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Nineteen Eighty-Four

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Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)
British first edition cover
Author(s) George Orwell
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Dystopian, Political Novel
Publisher Secker and Warburg (London)
Publication date 8 June, 1949
Media type Print ( Hardcover & Paperback) & e-book, audio-CD
Pages 326 pp (Paperback edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-452-28423-6 (Paperback edition)

Nineteen Eighty-Four (also titled 1984), by George Orwell (the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair), is a 1949 English novel about life under a futuristic authoritarian regime in the year 1984. It tells the story of Winston Smith, a functionary at the Ministry of Truth, whose work consists of editing historical accounts to fit the government's policies. Smith is degraded and psychologically tortured after he is arrested by the Thought Police under the instruction of the totalitarian government of Oceania.

The book has major significance for its vision of an all-knowing government which uses pervasive and constant surveillance of the populace, insidious and blatant propaganda, and brutal control over its citizens. The book had a substantial impact both in literature and on the perception of public surveillance, inspiring such terms as ' Big Brother' and ' Orwellian'.


Orwell, who had "encapsulate[d] the thesis at the heart of his novel" in 1944, wrote most of Nineteen Eighty-Four on the island of Jura, Scotland during 1947–1948 while critically ill with tuberculosis. He sent the final typescript to his friends, Secker and Warburg, on 4 December 1948, who published the book on 8 June 1949.

Nineteen Eighty-Four has been translated to sixty-two languages. The novel's title, its terms, and its language ( Newspeak), and its author's surname are bywords for personal privacy lost to national state security. The adjective " Orwellian" denotes many things. It can refer to totalitarian action or organization as well as governmental attempts to control or misuse information for the purposes of controlling, pacifying or even subjugating the population. Orwellian can also refer to governmental propagandizing by the misnaming of things. Hence the " Ministry of Peace" in the novel actually deals with war and the " Ministry of Love" actually tortures people. Since the novel's publication "Orwellian" has in fact become somewhat of a catch-all for any kind of governmental overreach or dishonesty and therefore has multiple meanings and applications. The phrase: Big Brother is Watching You specifically connotes pervasive, invasive surveillance but can also refer to attempts to over regulate or legislate societal behaviour.

Although the novel has been banned or challenged in some countries, it is, along with Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, among the most famous literary representations of dystopia. In 2005, Time magazine listed it among the hundred best English-language novels published since 1923. The dystopian novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin is largely considered to have been a primary influence for Nineteen Eighty-Four.


Nineteen Eighty-Four introduces Oceania, one of the world's three intercontinental totalitarian super-states. The story occurs in London, the "chief city of Airstrip One", itself a province of Oceania that "had been called England or Britain". Posters of " Big Brother", the Party leader, with the caption BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, dominate the city landscapes; two-way television (the telescreen) dominates the private and public spaces of the populace.

Oceania's people are in three classes — (i) the Inner Party, (ii) the Outer Party, and (iii) the Proles. This government, the Party, controls them via the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue), where Winston Smith, the protagonist, works; he is a member of the Outer Party. His job in Minitrue is the continual rewriting and altering of history so that the government is always right and correct: destroying evidence, amending newspaper articles, deleting the existence of people identified as unpersons.

The story begins on April 4, 1984: "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." The date is questionable, because it is what Winston Smith perceives. In the story's course, he concludes it as irrelevant, because the State can arbitrarily alter it; the year 1984 and its world are transmutable.

The novel does not render the world's full history to 1984. Indeed, since the novel's only description of world history is contained in a book within a book given to Winston by a Party member, it is possible that what we read is itself meant to be a deception, and the history of the world of 1984 is somewhat different. Winston's recollections, and what he reads in The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, by Emmanuel Goldstein, reveal that after the Second World War, the United Kingdom fell to civil war, becoming part of Oceania. Simultaneously, the Soviet Union encompassed mainland Europe, forming Eurasia; the third super state, Eastasia, comprises the east Asian countries around China and Japan.

There was an atomic war, fought mainly in Europe, western Russia, and North America. It is unclear what occurred first: the civil war wherein the Party assumed power or the United States' annexation of the British Empire or the war during which Colchester was bombed.

During the Second World War, George Orwell repeatedly said that British democracy, as it existed before 1939, would not survive the war; the question being: Would it end via Fascist coup d'état (from above) or via Socialist revolution (from below)? During the war, Orwell admitted events proved him wrong: "What really matters is that I fell into the trap of assuming that 'the war and the revolution are inseparable' ".


Ministry of Truth bureaucrat Winston Smith is the protagonist; although unitary, the story is three-fold. The first describes the world of 1984 as he perceives it; the second is his illicit romance with Julia and his intellectual rebellion from The Party; the third is his capture and imprisonment, interrogation, torture, and re-education in the Ministry of Love.

