside the telescreen, where he apparently cannot be seen, and thus believes he has some privacy, while 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 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 documents are incinerated in a “memory hole”. Despite enjoying the intellectual challenges of historical revisionism, he becomes increasingly fascinated by the true past and tries to learn more about it.


One day, at the Minitrue, as Winston assisted a woman who had fallen, she surreptitiously handed him a folded paper note; later, at his desk he covertly reads the message: I LOVE YOU. The name of the woman is “Julia”, a young dark haired mechanic who repairs the Minitrue novel-writing machines. Before that occasion, Winston had loathed the sight of her, presuming she was a member of the fanatical Junior Anti-Sex League, because she wore the red sash of the League, and because she was the type of woman he believed he could not attract: young, beautiful, and puritanical; nonetheless, his hostility towards her vanishes upon reading the message. Cautiously, Winston and Julia begin a love affair, at first meeting in the country, at a clearing in the woods, then at the belfry of a ruined church, and afterwards in a rented room atop an antiques shop in a proletarian neighbourhood of London. There, they think themselves safe and unobserved, because the rented bedroom has no telescreen, but, unknown to Winston and Julia, the Thought Policewere aware of their love affair.

Later, when the Inner Party member O’Brien approaches him, Winston believes he is an agent of the Brotherhood, a secret, counter-revolutionary organisation meant to destroy The Party. The approach opened a secret communication between them; and, on pretext of giving him a copy of the latest edition of the Dictionary of Newspeak, O’Brien gives Winston The Book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, by Emmanuel Goldstein, the infamous and publicly reviled leader of the Brotherhood. The Book explains the concept of perpetual war, the true meanings of the slogans WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH, and how the régime of The Party can be overthrown by means of the political awareness of the Proles. [Read more]

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