Criticism on "1984" by George Orwell

Categories: Dystopia

George Orwell’s book 1984, has been an important work in the eyes of many critics because of its views on a totalitarian society. Peter Firchow states that “Orwell is one of the great essayists of the period—as well as in his documentary books” (Firchow). Orwell uses a variety of literary tools to embellish his novel and to better show what the world will be like if it was ruled by socialists. The first tool Orwell uses is parallelism. By using this tool, he is able to relate 1984 to his previous novel Animal Farm, which depicts a farm that was liberated by animals living on it and becomes dominated by pigs who make unfair rules for all the animals except for themselves.

1984 is also almost exactly the same in structure and plot as another novel by a Russian writer. The Russian novel shows what the rise of communism would do to Russia and Orwell’s novel shows what it would do to Great Britain.

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The second literary device that Orwell uses is allegory. There are many examples of allegory that can be found throughout the book. The third literary device and perhaps the most commonly used in the book is symbolism. Orwell uses countless symbols to increase the depth of his novel. Within George Orwell's book 1984, there are distinct forms of parallelism, allegory, and symbolism that have helped make this novel one of the most talked about and influential novels written in the 1900s.

The parallel writing style of Orwell is represented in two of his most famous novels: 1984 and Animal Farm.

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Both novels foreshadow how the world would be if it was run by socialistic governments. Animal Farm tells the story of a farm that becomes governed by the animals that live on it and it shows how the new rulers begin to adopt a form of communist government. 1984 presents a society that has already been ruled by a totalitarian government for over 20 years. Each story shows how the authority and the intimidation of leaders in these types of government can be harmful to the people who are living under them. As stated by Read, “1984 has a far greater range of satirical force, and a grimness of power which could perhaps come only from the mind of a sick man” (Read). In both Animal Farm and 1984, there are violent acts that the government performs to the people under their rule. Another similarity between both novels is the representation of the lower class. In Animal Farm, any animals that are not pigs are perceived as in a lower class. In 1984, the lower class is represented by non-party members, or proles. In both novels, the members of these classes are seen as less important by the government and are not treated with the same respect as members of higher classes. One final way that both of Orwell’s stories are similar is in how the leader of the government keeps the people in order. In Animal Farm, the lead pig, Napoleon, uses nine trained dogs to intimidate the other animals from trying to stand up for themselves and oppose his opinions. In 1984, every member of the party is trained as a kid to report anything suspicious to the government and the people who are reported are then vaporized. Because of these similarities, many critics feel that 1984 and Animal Farm are almost the same book and serve to warn readers about the same thing. One critic stated, “Orwell also shares “the plot, the chief characters, the symbols, and the whole climate of his story with the novel We written by the Russian writer Evgenii Zamyatin” (Deutscher 120). Deutscher also stated that “Orwell lacks the richness and subtlety of thought and the philosophical detachment of a great satirist. His imagination is ferocious and, at times, penetrating, but it lacks width, suppleness, and originality” (Deutscher 120). The book We is practically the same novel as 1984 although not as popular. It was written from a Russian perspective and contains many of the same ideas that Orwell displays in his novel. This makes both of the works almost identical in the eyes of some critics. However, another critic stated that “Deutscher,…implied that Orwell's use of We amounted to plagiarism, but in truth, Orwell's debt to We lies more in its generalized satirical dystopian form, with little borrowing of details” (Quinn). Both novels predict how the world would be if it was run by totalitarian governments and they were both written to serve as a warning to the people of that time period.

The second literally device that Orwell uses to make the novel more significant to readers is allegory. Allegory is when a work can be interpreted to show a hidden meaning. Perhaps the most important hidden meaning is about totalitarianism, which is depicted as evil throughout the entire novel. Orwell wanted to show the people of his time period just how bad and oppressive totalitarianism can be and he did this through the image of the government in the book. As stated by Stewart, “Winston…is completely conscious of the evil perpetrated on the citizens by the state and attempts actively, although futile, to understand and undermine it” (Stewart). Another example of allegory in the novel is propaganda. In the time period that this novel was written, propaganda was at an all-time high surrounding WWII and Orwell wanted to show the effect that it can have on people. He did this by filling the novel scenes with an abundance of posters, political messages, and advertisements. One final allegory that Orwell included in the novel is how dark and oppressing society in a totalitarian government can be. One example of this is when Winston describes the places in town, “Were there always these vistas of rotting nineteenth-century houses,…their windows patched with cardboard and their roofs with corrugated iron, their crazy garden walls sagging in all directions?” (Orwell 5). By creating this gloomy atmosphere, Orwell tries to highlight that the government simply does not care about the living conditions of the people of the utopia other than their own. Orwell definitely meant for this novel to be taken with more depth than at face value and for it to serve as a foreshadow of what will come out of a strict totalitarian government.

