1984

by George Orwell

The Life of George Orwell

Born in 1903 as Eric Blair, George Orwell was a scholarship student in England at a prestigious boarding school. After graduating, he began a career as a British Imperial Police, foregoing college. He returned to England to quit the Imperial Police and began another career as a writer. Inspired by Jack London's 1903 book The People of the Abyss, he bought ragged clothes and lived with the poor. After reemerging, he published his book about his experience, Down and Out in Paris and London. He went on to live among the coal miners, which ultimately made him gave up capitalism in favor of democratic socialism.


1984, one of George Orwell's best created books remains on of the most powerful warnings against the dangers of totalitarianism. He wrote this book to express that readers should avoid any path that might eventually lead to social degradation. Eventually democracy took over after the Cold War so there was no really threat of totalitarianism but this book still remains an eye-opener to the abusive nature of authoritarian governments but also as a psychology analysis of power and ways that it can manipulate language and history for mechanisms of control.

Main Characters

Winston Smith

A member of the Outer Party, he is thin, frail, intellectual, and estimated around thirty years old. He works in the Ministry of Truth correcting outdated magazine articles, news updates, and history. Winston hates the totalitarian control. He harbors revolutionary dreams which eventually gets him turned into the Thought Police. His rebellion, in contrast to Julia's, is an ideological movement.

Julia

Part One, she begins to follow Winston and watch his every move. Winston proposes that she is a Party spy, but in Part Two, Julia becomes Winston's lover. She has dark hair and works in the Fiction Department at the Ministry of Truth. She is pragmatic and optimistic. Compared to Winston, her rebellion against the Party if for her own enjoyment.

O'Brien

O'Brien is a mysterious and sophisticated member of the Inner Party whom Winston also believes is a member of the Brotherhood, a group of anti-Party rebels. Winston finds this out to be false when in Room 101.

Big Brother, The Party and Thought Police

He never appears in the novel so there is some question on whether or not he actually does exist. He is the perceived ruler of Oceania, one of the three superpowers. He haunts Winston's life and fills him with hatred and fascination. The Party is run by Big Brother and facilitate's everyone's memory of the past, present, and future. The Thought Police helps the Party control everyone. They turn people in and catch people who commit thoughtcrime.

Mr. Charrington

Mr. Charrington runs an antique shop inside the Prole District. Throughout the novel, he is kind and encouraging to Winston and they share the same interest of the past. He even rents Julia and Winston his attic to carry out their affair since there seems to be no telescreen. However, in the end Mr. Charrington turns Winston into the Party because he is part of the Thought Police.

Syme

Syme is an outgoing man who is very intelligent. He works with Winston at the Ministry of Truth and his job at the beginning of the book is creating a new edition of the Newspeak dictionary. Winston thinks Syme will eventually vaporized because he is too intelligent to be for the Party.

Parsons

"A, fat, obnoxious, and dull" (Sparknotes, 1984) Party member. He lives near Winston and also works at the MiniTruth. His wife is also dull and he children are members of the Junior Spies.

Emmanuel Goldstein

Like Big Brother, Emmanuel never appears in the novel. He is a Party creation and legendary leader of the Brotherhood. He is described as the most dangerous and treacherous man in Oceania and seems to have been a Party leader who turned against the regime.

Plot Overview

Winston Smith is a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in London, in the nation of Oceania. Everywhere Winston goes, even his own home, the Party watches him through telescreens; everywhere he looks he sees the face of the Party’s seemingly omniscient leader, a figure known only as Big Brother. The Party controls everything in Oceania, even the people’s history and language. Currently, the Party is forcing the implementation of an invented language called Newspeak, which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating all words related to it. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is illegal. Such thoughtcrime is, in fact, the worst of all crimes.


As the novel opens, Winston feels frustrated by the oppression and rigid control of the Party, which prohibits free thought, sex, and any expression of individuality. Winston dislikes the party and has illegally purchased a diary in which to write his criminal thoughts. He has also become fixated on a powerful Party member named O’Brien, whom Winston believes is a secret member of the Brotherhood—the mysterious,legendary group that works to overthrow the Party.


Winston works in the Ministry of Truth, where he alters historical records to fit the needs of the Party. He notices a coworker, a beautiful dark-haired girl, staring at him, and worries that she is an informant who will turn him in for his thoughtcrime. He is troubled by the Party’s control of history: the Party claims that Oceania has always been allied with Eastasia in a war against Eurasia, but Winston seems to recall a time when this was not true. The Party also claims that Emmanuel Goldstein, the alleged leader of the Brotherhood, is the most dangerous man alive, but this does not seem plausible to Winston. Winston spends his evenings wandering through the poorest neighborhoods in London, where the proletarians, or proles, live squalid lives, relatively free of Party monitoring.


One day, Winston receives a note from the dark-haired girl that reads “I love you.” She tells him her name, Julia, and they begin a covert affair, always on the lookout for signs of Party monitoring. Eventually they rent a room above the secondhand store in the prole district where Winston bought the diary. This relationship lasts for some time. Winston is sure that they will be caught and punished sooner or later (the fatalistic Winston knows that he has been doomed since he wrote his first diary entry), while Julia is more pragmatic and optimistic. As Winston’s affair with Julia progresses, his hatred for the Party grows more and more intense. At last, he receives the message that he has been waiting for: O’Brien wants to see him.


Winston and Julia travel to O’Brien’s luxurious apartment. As a member of the powerful Inner Party (Winston belongs to the Outer Party), O’Brien leads a life of luxury that Winston can only imagine. O’Brien confirms to Winston and Julia that, like them, he hates the Party, and says that he works against it as a member of the Brotherhood. He indoctrinates Winston and Julia into the Brotherhood, and gives Winston a copy of Emmanuel Goldstein’s book, the manifesto of the Brotherhood. Winston reads the book—an amalgam of several forms of class-based twentieth-century social theory—to Julia in the room above the store. Suddenly, soldiers barge in and seize them. Mr. Charrington, the proprietor of the store, is revealed as having been a member of the Thought Police all along.


Torn away from Julia and taken to a place called the Ministry of Love, Winston finds that O’Brien, too, is a Party spy who simply pretended to be a member of the Brotherhood in order to trap Winston into committing an open act of rebellion against the Party. O’Brien spends months torturing and brainwashing Winston, who struggles to resist. At last, O’Brien sends him to the dreaded Room 101, the final destination for anyone who opposes the Party. Here, O’Brien tells Winston that he will be forced to confront his worst fear. Throughout the novel, Winston has had recurring nightmares about rats; O’Brien now straps a cage full of rats onto Winston’s head and prepares to allow the rats to eat his face. Winston snaps, pleading with O’Brien to do it to Julia, not to him.



Giving up Julia is what O’Brien wanted from Winston all along. His spirit broken, Winston is released to the outside world. He meets Julia but no longer feels anything for her. He has accepted the Party entirely and has learned to love Big Brother.

Recurring Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Some recurring themes of 1984 are the dangers of totalitarianism, physical control, psychological manipulation, control of information and history, and technology.


Some motifs of the novel are Doublethink (the ability to hold two contradictory ideas and accept both at the same time) and urban decay (the setting of the novel, London, is a rundown, dilapidated city where buildings are crumbling and technology like elevators never work).


Big Brother is the biggest symbol because he represents the Party, "The Place Where There Is No Darkness" describes meeting O'Brien in that place and it ends up being the jail and Room 101, and the Red-Armed Prole Woman who Winston hears singing represents the long-term future.