Oceania is a totalitarian state of omnipresent, two-way television surveillance; informants are everywhere; and Winston's romance with Julia is betrayed as a political transgression. Their imprisonment at the Ministry of Love (the most feared of the four ministries) features torture, brainwashing, and re-education in Room 101 (via the prisoner's worst fear). Those degradations re-educate them to love only Big Brother and The Party. Afterwards, disgusted by his love affair with Julia, Winston Smith surrenders his mind, body, and soul to Big Brother; like-wise Julia. On release, each admits having betrayed the other to survive, something they had vowed not to do; each is apathetic toward the other's betrayal.

The thematic likenesses between Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm are: the betrayed revolution; the person's subordination to the Party collective; the rigorously enforced class distinctions among Party members, i.e. the Inner Party, the Outer Party, the Proletariat; the Cult of Personality; concentration camps; Thought Police; compulsory, regimented, daily exercise; the youth leagues.

As in the Nazi and Stalinist regimes, propaganda is pervasive; Smith's job is rewriting historical documents to match the contemporaneous party line, the orthodoxy of which changes daily. He re-writes and re-prints newspaper articles (society's official records) to delete from the collective memory all people rendered unpersons by Party order.


A pyramid diagram of Oceania's social classes; Big Brother atop, The Party in middle, the Proles at bottom.

The intellectual Winston Smith is a member of the Outer Party, lives in the ruins of London (the "chief city of Airstrip One", a province of Oceania), who grew up in the post-World War II United Kingdom, during the revolution and the civil war. As his parents disappeared in the civil war, the English Socialism Movement (" Ingsoc" in Newspeak), put him in an orphanage for training and employment in the Outer Party.

His squalid existence consists of living in a one-room apartment, eating a subsistence diet of black bread and synthetic meals washed down with Victory-brand gin. He is discontented, and keeps an illegal journal of dissenting, negative thoughts and opinions about The Party. If detected, it, and his eccentric behaviour, would result in torture and death by the Thought Police.

In his journal he explains thoughtcrime: Thoughtcrime does not entail death. Thoughtcrime IS death. The Thought Police have two-way telescreens (in the living quarters of every Party member and in every public area), hidden microphones, and anonymous informers to spy potential thought-criminals who might endanger The Party. Children are indoctrinated to informing; to spy and report suspected thought-criminals — especially their parents.

Winston Smith is a bureaucrat in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, revising historical records to match The Party's contemporaneous, official version of the past. The revisionism is required so that the past reflect the shifts of the day in the Party's orthodoxy. Smith's job is perpetual; he re-writes the official record, re-touches official photographs, deleting people officially rendered as unpersons. The original or older document is dropped into a "memory hole" chute leading to an incinerator. Although he likes his work, especially the intellectual challenge of revising a complete historical record, he also is fascinated by the true past, and eagerly tries to learn more about that forbidden truth.

One day in the office, a woman surreptitiously hands him a note. She is "Julia", a dark-haired mechanic who repairs the Ministry of Truth's novel-writing machines. Before that day, he had felt deep loathing for her, based on his assumptions that she was a brainwashed, fanatically devoted member of the Party; particularly annoying to him is her red sash of renouncement of and scorn for sexual intercourse. His preconceptions vanish on reading her hand-printed note: "I love you". After that, they begin a clandestine romantic relationship, first meeting in the countryside and at a ruined belfry, then regularly in a rented room atop an antiques shop in the city's proletarian neighbourhood. The shop owner chats him up with facts about the pre-revolutionary past, sells him period artifacts, and rents him the room to meet Julia. The lovers believe their hiding place paradisiacal (the shop keeper having told them it has no telescreen) and think themselves alone and safe.

As their romance deepens, Winston's views change, and questions Ingsoc. Unknown to him, the Thought Police have been spying on him and Julia. Later, when approached by Inner Party member O'Brien, Winston believes that he's come into contact with The Brotherhood, opponents of the Party. O'Brien gives him a copy of " the book", The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, a searing criticism of Ingsoc said to be written by the dissident Emmanuel Goldstein, the leader of the Brotherhood; it explains the perpetual war and exposes the truth behind the Party's slogan, "War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength."

