Nineteen Eighty-Four is a novel by George Orwell published in 1949. It is a dystopian andsatirical novel set in Oceania, where society is tyrannized by The Party and its totalitarianideology. The Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public mind control, dictated by a political systemeuphemistically named English Socialism (Ingsoc) under the control of a privileged Inner Party elite that persecutes all individualism and independent thinking as thoughtcrimes.Their tyranny is headed by Big Brother, the quasi-divine Party leader who enjoys an intensecult of personality, but who may not even exist. Big Brother and the Party justify their rule in the name of a supposed greater good. The protagonist of the novel, 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 always supports the current party line. Smith is a diligent and skillful worker, but he 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 Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, and memory hole, have entered everyday use since its publication in 1949.
Moreover, Nineteen Eighty-Four popularised the adjectiveOrwellian, which describes official deception, secret surveillance, and manipulation of the past by a totalitarian or authoritarian state. In 2005 the novel was chosen by TIMEmagazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. It was awarded a place on both lists of Modern Library 100 Best Novels, reaching number 13 on the editor’s list, and 6 on the reader’s list. In 2003, the novel was listed at number 8 on the BBC’s survey The Big Read.
History and title.
George Orwell “encapsulate[d] the thesis at the heart of his unforgiving novel” in 1944, and three years later wrote most of it on the Scottish island of Jura, from 1947 to 1948, despite being seriously ill withtuberculosis. On 4 December 1948, he sent the final manuscript to the publisher Secker and Warburg and Nineteen Eighty-Four was published on 8 June 1949. By 1989, it had been translated into sixty-five languages, more than any other novel in English at the time.
The title of the novel, its themes, the Newspeak language, and the author’s surname are often invoked against control and intrusion by the state, while the adjective Orwellian describes a totalitarian dystopia characterised by government control and subjugation of the people. Orwell’s invented language, Newspeak, satirizes hypocrisy and evasion by the state: for example, the Ministry of Love (Miniluv) oversees torture and brainwashing, the Ministry of Plenty (Miniplenty) oversees shortage and famine, the Ministry of Peace(Minipax) oversees war and atrocity, and the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue) oversees propaganda and historical revisionism.
The Last Man in Europe was one of the original titles for the novel, but in a letter dated 22 October 1948 to his publisher Fredric Warburg, eight months before publication, Orwell wrote about hesitating between The Last Man in Europe and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Warburg suggested changing the Mantitle to one more commercial. The rejected title may allude to the poem “End of the Century, 1984” (1934) by Orwell’s first and then wife Eileen O’Shaughnessy (1905–1945), to G. K. Chesterton’s novel also set in a future London of 1984, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904), and to the Jack London novel The Iron Heel (1908).
In the novel 1985 (1978), Anthony Burgess suggests that Orwell, disillusioned by the onset of the Cold War (1945–91), intended to call the book 1948. The introduction to the Penguin Books Modern Classics edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four reports that Orwell originally set the novel in 1980, but he later shifted the date first to 1982, then to 1984. The final title may also be an inversion of 1948, the year of composition. Throughout its publication history, Nineteen Eighty-Four has been either banned or legally challenged as subversive or ideologically corrupting, like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932); We (1924), by Yevgeny Zamyatin; Kallocain (1940), by Karin Boye; and Fahrenheit 451 (1951), by Ray Bradbury. In 2005, Time magazine included Nineteen Eighty-Four in its list of the one hundred best English-language novels since 1923. Literary scholars consider the Russian dystopian novel We, by Zamyatin, to have strongly influenced Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is set in Oceania, one of three inter-continental super-states that divided the world among themselves after a global war. Most of the action takes place in London, the “chief city of Airstrip One”, the Oceanic province that “had once been called England or Britain”. Posters of the Party leader, Big Brother, bearing the caption “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU”, dominate the city, while the ubiquitous telescreen(transceiving television set) monitors the private and public lives of the populace. The social class system of Oceania is threefold:
• (I) the upper-class Inner Party, the elite ruling minority • (II) the middle-class Outer Party, and
• (III) the lower-class Proles (from proletariat), who make up 85% of the population and represent the uneducated working class. As the government, the Party controls the population with four ministries:
• the Ministry of Peace (Minipax), which deals with war, • the Ministry of Plenty (Miniplenty), which deals with rationing and starvation, • the Ministry of Love (Miniluv), which deals with torture, and • the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue), which deals with propaganda The protagonist Winston Smith (a member of the Outer Party) works in the Ministry of Truth as an editor, revising historical records to make the past conform to the ever-changing party line and deleting references to unpersons, people who have been “vaporised”, i.e. not only killed by the state, but denied existence even in history or memory.