The third literary device that Orwell used, and arguably the most important, is symbolism. Nearly everything throughout the novel can be interpreted as a symbol. From the glass paperweight, to the diary he writes in, all of these objects can be considered symbols. Some of the symbols can be easily identified, but others may require for the reader to think about them for an extended period of time.

The first major symbol in the novel is Big Brother and the Party. This is the most important symbol in the novel because it has such an impact on the lives of all the citizens, especially Winston. He is constantly living in fear of the party finding out about his diary or his beliefs. This is representative of the socialist parties and the fears that they instill in people in the real world. Orwell uses the party and Big Brother to help the reader understand what it is like to live in a country with a totalitarian government. Big brother represents the leader of the socialist party that all citizens are taught to worship just like the dictators throughout the world.

The second major symbol in the novel is the diary that Winston writes in. Orwell uses this to represent rebellion within Winston. Winston knows that he is not supposed to be writing anything on his own, so for him to buy a book and begin writing his anti-party thoughts in it is a deliberate act of rebellion. Throughout the novel, Winston engages in numerous acts of rebellion and expression which could result in his death. The main two rebellious acts that he participates in are writing in his diary and his relationship with Julia. By participating in these acts, Winston knows that he could be killed and all record of him erased without a second thought. He is trying to have some expression in a world that has none almost like a piece of live coral in a dead coral reef.

Another main symbol in the novel is the glass paperweight with the coral inside of it. Winston and Julia display this in their room that they rent from the antique dealer. Although it may seem meaningless to any other member of the party, to Winston and Julia, it is a masterpiece that is to be treasured. Orwell uses the coral inside the paperweight to symbolize Winston trying to be himself while being a member of the party. Because the paperweight is an antique, it can be seen as a symbol of the beauty of the past. Throughout the novel, Winston is constantly trying to figure out what life before the party was like asking questions such as, “Do you feel that you have more freedom now than you had in those days?” (Orwell 90). He believes that there was true beauty back then just as the paperweight and the other antiques in the shop show. Orwell uses the coral to represent variety in a life that is normally bland.

One final symbol that Orwell uses in his novel is all the victory foods and drinks. These nourishments are used to symbolize the amount and quality of food that people receive through the ration system that would be used by a totalitarian government in the real world. Served by the party, victory foods and drinks are dramatically less enjoyable than the actual versions of those items. Harris points out that, “It is not only food, gin, and cigarettes that are ersatz in the 'utopia' Orwell unfolds before us. The language of Oceania, too, is thoroughly phony; it is deliberately designed to conceal reality wherever possible, to distort it” (Harris). By making all the goods come from the government, they can assert their dominance and eliminate any competition against them. This is the same concept that they have with the language. If they can control how the people think, then they can ultimately have control over them. This is why Orwell was trying to warn the people of his time about totalitarianism and why the victory food is such an important symbol in the novel.

In conclusion, 1984 has been, and continues to be, one of the most influential books written in the 1900s. The many literary devices used by Orwell throughout the novel enhance the experience for the reader and serve as a template for discussion among critics. This novel has also played an important role in politics with the term “Orwellian” being used to describe a system of government that has taken away the freedom from the people in a society. Orwell depicts totalitarianism as “covering the whole world instead of only a large part of it, and all alleviating aspects have been removed” (Hopkinson 285). One important type of literary device that is used by Orwell in 1984 is symbolism. Without symbolism, the novel would lack depth. The second important device that Orwell used in the novel is allegory. At face value, the novel seems like a riveting story about a man who wants to be rebellious, but, in reality, the story is meant to serve as a warning for the people of his time period about the effects of having a totalitarian government. The third main literary device that is displayed in 1984 is parallelism. Both Animal Farm and 1984 by Orwell show the effects on a population that is being ruled by an all-powerful government. The book also shows a striking similarity to the book We, by a Russian author. By using these literary devices, Orwell earned his spot in literary history by creating a novel that had one of the biggest impacts on politics.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Criticism on "1984" by George Orwell. (2021, Mar 23). Retrieved from

Criticism on "1984" by George Orwell essay
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