The Thought Police capture Winston and Julia in their sanctuary bedroom and they are separately interrogated at the Ministry of Love, where the regime's opponents are tortured and killed, but sometimes released (to be executed at a later date); Charrington, the shop keeper who rented them the room reveals himself an officer of the Thought Police. In the Ministry of Love torture chamber, O'Brien tells Smith that he will be cured of his hatred for the Party. During a long and complex duologue, O'Brien reveals, in what is the most important line in the book, that the motivation of the Inner Party is not to achieve some future paradise but to retain power, which has become an end in itself. He outlines a terrifying vision of how they will change society and people in order to achieve this, including the abolition of the family, the orgasm and the sex instinct. It will be a society that grows 'more, not less merciless as it refines itself.' A society without Art, literature or science. During a session, he explains to Winston that torture's purpose is to alter his way of thinking, not to extract a fake confession, adding that once cured — accepting reality as the Party describes — he then will be executed; electroshock torture will achieve that, continuing until O'Brien decides Winston is cured.

One night, a dreaming Winston suddenly wakes, yelling: "Julia! Julia! Julia, my love! Julia!" O'Brien rushes in and questions him, and then sends him to Room 101, the most feared room in the Ministry of Love. This is where a person's greatest fear is forced upon him or her for the final re-education step: acceptance. Winston, who has a primal fear of rats, is shown a wire cage filled with starving rats and told that it will be fitted over his head like a mask, so that when the cage door is opened, the rats will bore into his face until it is stripped to the bone. Just as the cage brushes his cheek, he shouts frantically: "Do it to Julia!" The torture ends, Winston is returned to society, brainwashed to accept Party doctrine.

After his release, Winston and Julia fortuitously meet in a park. With distaste, they remember the "bad" feelings they once shared; they acknowledge having betrayed each other; they are apathetic. Torture and re-education were successful; Winston happily reconciled to his impending execution, and accepting the Party line about the past and the present. In his mind, he celebrates the false fact of a news bulletin reporting Oceania's recent, decisive victory over Eurasia. Winston imagines himself back at the Ministry of Love. He imagines the scene he created during his imprisonment of walking down the white hallway and being shot by the guard. He finally accepts that he loves Big Brother.


The novel's original title was The Last Man in Europe, but publisher Frederic Warburg suggested changing it to a marketable title. Orwell's reasons for the title are unknown; he might be alluding to the centenary of the socialist Fabian Society founded in 1884, or to Jack London's novel The Iron Heel (wherein a political movement came into power in 1984), or to G. K. Chesterton's The Napoleon of Notting Hill, set in 1984, or to the poem " End of the Century, 1984", by Eileen O'Shaughnessy (his first wife). Anthony Burgess claims in 1985 Orwell, being disillusioned by the onset of the Cold War intended to name the book 1948. The name was changed at the publisher's request. According to the introduction of the Penguin Modern Classics edition, Orwell originally meant 1980 as the story's time, but as the writing became prolonged, he re-titled it 1982, then 1984. The full title of the first edition was Nineteen Eighty-Four. A novel.

Orwell's influences

In the essay Why I Write, Orwell explains that all the serious work he wrote since the Spanish Civil War in 1936 was "written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism." Indeed, Nineteen Eighty-Four is an anti-totalitarian cautionary tale about the betrayal of a revolution by its defenders. He already had stated distrust of totalitarianism and betrayed revolutions in Homage to Catalonia and Animal Farm. Coming Up For Air, at points, celebrates the personal and political freedoms lost in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Much of Oceanic society is based upon Stalin's Soviet Union. The "Two Minutes' Hate" was the ritual demonisation of State enemies and rivals; Big Brother resembles Joseph Stalin; the Party's archenemy, Emmanuel Goldstein, resembles Leon Trotsky (both are Jewish, both have the same physiognomy, and Trotsky's real surname was 'Bronstein'). Another suggested inspiration for Goldstein is Emma Goldman, the famous Anarchist figure. Doctored photography is a propaganda technique and the creation of unpersons in the story, analogous to Stalin's enemies being made nonpersons and being erased from official photographic records; the police treatment of several characters recalls the Moscow Trials of the Great Purge.

Biographer Michael Shelden notes these influences: the Edwardian world of his childhood in Henley — for the golden country; being bullied at St. Cyprian's — empathy with victims; his policeman's life in the Indian Burma Police — the techniques of violence; and suffering censorship in the BBC — capriciously-wielded authority.

Specific literary influences include Darkness at Noon and The Yogi and the Commissar by Arthur Koestler, The Iron Heel (1908) by Jack London; Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley; We (1921) by Yevgeny Zamyatin, which Orwell read in French and reviewed in 1946; and The Managerial Revolution (1940) by James Burnham, predicting permanent war among three totalitarian superstates, broadly equivalent to those in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell told Jacintha Buddicom that he would write a novel stylistically like A Modern Utopia by H. G. Wells.

