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.

1984 opens with the protagonist, Winston Smith beginning the dangerous venture of a diary. He feels frustrated and confused by the oppressive regime of Big Brother and the Party because of their overarching control and manipulation of Oceanic society. Big Brother and the Party prohibit unorthodox thought, sexual intimacy outside of that for breeding, and the cultivation of individual thought. Feeling inspired by O'Brien, a high-ranking Inner Party member who he believes shares his hatred for Big Brother, Winston begins the diary as a cathartic experience. Throughout the novel, Winston records unorthodox thoughts including his feelings about Big Brother and his vague memories about life prior to the Revolution.

Winston works in the Records Department at the Ministry of Truth where his primary job is altering various records as part of the of the Party's mission to Oceanic life through controlling history and the present. On the same day that O'Brien inspires him to start the diary, Winston notices a dark-haired girl sitting behind him during the Two Minutes Hate. This is the same girl that is often in his dreams about the Golden Country, a mythical land free of Big Brother and the Party's technological weapons used to control its citizens. Winston worries that she is an aspiring spy who will report him to the Thought Police for committing thought-crime. The Two Minutes Hate is an event during the Party requires its citizens to concentrate extreme hatred toward Emmanuel Goldstein who is considered the number one enemy of the state for alleging leading an underground rebellion known as the Brotherhood.

Rather than fulfilling his Party obligations by going to the Community Center on his assigned nights, Winston wanders through the prole section of town as if trying to recapture the pre-Revolution life he laments. Winston spends time in an antiques shop owned by Mr. Charrington who sells trinkets that date back to long before the Revolution. During his second visit he purchases a coral and glass paperweight and is then taken above the shop to a room that is furnished in antiques. Winston considers the possibility of renting the room before leaving the shop. On his way out, he sees the dark-haired girl walking towards him.

One day the dark-haired girl takes the risk of passing Winston a note telling him that she loves him. They meet in the country several days later where he learns that the young girls' name is Julia. The two begin an affair, using many hidden locations in order to avoid the Police Patrol. Eventually, Winston rents the room above Mr. Charrignton's where he and Julia carry on their affair for months and learn that they both hate Big Brother. During their meetings in the room, they often discuss the possibility of escaping the clutches of the Party as well as the possibility of revolt. Winston knows that it is only a matter of time before they are caught as per usual his fatalism. As they become more committed to one another, Winston's hatred for Big Brother increases. Finally, in the same hall that he received the note from Julia, Winston is invited by O'Brien to come to his apartment one evening to retrieve the latest Newspeak dictionary.

Winston brings Julia to O'Brien's apartment in the more luxurious Inner Party section of London. During the meeting, O'Brien verifies the existence of Goldstein and the Brotherhood. He also tells Winston and Julia what will be required of them if they join the Brotherhood. They agree to all expectations except to denounce their love for each other. Several days later, O'Brien gives Winston a copy of the Brotherhood's manifesto known as the book . Winston reads the book to Julia after Hate Week ends and they both are given an afternoon of respite. The book gives a detailed account of Oceanic society and its history. O'Brien tells them that it also gives the strategy the Brotherhood will use to dismantle Big Brother's regime. Upon waking up the following day, Winston and Julia are violently arrested by the Thought Police of whom Mr. Charrington reveals himself to be a member.

Julia and Winston are separated and brought to the Ministry of Love where they are tortured for months as part of the reintegration process that all thought-criminals must endure. After being taken to Room 101 (a cell in which all prisoners face their worst nightmares), both Julia and Winston denounce their love. They are both eventually released but only speak with each other once. It was a tense conversation during which they both admitted to their betrayal and loss of love for one another. Winston then spends his days sitting in the Chestnut Tree Caf, drinking gin, and waiting for the Thought Police to take him away for vaporization.

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