The story of Winston Smith begins on 4 April 1984: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen”; yet he is uncertain of the true date, given the régime’s continual rewriting and manipulation of history. His memories and his reading of the proscribed book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, by Emmanuel Goldstein, reveal that after the Second World War, the United Kingdom fell to civil war and then was absorbed into Oceania. Simultaneously, the USSR conquered mainland Europe and established the second superstate of Eurasia. The third superstate, Eastasia, comprises the regions of East Asia and Southeast Asia.
The three superstates wage perpetual war for the remaining unconquered lands of the world, forming and breaking alliances as is convenient. From his childhood (1949–53), Winston remembers the Atomic Wars fought in Europe, western Russia, and North America. It is unclear to him what occurred first: the Party’s victory in the civil war, the US’s annexation of the British Empire, or the war in whichColchester was bombed. However, his strengthening memories and the story of his family’s dissolution suggest that the atomic bombings occurred first (the Smiths took refuge in a tube station), followed by civil war featuring “confused street fighting in London itself”, and the societal postwar reorganisation, which the Party retrospectively calls “the Revolution”.
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 is an intellectual, a member of the Outer Party (middle class), 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 he was placed in an orphanage for training and subsequent employment as an Outer Party civil servant. He lives an austere existence 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), have hidden microphones and cameras. These devices, alongside 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 ever-changing 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 assists a woman who has fallen down, she surreptitiously hands him a folded paper note; later, at his desk he covertly reads the message: I LOVE YOU. 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, since women tended to be the most fanatical supporters of Ingsoc. He particularly loathed her because of her membership in the fanatical Junior Anti-Sex League. Winston fantasizes about her but he would want to kill her at the moment of climax. Additionally, Julia was the type of woman he believed he could not attract: young and puritanical. Nonetheless, his hostility towards her vanishes upon reading the message. As it turns out, Julia is a thoughtcriminal too, and hates the Party as much as he does.
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 apparent 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 opens 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.
The Thought Police capture Winston and Julia in their bedroom and deliver them to the Ministry of Love for interrogation. Charrington, the shop keeper who rented the room to them, reveals himself as an officer of the Thought Police. O’Brien also reveals himself to be a Thought Police leader, and admits to luring Winston and Julia into a false flag operation used by the Thought Police to root out suspected thoughtcriminals.
After a prolonged regimen of systematic beatings and psychologically draining interrogation, O’Brien, now Smith’s inquisitor, tortures Winston with electroshock, showing him how, through controlled manipulation of perception (e.g.: seeing whatever number of fingers held up that the Party demands one should see, whatever the “apparent” reality, i.e. 2+2=5), Winston can “cure” himself of his “insanity” – his manifest hatred for the Party. In long, complex conversations, he explains the Inner Party’s motivation: complete and absolute power, mocking Winston’s assumption that it was somehow altruistic and “for the greater good.” Asked if the Brotherhood exists, O’Brien replies that this is something Winston will never know; it will remain an unsolvable quandary in his mind. During a torture session, his imprisonment in the Ministry of Love is explained: “There are three stages in your reintegration . . . There is learning, there is understanding, and there is acceptance,” i.e. of the Party’s assertion of reality.