World War II acts as the grounding for Orwell's more fantastic elements. Most of the novel contains direct parallels, and occasional outright pastiche, of the rhetoric and politics surrounding the end of the war and the changing alliances of the nascent Cold War. The overseas service of the BBC, controlled by the Ministry of Information, was the model for the Ministry of Truth. The Ministry of Love's ultimate weapon against dissidents, Room 101, is named after a conference room at BBC Broadcasting House where Orwell used to sit through tedious meetings. The Senate House, where the Ministry of Information was housed, is the architectural inspiration for the Ministry of Truth. Nineteen Eighty-Four's world reflects the socio-political life of the UK and the USA, i.e. the poverty of Britain in 1948, when the economy was poor, the Empire dissolving, while newspapers reported imperial triumphs, and wartime ally Soviet Russia was becoming a peacetime foe.

Oceania is a metamorphosed future British Empire that geographically includes the United States, and whose currency is the dollar. As its name suggests, it is a naval power, with much militarism focused on venerating sailors serving aboard floating fortresses greater than Dreadnoughts. Moreover, most of the fighting by Oceania's troops is in defending India (the "Jewel in the Crown" of the British Empire).

The term "English Socialism" also has many precedents in Orwell's wartime writings. In The Lion and the Unicorn of 1940, Orwell stated that "the war and the revolution are inseparable (...) the fact that we are at war has turned Socialism from a textbook word into a realizable policy". The reason for that, according to Orwell, was that the outmoded British class system constituted a major hindrance to the war effort, and only a Socialist society would be able to defeat Hitler. Since the middle classes were in process of realizing this, too, they would support the revolution, and only the most outright reactionary elements in British society would oppose it — which would limit the amount of force the revolutionaries would need in order to gain power and keep it.

Thus, an "English Socialism" would come about which "...will never lose touch with the tradition of compromise and the belief in a law that is above the State. It will shoot traitors, but it will give them a solemn trial beforehand and occasionally it will acquit them. It will crush any open revolt promptly and cruelly, but it will interfere very little with the spoken and written word".

Orwell's words in this and other writings at the time leave no doubt that in 1940 he regarded "English Socialism" as highly desirable and was actively trying to bring about its victory. Yet in the nightmare world he envisioned eight years later, the same term - contracted to " Ingsoc" - is the monstrous ideology of a totally oppressive regime, far from the relative moderate revolution which Orwell foresaw in 1940. When the vision of "The Lion and the Unicorn" is compared with that of "Nineteen Eighty-Four" it is evident that Orwell saw the regime presided over by Big Brother not only as a betrayal and perversion of Socialist ideals in general, but also as a perversion of Orwell’s own specifically and dearly cherished vision and hope of Socialism - "English Socialism".


Several characters in the book are based upon people from real life, and nearly all of them parallel figures from the Russian Revolution and Communist Russia in general.

Major characters

  • Winston Smith - The novel's protagonist
  • Julia - Winston's lover
  • Big Brother - The dictator of Oceania in the year 1984; believed to be based upon Joseph Stalin. However as Winston Smith points out, he has never seen, nor remembers anyone else seeing Big Brother and makes the point that perhaps he never did exist. This is also true of Emmanuel Goldstein whom Winston Smith points out is definitely dead by now, but also may have just been created for propaganda purposes.
  • O'Brien - A government agent who deceives Winston and Julia into believing that he is a member of the resistance, convinces them to "join," and later uses it against them to incarcerate and torture them.
  • Emmanuel Goldstein - A former top member and now opposer of the ruling Party; he is based upon Leon Trotsky, a dissident member of the Soviet Communist Party who was forced to flee the Soviet Union to save himself from Stalin's persecutions.

Minor characters

  • Aaronson - old party leader
  • Ampleforth - Winston's colleague
  • Mr. Charrington - ostensibly the owner of a junk store in the prole district; actually a member of the dreaded Thought Police.
  • Jones - old party leader
  • Katharine - Winston's wife, a strong supporter of the Party. It is unknown whether or not she is alive at the time of the novel because of the fact that she and Winston separated several years earlier.
  • Martin - O'Brien's servant
  • Parsons - Winston's naive neighbour
  • Rutherford - old party leader
  • Syme - Winston's intelligent coworker; works with the language Newspeak, and is later vaporized (Made so as to seem he never existed). Syme's disappearance is an allusion to the Stalin Purges.

Ingsoc (English Socialism)

Ingsoc is the ideology of the totalitarian government of Oceania. Ingsoc is Newspeak for "English Socialism".

Ministries of Oceania

Oceania's four ministries are housed in huge pyramidal structures, each roughly 930 feet high and visible throughout London, displaying the three slogans of the party (see below) on their façades.

Ministry of Peace 
Newspeak: Minipax.

