1984 Study Guide

1984

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.

Symbols

The Coral and Glass Paperweight

The coral and glass paperweight that he purchases epitomizes the world that he remembers : a world that may have been simpler and more beautiful. The beauty and rarity of the coral helps Winston maintain his idyllic view of the past. The paperweight's antiquity helps to reconnect him with a past that he laments as potentially permanently lost. The dream he has of his mother making the protective gesture takes place in the paperweight. By setting the dream in the paperweight, Orwell further demonstrates the hope and faith Winston invests in the paperweight as a symbol of love and humanity.

Mr. Charrington's Shop&Upstairs Room

Like the glass paperweight, Mr. Charrington's shop represents Winston's romantic view of pre-Revolution life. He needs to believe that life was better before Big Brother's rise to power; therefore, he frequents the shop in his desperate attempt to satisfy this need. Although the items Mr. Charrington sells carry little monetary value, Winston paws them as if they are semi-precious jewels in a vault. Being able to experience the past through such close proximity to the antiques increase Winston's hope that he will piece together the puzzle of his past. The upstairs room provides him with an opportunity to live his dream of a Party-free past/future where he can revel in his private thoughts without fear. By making the upstairs room the meeting place for him and Julia, he is reclaiming two things he remembers with absolute clarity: humanity and unconditional love.

The Diary

The diary is a supporting element to Orwell's intention in writing about authoritarian regimes. In a democratic society, neither keeping a journal nor questioning the government has punishable consequences. However, in Oceania, thought alone is a punishable offense. Therefore, the diary is a small yet powerful symbol of defiance. By putting pen to paper and recording his daily life, Winston is refusing to accept that the past is mutable and insignificant. The diary also represents a reconnection with a past that haunts him throughout the novel. By making entries he is able to draw a map of sorts back to the tragic events of his mother's and sister's disappearance. In a sense, the diary confirms his existence in the present by confirming what has already occurred.

Telescreens

Telescreens are the devastating reminders of the suppression and oppression under which Winston and his comrades live. Their dual use as monitors and propaganda machines speaks to the technological abuses common to totalitarian regimes.

The Prole Section of London

The prole section of London , like most of the other symbols, is a representation of the pre-Revolution life that Winston desperately seeks. He spends much of spare time wandering through the poor, decaying area with the hope of finding key to his past and the past of Oceania. The proles become the ultimate symbol of the human capacity to love and enjoy life that was destroyed by the Party. Winston believes that their exclusion from Party politics and Oceanic society at large facilitated the longevity of their emotional health. In comparison to them, Party members are mentally and physically unhealthy as well as miserable.

Motifs

Big Brother

Big Brother is the unseen leader of Oceania. His looming face can be seen on and in nearly every building in Oceania along side his infamous warning Big Brother is Watching You . Although there is an image of him, no one has ever seen him in person. Winston often wonders if Big Brother actually exists he does or if he exists merely as a concept. Regardless of his physical reality, Big Brother lives in the minds and in some of the hearts of his subjects. He is also the poster boy of the party. He symbolizes the fraternal reassurance the Party cannot convey due to its reputation as a sever organization. The slogan beneath his head does lend itself to the possibility that he is watching out for you like a big brother does. Paradoxically, Big Brother's face issues a stern warning to potential dissenters. Big Brother is watching every move you make and can hear every word you say, so it is best to adhere to the orthodoxy.

The Thought Police

If Big Brother is the comforting face of the Party, the then Thought Police are its strong arm. Similarly, no one knows can identify a member of the Though Police. They operate covertly and may even employ aspiring spies to assist them in surveillance operations. There is no general characteristic of a Thought Police operative as is demonstrated by Winston's mistaken belief that Julia was working for them. Her suspicious hovering and extreme loyalty to Big Brother naturally led him to believe she was spying on him. However, it turns out that Mr. Charrington, a man of slight stature and quiet nostalgia, is a member of the Thought Police. Even after discovering Mr. Charrington's true position in Oceania, the reader does not obtain any further details about his physical appearance. Orwell only makes reference to the dramatic changes in Mr. Charrington's body and face upon revealing his true identity. Essentially, Orwell is emphasizing that the overarching power of the Thought Police is only sustainable through anonymity and deception.

Doublethink

Doublethink also known as reality control is not only a consequence of the Party's vie for absolute power, but it is also one of the most important tools/weapons wielded by the Party in their quest for world domination. To practice doublethink, one must be able to hold two contradictory ideas in one's mind at the same time while knowing that they are contradictory. The following quote from Goldstein's book provides a thorough explanation of the essence of doublethink: ... it means loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it also means the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary (212).

In order to successfully practice doublethink, one must continually alter the past and is some cases completely destroy it. In other words, Oceanian citizens must believe what the Party tells them even if it is blatantly contradictory to what they believe or know to be true. The three main Party slogans: War is Peace, Slavery is Freedom, and Ignorance is Strength demonstrate the depths of doublethink's pervasiveness in Oceanic society. For example, at the height of Hate Week the Party changes its relationship to Eurasia by declaring Eastasia the new enemy. The speaker of the rally at which the announcement was made makes a seamless transition in the references he makes to the new enemy. The crowd unfalteringly accepts the sudden and unacknowledged change. They also accept the orator's explanation for the posters depicting a Eurasian soldier menacingly brandishing a gun; he tells the crowd that Eastasia sabotaged the event. The same applies to the people's ready acceptance of the clearly contradictory names of the four governmental institutions (Ministry of Love, Ministry of Peace, Ministry of Plenty, and the Ministry of Truth) all of which deal with the opposite matter include in their name. For example, the Ministry of Love is the most frightening of the four Ministries because it is known as the epicenter of torture and abuse.

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