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1984 by George Orwell

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Nathan Wileman, Modern British History, HIST327.01

George Orwell, 1984

Published by Signet Classic (January 1,1961),

Published in New York, New York

326 pages

PR 6029 .R8 N49 1977

Word Count: 2,347

MLA Format

        George Orwell wrote his most well known novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984), in post-war Europe in 1948 and published it in 1949. It has since influenced politics, economies, cultures, and languages; and is considered by many as one of the most brilliant and prophetic dystopian novels of all time. Orwell wrote this novel in an age of totalitarianism, mainly in Spain, Germany, and the Soviet Union. The publication year also coincided with the establishment of the Communist Party in China in 1949. These governments had "iron curtains" around their populations, suppressing their freedoms and strictly controlling their actions. That is why the novel is overrun with ideas of hunger, forced labor, mass torture and imprisonment, and perpetual monitoring by the authorities (The World Book Encyclopedia).

Orwell had spent time in Spain during the peak of their Fascist regime as a correspondent for the BBC, and he was very disappointed with how that administration turned against its citizens. He felt their media was nothing more than a propaganda machine, hiding the truth and inflating half-truths to confuse the masses. This is most likely to be the reason why Winston Smith, the main character in 1984, also works for a media agency, since it is through his actions that the reader knows how deeply the Party affects and controls any public expression. It is also Winston's exasperation with this manipulation, which spurs on his rebellion to the Party. Orwell must have seen and strongly disproved of this manipulation in his own experiences.

The novel is also set in a state of perpetual war, since Orwell was writing right after World War II, coming off of World War I. Orwell was able, in his travels, to see the experiences of the masses in Spain, Germany, and the Soviet Union, on which he bases the condition of the Proles in the novel and the suffering expressed in Winston's childhood. Orwell creates a "dystopia" in the novel, which is the opposite of a "utopia," thereby establishing a model of what the world should not become (Encyclopedia Britannica).

I chose this book because I am an avid fan of dystopian literature, and I have had this book suggested to me in the past and I had never been able to read it. So, I thought this would be an excellent time.

The novel's protagonist, Winston Smith, is a citizen of Oceania, one of the world's three superstates (along with Eurasia and Eastasia). It is the year 1984. Winston is a member of the Party, which rules Oceania under the principles of Ingsoc (English Socialism). Oceania is an oligarchy, under hierarchical rule. The Party consists of Inner Party members, who are the ruling elite, and regular Party members, who are citizens of Oceania. Outside of the Party are the proles, non-Party members and simple people who live in poverty and are free from Party regulations. The Party's leader is Big Brother, and there are massive images of his face displayed throughout London. The Party's three slogans are: "War is Peace," "Freedom is Slavery," and "Ignorance is Strength."

Winston works in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, which handles all Party publications and propaganda, altering previously published Party publications to ensure that the Party's version of the Past is never questioned. Such alterations often remove a person from history, or make previously flawed predictions accurate. The other three ministries are the Ministry of Love, which handles all Party prisoners, the Ministry of Peace, which handles war, and the Ministry of Plenty, which manages the production of Party goods. Winston has never quite accepted the principles of Ingsoc and the Party. Winston wishes for privacy, intimacy, freedom, and love, but cannot express any of this in the open for fear of death.

When the book opens, Winston is at home during his lunch break. Winston's apartment is meager, and like every other Party member's home, contains a telescreen. The telescreen transmits Party information and propaganda, and also allows the Thought Police to watch and listen to Party members at all times. Winston is fortunate to have a small nook in his apartment out of the view of the telescreen, and it is in this nook that he writes in his diary. Undoubtedly, Winston will eventually be caught, imprisoned, and tortured by the Thought Police.

Winston writes of various memories, all related to the Party and his life. Winston does not subscribe to Party doctrine. In his reflections of the past he often finds himself writing "DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER" over and over on the page. Eventually, time runs out and Winston must return to work.

At the Ministry of Truth, Winston is surrounded by loyal Party members, and is always on guard to prevent his true feelings from being perceived by others. At work, Winston sits through the daily Two Minutes Hate, which rails against the supposed leader of the opposition movement, Emmanuel Goldstein. The propaganda is powerful, and the people around him begin shouting at the screen.

Finding himself curious about the past, Winston wanders the streets. Winston meets an old man in a Prole pub and questions him about life before the Revolution. Winston then returns to the junk shop where he bought his diary and purchases a glass paperweight with a piece of coral inside. The proprietor, a old man named Mr. Charrington, shows him a room above the shop and Winston thinks about what it might be like to rent it out and live free from the constant presence of the telescreen.

At work and on his walk, Winston sees a dark-haired girl who is seemingly a loyal Party member and apparently has taken notice of him. He fears she is a member of the Thought Police. One day, at the Ministry of Truth, the girl slips him a note after falling down in the hallway. The note says "I love you." Winston is astounded, but extremely excited by the possibility of a love affair. The affair must be secret, the Party is against any sort of sexual pleasure. In fact, sexual repression is a tenet of Ingsoc. All energy must be devoted to the Party. Winston was once in such a marriage. His wife Katharine was a frigid, mindless woman who was extremely loyal to the Party, but thought sex was a vile activity.

With a great deal of effort to remain undetected, the girl finally tells Winston where and how they can meet. On a Sunday afternoon, he travels into the country, as per Julia's instructions, to meet her in a secluded clearing in a wooded area. Finally, they can speak. Winston learns that her name is Julia, they discuss their beliefs regarding the Party, and they begin their love affair.

Winston and Julia continue to meet in secret. They discover a mutual hatred of the Party and eventually fall in love. Winston believes that it is possible to overthrow the Party, while Julia is satisfied simply living a double life. On the surface, she is loyal to the extreme, but on the inside, she thinks of it all as a game. She hates the Party and all it stands for, but knows she can do nothing to change it. Eventually Winston rents the room above Mr. Charrington's flat. Winston and Julia meet often in the room.



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