Conducts Oceania's perpetual war.

Ministry of Plenty 
Newspeak: Miniplenty.

Responsible for rationing and controlling food and goods, along with all production of all domestic goods. The Ministry of Plenty declares false claims to have increased the standard of living every time by a considerable amount, when in fact the ministry counteracts its own claims.

Ministry of Truth 
Newspeak: Minitrue.

The propaganda arm of Oceania's regime, controlling information: news, entertainment, education, and the fine arts. Winston Smith works for the Records Department (RecDep) of Minitrue, "rectifying" historical records and newspaper articles to make them conform to Big Brother's most recent pronouncements, thus making everything that the Party says true.

Ministry of Love 
Newspeak: Miniluv.

The agency is responsible for the identification, monitoring, arrest and torture of dissidents, real or imagined. Based on Winston's experience there at the hands of O'Brien, the basic procedure is to pair the subject with his or her worst fear for an extended period, eventually breaking down the person's mental faculties and ending with a sincere embrace of the Party by the brainwashed subject. The Ministry of Love differs from the other ministry buildings in that it has no windows in it at all.

The ministries' names are an example of doublethink — “The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation.” (Part II, Chapter IX - chapter I of Goldstein's book)


The keyword here is blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also 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. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink. Doublethink is basically the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.

Part II, chapter IX - chapter I of Goldstein's book

Political geography

Not all boundaries are given in detail in the book, so some are speculation. Note: At the end of the novel, there are news reports that Oceania has captured the whole continent of Africa, though their credibility is uncertain.

The world is controlled by three functionally similar totalitarian super-states engaged in perpetual war with each other:

  • Oceania (ideology: Ingsoc or English Socialism) comprises Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, Polynesia, and the Americas.
  • Eurasia (ideology: Neo- Bolshevism) comprises continental Europe and northern Asia.
  • Eastasia (ideology: Obliteration of the self, usually rendered as "Death worship") comprises China, Japan, Korea and Northern India.

The "disputed area", which lies "between the frontiers of the super-states", is "a rough quadrilateral with its corners at Tangier, Brazzaville, Darwin, and Hong Kong".

That Great Britain and Ireland are in Oceania rather than in Eurasia is commented upon in the book as a historical anomaly. North Africa, the Middle East, South India, and Southeast Asia form a disputed zone which is used as a battlefield and source of slaves by the three powers. Goldstein's book explains that the ideologies of the three states are the same, but it is imperative to keep the public ignorant of that. The population is led to believe that the other two ideologies are detestable. London, the novel's setting, is the capital of the Oceanian province of Airstrip One, the former United Kingdom.

The Revolution

In the novel, there are a few glimpses of what happened to cause the revolution. The formation of Eurasia is depicted as occurring after the Second World War when American troops left Europe earlier than in our history, allowing Soviet troops to move in and gain control of war-torn Europe without much opposition.

As explained in the book, Eurasia does not contain the British Empire because the Americans were able to annex the British Empire and gain control of a quarter of the world (southern Africa, Australasia and Canada) before the Soviets reached Britain. Presumably, the United States also annexed much of Latin America at around the same time, forming Oceania.

Eastasia is the last of three superstates to be formed, and apparently was formed when China conquered surrounding nations. The previously-formed Eurasia prevented Eastasia from growing to the size of the others, a handicap it made up thanks to its numerous and hard-working population.

Although the chronology of these events is unclear in the book, most of it appears to happen between 1920 and the 1960s.

The War

Perpetual War
1984 fictious world map v2 arr.png
The attacks described as black (Eurasian) and white (Oceanian) arrows in the last chapter of the novel.
Date early 1970s–present
Location North Africa

Southwest Asia Southeast Asia Central Asia

Result eternal stalemate
East Asian unification

European-North African unification American- Oceanian-British-Irish unification Southern Africa, West/ South Asia disputed zones

Oceania Eurasia Eastasia
Commanders and leaders
Big Brother
Casualties and losses
Unknown "half a million prisoners" during the invasion of Africa, according to a newsflash on the telescreen Unknown

The world of Nineteen Eighty-Four is built around a never-ending war involving the book's three superstates, with two allied powers fighting against the third. But as Goldstein's book explains, each superstate is so strong it cannot be defeated even when faced with the combined forces of the other two powers. The allied states occasionally split with each other and new alliances are formed. Each time this happens, history is rewritten to convince the people that the new alliances were always there, using the principles of doublethink. The war itself never takes place in the territories of the three powers; the actual fighting is conducted in the disputed zone stretching from Morocco to Australia, and in the unpopulated Arctic wastes. Throughout the first half of the novel, Oceania is allied with Eastasia, and Oceania's forces are combating Eurasia's troops in northern Africa.

