1984 Study Guide


1984 by George Orwell

Nineteen Eighty-Four is an allegorical dystopian novel about the dangers of police states, groupthink, and surveillance of the public. It follows the hapless government employee Winston Smith as he dreams secretly and fruitlessly of rebellion against the all-powerful Big Brother and the Inner Party. Smith's England has been renamed Airstrip One, its citizens stripped of their individuality, its world locked in a constant state of manufactured war. It is a grim vision of the future intended as a commentary on the policies of England at the time of its writing.

War is Peace / Freedom is Slavery / Ignorance is Strength

These are the three official slogans of the Party, and are elegantly etched into the face of the Ministry of Truth. Orwell introduces the reader to this abridged version of Party ideology in Chapter 1 when Winston has returned from work and is observing the city from his living room window. The author purposely first used the quote just before a description about the four governmental institutions for two reasons: first, the slogans represent the idea of doublethink; second, the four institutions are physical manifestations of both the slogans and doublethink. Because it is introduced so early in the novel, this creed serves as the reader's first introduction to the idea of doublethink. The first slogan speaks to one of the primary strategies used by the Party to control Oceanian citizens. As Goldstein discusses in his book, the Party maintains a perpeptual state of war so as to limit the distribution of goods to the underclass in an effort to prevent an increase in the general standard of living. In psychological terms, a perpetual state of war sustains the moral of Party members. As long as there is a war, real or imagined, a fanatically patriotic Party member will support the authoritarian rule of Big Brother as well as the implementation of any laws he and the Party use against Oceanian citizens. The second slogan speaks to the socialist/fascist ideals of the Party system. As mentioned in the literary analysis, socialism/fascism call for the relinquishment of one's individual identity to the collective. O'Brien discusses this idea in great detail in Part 3: Chapter 3. He tells Winston that when an individual is alone and free, he is defeated by his own mortality. However, when he merges himself with the Party, he becomes the Party and immortal through the ideas represented by the party. The third slogan speaks to the Party's belief that an ignorant population is a weak and easily manipulated population. Essentially, the ignorance and stupidity of the people strengthens the authority of the Party.

Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime IS death

Winston enters these words in his diary in Part 1: Chapter 2. He has just returned from unclogging Mrs. Parsons's kitchen sink and is reflecting on the dangerous path he has taken by recording his unorthodox thoughts as a result of her precocious children's accusation that he was a thought-criminal. Though not explicitly defined, thoughtcrime is committed when a Party member thinks a thought contrary to Party orthodoxy and teachings. Actions such as keeping a diary are not nearly as illicit as cultivating individual ideas. When someone is accused of and arrested for thoughtcrime, they are subjected to long periods of torture and abuse in the Ministry of Love. The reader's first introduction to the activities of the Ministry of Love is in Part 3 after Winston has been arrested. A thought-criminal undergoes a reintegration process that involves 3 stages: learning, understanding, and acceptance. A indefinite period of respite follows a prisoner's release into general society. However, at any given moment, the former prisoner is brought back to the Ministry for execution by gunshot, otherwise known as vaporization. O'Brien describes the Party's motivation for reintegrating thought-criminals in Part 3: Chapter 2. Enemies of the state continue to be dangerous even after death if they're unorthodoxy is not corrected first. They become martyrs and inspiration for future rebellions; therefore, brainwashing a thought-criminal must take place before vaporization so as to augment the impact of the prisoner's death. Potential dissidents will be less apt to commit thoughtcrime if they know that death is inevitable regardless of correction. Winston's realization is confirmed by the example set by Aaronson, Rutherford, and Jones. Although they underwent the reintegration process and were living according to orthodoxy, they were eventually vaporized. Winston knows that even after months of reintegration one who has become conscious of the Party's duplicity always remain conscious on some level will always remain dangerous to the Party.

Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past

This quote is another Party slogan that appears in Part 1: Chapter 3, when Winston is reflecting on the Party's control of history and memory during the physical jerks, and in Part 3: Chapter 2 when Winston, is being interrogated by O'Brien about his obsession with the past. The slogan is another important example of the Party's primary concern with controlling the minds of its citizens. It is also exemplifies one of the methods the Party employs to achieve psychological control. Controlling the past means that the Party determines not only what history will be taught but also how it is taught. Most of the time the Party's version of history is fabricated and/or altered. In making history mutable, the Party can easily determine the direction of the future. The Party's achievement of absolute power is a perfect example of this strategy at work. The Party exaggerated the intolerability of life under the capitalist system in order to garner support for socialist (more fascist) society. With tales about the enslavement of the proletarians by capitalists the Party has coerced its citizens into wanting something "better" for the future. At this point the a connection can be drawn to the other three slogans in that the creation of an ignorant citizenry enables paternalism. In other words, intellectually insecure citizens not only place faith in the ruling group's ability to lead effectively but also place total decision-making power in the hands of the ruling group. The second half of the slogan carries the same implications. Those is power today (i.e. Big Brother and the Party) determine the history taught and learned by citizens. In the novel, the reader will find numerous examples of the Party's alteration of historical facts as well as current events. Establishing such a state of flux and uncertainty enhances the Party's ability to control its citizens' minds and bodies.

I hate purity, I hate goodness. I don't want any virtue to exist anywhere. I want everyone to be corrupt to the bones.

Winston tells this to Julia in Part 2: Chapter 2 when he learns that she has had numerous trysts with Party members. Winston and Julia are just beginning their affair and are meeting for the first time in the countryside. He's expressing the exhaustion imposed upon him by the expectations enforced by the Party's policy of doublethink. He no longer wants to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them...to repudiate morality while laying claim to it... to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again when it was needed(35). Up to the day Julia gave him the note in the corridor at the Ministry of Truth, Winston believed that she was like all female members of the Party: completely indoctrinated, prudish, and asexual. However, he learns that the promiscuous and vivacious Julia has constructed an impressive faade that includes being a member of the Junior Anti-Sex League. Her cover permits her to continue to engage in unorthodox behavior without running the risk of arrest by the Thought Police. Winston is impressed by her embrace of vices denounced by the Party as well as her brazen proclamation of her unorthodoxy. He believes that most people are as duplicitous as the Party whether they are conscious of it or admit it. In addition, his reaction to Julia's confession is also a reaction to the duplicity of the Party. It claims that its philosophy, doctrines, and laws are implemented in order to ensure the moral development of its citizens. Yet, Party doctrine has the adverse effect; its citizens are demoralized and succumb to a level of criminalization that is a natural result of living in a police state.

Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious

This is another entry that Winston writes in his diary Part 1: Chapter 7 when he is reflecting on the past while reading a children's history textbook written by the Party. He is referring to the proles who he believes are the hope for the future. Winston realizes the structure of the Party is such that revolt from within is virtually impossible. Firstly, enemies of the Party are most likely far and few between. Secondly, any existing enemies would have no way of knowing or identifying one another. Oceanic society is built upon the fear of a death made inevitable by thoughtcrime. Such a fear adds to the prohibition of internal enemies from bonding together. The proles have three advantages over Party members: they compose the majority of Oceanic society, they are excluded from Party politics, and they have no reason to fear the consequences of thoughtcrime. In fact, the proles are not even under the jurisdiction of the telescreens and therefore cannot commit thoughtcrime. However, due the arrested development of the proletarians, they have limited, if any, knowledge of the problems inherent to Big Brother's regime. They continue to live similar lifestyles to those prior to the Revolution. As Winston notes in the same chapter, this is partly due to the Party's dismissive attitude towards the proles. It believes that they are natural inferiors who should be subjugated. As long as they work and increase their population their activities hold very little importance for Oceanic society; therefore, the proles are not encouraged to develop any strong political leanings except for a blind patriotism. Without such political interests, the proles also lack a social interest in seeing power wrested from the hands of the Party. Their basic needs are provided as are their basic desires thus preventing discontent among them. Herein lies the conundrum called to the reader's attention in the quote: discontent breeds consciousness and consciousness leads to political rebellion. Unfortunately, the proles will only become fully aware of the oppression under which they live until they rebel against it.

You'll need to sign up to view the entire study guide.

Sign Up Now, It's FREE