Confession and betrayal
In the first stage of political re-education, Winston Smith admits to and confesses to crimes he did and did not commit, implicating anyone and everyone, including Julia. In the second stage, O’Brien makes Winston understand that he is rotting away; by this time he is little more than skin and bones. Winston counters that: “I have not betrayed Julia”; O’Brien agrees, Winston had not betrayed Julia because he “had not stopped loving her; his feelings toward her had remained the same.”
One night, in his cell, Winston awakens, screaming: “Julia! Julia! Julia, my love! Julia!” O’Brien rushes in to the cell and sends him to Room 101, the most feared room in the Ministry of Love, where resides each prisoner’s worst fear, which is forced upon him or her. In Room 101 is Acceptance, the final stage of the political re-education of Winston Smith, whose primal fear of rats is invoked when a wire cage holding hungry rats is fitted onto his face. As the rats are about to reach Winston’s face, he shouts: “Do it to Julia!” thus betraying her, and relinquishing his love for her. At torture’s end, upon accepting the doctrine of The Party, Winston now loves Big Brother and is reintegrated into Oceania society.
Shortly after being restored to orthodox thought, Winston encounters Julia in a park. It turns out that Julia has endured a similar ordeal to Winston, and has also been restored to her former state as a mindlessly loyal “comrade.” Each admits betraying the other:
“I betrayed you,” she said baldly.
“I betrayed you,” he said.
She gave him another quick look of dislike.
“Sometimes,” she said, “they threaten you with something – something you can’t stand up to, can’t even think about. And then you say, ‘Don’t do it to me, do it to somebody else, do it to so-and-so.’ And perhaps you might pretend, afterwards, that it was only a trick and that you just said it to make them stop and didn’t really mean it. But that isn’t true. At the time when it happens you do mean it. You think there’s no other way of saving yourself and you’re quite ready to save yourself that way. You want it to happen to the other person. You don’t give a damn what they suffer. All you care about is yourself.” “All you care about is yourself,” he echoed.
“And after that, you don’t feel the same toward the other person any longer.” “No,” he said, “you don’t feel the same.”
Throughout, a song recurs in Winston’s mind:
Under the spreading chestnut tree
I sold you and you sold me—
The lyrics are an adaptation of ‘Go no more a-rushing’, a popular English campfire song from the 1920s, that was a popular success forGlenn Miller in 1939.
An alcoholic Winston sits by himself in the Chestnut Tree Cafe, still troubled by false memories that he realizes are indeed false. He tries to put them out of his mind when suddenly a news bulletin announces Oceania’s decisive victory over Eurasia for control of Africa. A raucous celebration begins outside, and Winston imagines himself a part of it. As he looks up in admiration at a portrait of Big Brother, Winston realizes that “the final, indispensable, healing change” within his own mind had only been completed at just that moment. He engages in a “blissful dream” in which he offers a full, public confession of his crimes and is executed. He feels that all is well now that he has at last achieved a victory over himself, ending his previous “stubborn, self-willed exile” from the love of Big Brother — a love Winston now happily returns.
• Winston Smith—the protagonist, is a phlegmatic everyman. • Julia—Winston’s lover, is a covert “rebel from the waist downwards” who publicly espouses Party doctrine as a member of the fanatical Junior Anti-Sex League. • Big Brother—the dark-eyed, mustachioed embodiment of The Party who rule Oceania. • O’Brien—a member of the Inner Party who poses as a member of The Brotherhood, the counter-revolutionary resistance, in order to deceive, trap, and capture Winston and Julia. • Emmanuel Goldstein—a former leader of The Party, the counter-revolutionary author of The Book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, and leader of the Brotherhood. He is the symbolic Enemy of the State—the national nemesis who ideologically unites the people of Oceania with the Party, especially during the Two Minutes Hate, and other fear mongering by the Inner Party. It is unknown whether he is real or a fabrication of the Party itself for the purpose of propaganda.