Midway through the book, the alliance breaks apart and Oceania, newly allied with Eurasia, begins a campaign against Eastasian forces. This happens during "Hate Week" (a week of extreme focus on the evilness of Oceania's enemies, the purpose of which is to stir up patriotic fervour in support of the Party), Oceania and Eastasia are enemies once again. The public is quite abnormally blind to the change, and when a public orator, mid-sentence, changes the name of the enemy from Eurasia to Eastasia (still speaking as if nothing had changed), the people are shocked and soon enraged as they notice all the flags and banners are wrong (they blame Goldstein and the Brotherhood) and tear them down. This is the origin of the idiom, "we've always been at war with Eastasia." Later on, the Party claims to have captured India. As with all other news, its authenticity is questionable.

Orwell's book explains that the war is unwinnable, and that its only purpose is to use up human labour and the fruits of human labour so that each superstate's economy cannot support an equal (and high) standard of living for every citizen. The book also details an Oceanian strategy to attack enemy cities with atomic-tipped rocket bombs prior to a full-scale invasion, but quickly dismisses this plan as both infeasible and contrary to the purpose of the war.

Although, according to Goldstein's book, hundreds of atomic bombs were dropped on cities during the 1950s, the three powers no longer use them, as they would upset the balance of power. Conventional military technology is little different from that used in the Second World War. Some advances have been made, such as replacing bomber aircraft with "rocket bombs", and using immense "floating fortresses" instead of battleships, but they appear to be rare. As the purpose of the war is to destroy manufactured products and thus keep the workers busy, obsolete and wasteful technology is deliberately used in order to perpetuate useless fighting.

Goldstein's book hints that, in fact, there may not actually be a war. The only view of the outside world presented in the novel is through Oceania's media, which has an obvious tendency to exaggerate and even fabricate "facts", and the rocket bombs ostensibly fired by the enemy. Goldstein's book suggests that the three superpowers may not actually be warring, and as Oceania's media provide completely unbelievable news reports on impossibly long military campaigns and victories (including a ridiculously large campaign in the Sahara desert), it can be suggested that the war is a lie. Julia even goes so far as to suggest that the rocket bombs that land on London are launched by the Party from other parts of Oceania.

Even Eurasia and Eastasia themselves may only be a fabrication by the government of Oceania, with Oceania the sole undisputed dominator of the world. On the other hand, Oceania might as well actually control only a rather small part of the world (Great Britain and Ireland) and still brainwash its citizens into believing that Oceania dominates the whole Earth or - as in the novel - that they are battling/allying with (a fabricated) Eurasia/Eastasia.

It is noted in the novel that there are no longer massive battles, but rather expert fighters occasionally appearing in small skirmishes; this makes sense as the reason for the wars are to destroy national production, rather than the populace which is to be dominated at every turn.

Living standards

By the year 1984, the society of Airstrip One lives in squalid poverty; hunger, disease, and filth are the norms. Because of the civil and atomic wars, and enemy ( or possibly even Oceanian) rocket bombs, the cities and towns are in ruins. When travelling about London, Winston finds himself surrounded by rubble, decay, and the crumbling shells of wrecked buildings. Much of the population of Oceania go barefoot most - if not all - of the time, despite The Party reporting large quantities of boots being produced; Winston believes it likely that very few, if any, boots were actually produced at all.

Apart from the gargantuan bombproof Ministries, very little seems to have been done to rebuild London, and it is assumed that all towns and cities across Airstrip One (and Oceania) are in the same desperate condition. Living standards for the population are generally very low — everything is in short supply and those goods available are of very poor quality. The Party claims that this is due to the immense sacrifices that must be made for the war effort. They are partially correct, as the point of continuous warfare is to be rid of the surplus of industrial production to prevent the rise of the standard of living and make possible the economic repression of people.

The Inner Party, at the top level of Oceanian society, enjoys the highest standard of living. O'Brien, a member of the Inner Party, lives in a clean and comfortable apartment, and has variety of quality foodstuffs such as wine, coffee, and sugar, none of which is available to the rest of the population. Synthetic versions of these foodstuffs are available to members of the Outer Party, but they are of far inferior quality. Winston, for example, is astonished simply that the lifts in O'Brien's building actually work, and that the telescreens can be turned off. Members of the Inner Party also seem to be waited on by slaves captured from the disputed zone; O'Brien's servant, Martin, is described as having Asiatic features, which would identify him as an Eastasian or eastern Eurasian national, possibly a former soldier captured in battle.

