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Introduction

1984
by George Orwell

Title

Author

George Orwell
Biography.com

Author Interview

About the Book

Nineteen Eighty-Four, often published as 1984, is a dystopian novel published in 1949 by English author George Orwell. The novel is set in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), a province of the superstate Oceania in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public manipulation. The superstate and its residents are dictated to by a political regime euphemistically named English Socialism, shortened to "Ingsoc" in Newspeak, the government's invented language. The superstate is under the control of the privileged elite of the Inner Party, a party and government that persecutes individualism and independent thinking as "thoughtcrime", which is enforced by the "Thought Police".
The tyranny is ostensibly overseen by Big Brother, the Party leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality, but who may not even exist. The Party "seeks power entirely for its own sake. It is not interested in the good of others; it is interested solely in power." The protagonist of the novel, Winston Smith, is a member of the Outer Party, who works for the Ministry of Truth (or Minitrue in Newspeak), which is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism. His job is to rewrite past newspaper articles, so that the historical record always supports the party line. The instructions that the workers receive portray the corrections as fixing misquotations and never as what they really are: forgeries and falsifications. A large part of the Ministry also actively destroys all documents that have not been edited and do not contain the revisions; in this way, no proof exists that the government is lying. Smith is a diligent and skillful worker but secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother. The heroine of the novel, Julia, is based on Orwell's second wife, Sonia Orwell.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four

 

About the Author

Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950), better known by the pen name George Orwell, was an English novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic. His work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and outspoken support of democratic socialism.
Orwell wrote literary criticism, poetry, fiction, and polemical journalism. He is best known for the allegorical novellaAnimal Farm (1945) and the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). His non-fiction works, including The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), documenting his experience of working class life in the north of England, and Homage to Catalonia (1938), an account of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, are widely acclaimed, as are his essays on politics, literature, language, and culture. In 2008, The Times ranked him second on a list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".
Orwell's work continues to influence popular and political culture, and the term Orwellian – descriptive of totalitarian or authoritarian social practices – has entered the language together with many of his neologisms, including cold war, Big Brother, Thought Police, Room 101, memory hole, newspeak, doublethink, and thoughtcrime.
George Orwell. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Orwell

Discussion Questions

  1. The world within which Winston lives is replete with contradictions. For example a, major tenet of the Party's philosophy is that War is Peace. Similarly, the Ministry of Love serves as, what we would consider, a department of war. What role do these contradictions serve on a grand scale? Discuss other contradictions inherent in the Party's philosophy. What role does contradiction serve within the framework of Doublethink? How does Doublethink satisfy the needs of The Party?
  2. In the afterword, the commentator describes 1984 as "a warning." Indeed, throughout the text, Orwell plants both subtle and overt warnings to the reader. What do you think are some of the larger issues at hand here?
  3. Describe the role that O'Brien plays in Winston's life. Why do you think that initially, Winston is drawn to O'Brien? Why does he implicitly trust him, despite the enormous dangers involved?
  4. Discuss the significance and nature of Winston's dreams. Deconstruct the dream wherein O'Brien claims that they "shall meet in a place where there is no darkness" (page 22), and the dream in which Winston's mother and sister disappear (page 26). What are the underpinnings of these dreams? What deeper meanings do they hold? Why do you think the author devotes as much time as he does to Winston's dreams?
  5. Discuss Winston as a heroic figure. What qualities does he posses that could define him as one?
  6. Compare and contrast some of the other characters in Winston's world: Parsons, Syme, O'Brien. How does Winston view each one? How do they differ from Winston? What opinion do you think each one has of Winston?
  7. On pages 147-148, Winston reflects on the omnipresence of The Party: "He thought of the telescreen with its never-sleeping ear. They could spy upon you night and day, but if you kept your head you could still outwit them….Facts at any rate, could not be kept hidden. They could be tracked down by inquiry, they could be squeezed out of you by torture. But if the object was not to stay alive, but to stay human, what difference did it ultimately make?" What, in essence, is Winston saying about the lone individual in relation to The State? Does this contention remain true throughout the novel?
  8. Early on in the novel, we learn of Winston's belief in the proles as a liberating force. What accounts for Winston's almost blind faith in the proles? What are some of the characteristics of the proles that, in Winston's eyes, make them the ultimate means for overthrowing Big Brother?
  9. From her first appearance as "the dark-haired girl," through to the end of the novel, Julia is a key figure in 1984. Trace the path of Julia in relation to Winston's life; in what ways does she influence him? Did you trust her, initially? Overall, do you feel she had a positive or negative impact upon him?
  10. After his first formal meeting with O'Brien, Winston receives a book, ostensibly written by Emmanuel Goldberg. In reading passages from this book, Winston is further enlightened as to "how" the current society came into being. Focus on these passages, and in particular, on the theory of the High, Middle and Low classes (page 179). If true, what does this theory hold for the proles? Is Winston's plan for the proles now altered? Why or why not?
  11. During Winston's interrogation, O'Brien explains that whereas preceding totalitarian regimes had failed, The Party was truly successful in its consolidation of power (page 226). How, according to O'Brien, does the The Party as an oligarchy differ from Nazism or Russian Communism? How does he define the role of the martyr, both in terms of The Party and the other totalitarian systems?
  12. Following his capture in Mr. Charrington's spare room, Winston undergoes a process of "philosophical cleansing" and re-education against which he valiantly, but unsuccessfully fights. Discuss Winston's "capitulation" at the hands of O'Brien. How is Winston brought to "love Big Brother?" In sacrificing Julia, how has Winston, in essence, signaled his own end?
  13. How would you describe the author's tone in 1984? Does it add to or detract from the character's discourse?
  14. Discuss the role of sex and intimacy in 1984. What specific function does the Party's directive on sexual interaction serve?
  15. In the final analysis, how accurate was Orwell in his vision of the future? In what ways does our contemporary society compare to his idea of society in 1984? Are there examples in which he was correct? What is most opposite? Do you see a potential for aspects of Orwell's "vision" to come true?
  16. During his final encounter with O'Brien, Winston argues that, if all else fails, the inherent nature of the individual—the "spirit of man"—is strong enough to undermine a society such as that created by The Party. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Is Winston's belief applicable to the world we live in today? Can you cite examples in our own recent history that support or dismiss Winston's belief in the resiliency and righteousness of the human spirit?
  17. Prior to meeting her, Winston fantasizes about Julia in violent, humiliating ways. Later, he describes in his diary an encounter with a middle-aged, toothless prostitute. How do you account for these thoughts? How does Winston's understanding of women change after his first liaison with Julia?
  18. Given Winston's own acknowledgment that he is under constant surveillance, and that it would only be a matter of time before the Thought Police caught him, no one in his world could be trusted. Prior to his capture, which character or characters did you envision as betraying Winston? How did you foresee his ultimate demise? Did you, on the contrary, feel that by some chance he would overcome the forces aligned against him, and fulfill his wish to conquer The Party?
  19. Imagine yourself as Winston Smith at the beginning of 1984. What would you do to undermine The Party? Knowing what you know now, how would you extricate yourself from the fate that awaits you?
  20. Refer back to Winston's conversation with the old man at the pub (page 78). Why is Winston so determined in his approach to the old man? What is Winston hoping to learn from him?

(Questions from Penguin Modern Classics.)

Lundquist, M. (n.d.). 1984 (Orwell) - Discussion Questions. Retrieved February 24, 2017, from http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/13-fiction/746-1984-orwell?start=3

Awards, Nominations, etc.

  • Modern Library 100 Best Novels list 
  • number 13 on the editor's list
  • 6 on the readers' list
  • In 2003, the novel was listed at number 8 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.