Although the Inner Party enjoys the highest standard of living, Goldstein's book points out that, despite being at the top of society, their living standards (apart from the slaves) are significantly lower than pre-Revolution standards. O'Brien says the social atmosphere is that of a besieged city, where the possession of a lump of horseflesh makes the difference between wealth and poverty. The proles, treated by the Party as animals, live in squalor and poverty. They are kept sedate with vast quantities of cheap beer, widespread pornography, and a national lottery, but these do not mask the fact that their lives are dangerous and deprived—proletarian areas of the cities, for example, are ridden with disease and vermin.

However, the proles are subject to much less close control of their daily lives than Party members. The proles, whom Winston Smith meets in the streets and in the pubs, seem to speak and behave much like working-class Englishmen of Orwell's time. In addition, the prole criminals whom he meets in the first phase of his imprisonment are far less subdued and intimidated than the intellectual "politicals", some of them rudely jeering at the telescreens with apparent impunity.

As explained in Goldstein's book, this derives from the social theory which the regime believes in—and which seems to work—that revolutions are always started by the middle class and that the lower classes would never start an effective revolt on their own. Therefore, if the middle classes are so tightly controlled that the regime can penetrate their very thoughts and their most minute daily life, the lower classes can be left to their own devices and pose no threat. Meanwhile, any potentially rebellious or intelligent proletarian indivdiuals who could become the nuclei for resistance are simply eliminated by the Thought Police.

As Winston is a member of the Outer Party, more is shown from its living standards than any other group. Despite being the middle class of Oceanian society, the Outer Party's standard of living is very poor. Foodstuffs are low quality or synthetic; the main alcoholic beverage — Victory Gin — is industrial-grade; Outer Party Victory Cigarettes aren't manufactured properly.



Nineteen Eighty-Four expands upon the subjects summarised in the essay Notes on Nationalism ( 1945), about the lack of vocabulary needed to explain the unrecognised phenomenon behind certain political forces; in Nineteen Eighty-Four Newspeak, the Party's artificial, minimalist language, addresses the matter.

Positive nationalism: Oceanians’ perpetual love for Big Brother (who might not exist); Celtic Nationalism, Neo-Toryism, and British Zionism are defined by love.

Negative nationalism: Oceanians’ perpetual hatred for Emmanuel Goldstein (who might not exist); Stalinism, Anti-Semitism, and Anglophobia are defined by hatred.

Transferred nationalism: in mid-sentence, an orator changes the enemy of Oceania; the crowd instantly transfers their hatred to the new enemy. Transferred nationalism swiftly redirects emotions from one power unit to another, e.g. Communism, Pacifism, Colour Feeling, and Class Feeling.

Thus, O'Brien conclusively describes: “The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.”

Sexual repression

The Party imposes antisexualism upon its members (e.g. the Junior Anti-Sex-League), because sexual attachments diminish loyalty to the Party. Julia describes Party fanaticism as "sex gone sour"; except during the liaison with Julia, Winston suffers an inflamed ankle (an allusion to Oedipus the King, symbolic of unhealthy sexual repression). In Part III, O'Brien tells Winston that neurologists are working to extinguish the orgasm; sufficient mental energy for prolonged worship requires repressing the libido, a vital instinct, e.g. externally-imposed sexual restriction by the authorities (civil, political, et cetera).


If Orwell meant the novel as prophecy is unknown, yet, O'Brien describes the future:

There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always—do not forget this, Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face … for ever.
—Part III, Chapter III

This starkly contrasts with his forecast essay England Your England, in The Lion and the Unicorn (1941):

The intellectuals who hope to see it Russianised or Germanised will be disappointed. The gentleness, the hypocrisy, the thoughtlessness, the reverence for law and the hatred of uniforms will remain, along with the suet puddings and the misty skies. It needs some very great disaster, such as prolonged subjugation by a foreign enemy, to destroy a national culture. The Stock Exchange will be pulled down, the horse plough will give way to the tractor, the country houses will be turned into children's holiday camps, the Eton and Harrow match will be forgotten, but England will still be England, an everlasting animal stretching into the future and the past, and, like all living things, having the power to change out of recognition and yet remain the same.

Yet, Nineteen Eighty-Four's geopolitical climate is like his précis of James Burnham's ideas in the essay 'James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution' (1946).

These people will eliminate the old capitalist class, crush the working class, and so organize society that all power and economic privilege remain in their own hands. Private property rights will be abolished, but common ownership will not be established. The new 'managerial' societies will not consist of a patchwork of small, independent states, but of great super-states grouped round the main industrial centres in Europe, Asia, and America. These super-states will fight among themselves for possession of the remaining uncaptured portions of the earth, but will probably be unable to conquer one another completely. Internally, each society will be hierarchical, with an aristocracy of talent at the top and a mass of semi-slaves at the bottom.


The book was written in the immediate post-WWII period, when the horrors of the Holocaust had just been revealed to the world; it has several references to Jews, in widely differing contexts.

The name of Emmanuel Goldstein leaves little doubt that he is Jewish - as was Leon Trotsky (Bronshtein) on whom he is widely considered to be modeled. Aaronson, one of the three earlier leaders of the party who were ousted and destroyed by Big Brother, also has a clearly Jewish name.

However, there is no hint that the persecution of Goldstein and Aaronson is in any way motivated by antisemitism, and in fact "The Book" (which, whoever actually wrote it, seems to describe accurately the society of Oceania) states that "there is no racial discrimination... Jews, Negroes and South Americans of pure Indian blood are to be found in the highest ranks of the Party."

Jews in a very different situation are shown in the newsreel from the Middle East which Smith watches in the cinema, where a boat full of Jewish refugees is being sunk by an Oceanian helicopter. Smith is deeply inspired by the Jewish mother's brave - however futile - attempt to shield her child from the coming bullets. However, this scene, too, gives no hint that the people in the boat were targeted specifically because of being Jews.

The theme of Jewish refugees, suffering brutal treatment while on frail boats in the Mediterranean, was very familiar at the time of writing. The book was written scarcely a year after the saga of the ship " Exodus" drew world-wide attention and sympathy for the Jewish refugees on board and anger against the British treatment of them.

As known from his non-fiction writings, Orwell did not approve of Zionism and did not regard it a true solution for the Jews' problems. At the very time the book was being written, the state of Israel arose out of a year of bloody war. But in the world which Orwell envisioned, all nation-states would be consumed and trampled by the three competing superpowers, and a small newly-born one could hardly escape the same fate.

Moreover, the Middle East would become a battleground constantly passing from hand to hand, its inhabitants being used as a reservoir of forced labor by whichever power happened to rule them at the moment; Jews living there would evidently share this fate with their Arab neighbors.

The combination of all references to Jews scattered through the book leads to the conclusion that the world depicted by Orwell would be extremely harsh and oppressive to all human beings - but that unlike the time of the Second World War, Jews as such would not be specifically targeted or treated differently than other people.


A major theme of "Nineteen Eighty-Four" is censorship, which is displayed especially well in the ministry of truth, where photographs are doctored and public archives rewritten to rid them of "unpersons". In the telescreens, figures for all types of production are grossly over-exaggerated (or simply made up) to indicate an ever-rising economy, where there is actually loss.

An excellent example of this is when Winston is charged with the task of eliminating reference to an unperson in a newspaper article. He proceeded to write an article about Comrade Ogilvy, an imaginary party member, who displayed great heroism by giving his life so that the important dispatches he was carrying would not fall into enemy hands.

The Newspeak appendix

"The Principles of Newspeak" is an academic essay appended to the novel. It describes the development of Newspeak, the Party's minimalist artificial language meant to ideologically align thought and action with the principles of Ingsoc by making "all other modes of thought impossible". (cf. Sapir–Whorf hypothesis)

Whether or not the Newspeak appendix implies a hopeful end to 1984 remains a critical debate, as it is in Standard English and refers to Newspeak, Ingsoc, the Party, et cetera, in the past tense (i.e. "Relative to our own, the Newspeak vocabulary was tiny, and new ways of reducing it were wthere to be being constantly devised", p. 422), some critics (Atwood, Benstead, Pynchon) claim that, for the essay's author, Newspeak and the totalitarian government are past. The counter view is that since the novel has no frame story, Orwell wrote the essay in the same past tense as the novel, with "our" denoting his and the reader's contemporaneous reality.

Cultural impact

"Happy 1984" - Stencil graffito on the Berlin Wall remnant, in 2005. The image is of a DualShock video game controller.

Nineteen Eighty-Four's impact upon the English language is extensive; many of its concepts: Big Brother, Room 101 (the worst place in the world), the Thought Police, the memory hole (oblivion), doublethink (simultaneously holding and believing two contradictory beliefs), and Newspeak (ideological language), are common usages for denoting and connoting overarching, totalitarian authority; Doublespeak is an elaboration of doublethink; the adjective "Orwellian" denotes that which is characteristic and reminiscent of George Orwell's writings, specifically 1984. The practice of appending the suffixes "-speak" and "-think" ( groupthink, mediaspeak) to denote unthinking conformity.

Attempted censorship

  • The USSR banned Nineteen Eighty-Four until 1988.
  • In 1981, a Baptist minister in Jackson County, Florida challenged the novel's suitability as proper reading for young Americans, arguing it contained pro-Communist and sexually explicit material.
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