Nineteen Eighty-Four (sometimes 1984) is a darklysatirical political novel by George Orwell. The storytakes place in a nightmarish dystopia, in which anever-surveillant State enforces perfect conformityamong citizens through indoctrination, fear, lies andruthless punishment.It was first published on June 8,1949, is Orwells most famouswork, and is the inspiration ofthe word "Orwellian."
The novel introduced the concepts of the ever-present, all-seeing Big Brother, the notorious Room101, the thought police who use telescreens(televisions that contain a surveillance camera –found in almost every room of the apartments of thecharacters in the novel), and the fictional languageNewspeak.
Orwell had originally chosen the year 1980 for hiswork. But as the writing dragged on due to theprogression of his pulmonary Tuberculosis, Orwellchanged it to 1982 and then to 1984.There are various ideas as to themeaning of the title. It is widelythought that Orwell simplyswitched the last two digits ofthe year in which he wrote it(1948).
Along with Aldous HuxleysBrave New World, the world of1984 is one of the first and mostcited characterizations of arealistic dystopia to haveappeared in English literature. Ithas been translated into manylanguages.
The world described inNineteen Eighty-Four hasstriking and deliberate parallelsto the Stalinist Soviet Union;notably, the themes of abetrayed revolution, whichOrwell put so famously inAnimal Farm, the subordination of individuals to "theParty," and the extensive and institutional use ofpropaganda, especially as it influenced the maincharacter of the book, Winston Smith.The World of Nineteen Eighty-Four
The Ministries of OceaniaOceanias four ministries are housed in huge pyramidal structuresdisplaying the three slogans of the party on their sides.The Ministry of PeaceMinipax is the newspeak name for the Ministry of Peace, which concerns itselfwith making warThe Ministry of PlentyMiniplenty in Newspeak, it is the ministry involved in maintaining ubiquitouspoverty in OceaniaThe Ministry of TruthMinitrue is the propaganda arm of the Ingsoc State. They distribute the leaflets,porno, and of course the telescreens. Winston Smith spends his daytime hours“correcting” historical records in Minitrue.The Ministry of LoveMiniluv is a gigantic windowless building devoted to torture and brutality. Thehome of the thought police, it is surrounded by a maze of barbed wire andmachinegun towers.
Orwells InspirationTo understand why Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, onehas only to look at his less famous writings: mostsignificantly, Homage to Catalonia does a lot to explain hisdistrust of totalitarianism and the betrayal of revolutions;Coming Up For Air, at points, celebrates the individualfreedom that is lost in Nineteen Eighty-Four; and his essay“Why I Write” explains clearly thatall the "serious work" he had writtensince the Spanish Civil War in 1936was "written, directly or indirectly,against totalitarianism and fordemocratic socialism.”
However, the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four also reflectsvarious aspects of the social and political life of both theUnited Kingdom and the United States of America.Orwell is also reported to have said that the bookdescribed what he saw as the actual situation in theUnited Kingdom, where he lived, in 1948, where rationingwas still in place, and the British Empire was dissolvingat the same time as newspapers were reporting itstriumphs.At the time Orwell had also been working for theoverseas service of the British Broadcasting Corporation(BBC) which may help to explain one of hisinterpretations of four keyministries that governed theworld of Big Brother.
Parody of the 1941"Four Freedoms“The structure of thegovernment resembled aparody in reverse of thefamous 1941 USA State ofthe Union speech byFranklin Delano Roosevelt.In that speech before theassembled Congress, thepresident outlined FourFreedoms:
"The first is freedom of speech and expression –everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of everyperson to worship God in his own way – everywhere inthe world. The third is freedom from want, which,translated into world terms, means economicunderstandings which will secure to every nation ahealthy peacetime life for its inhabitants – everywhere inthe world. The fourth is freedom from fear, which,translated into world terms, means a world-widereduction of armaments to such a point and in such athorough fashion that no nation will be in a position tocommit an act of physical aggression against anyneighbor – anywhere in the world."
George Orwell appears to have taken this 1941 speechand used it, along with his own experiences at the BBC,to create by reversal, the four key ministries ofgovernment in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.Each is focused on an object in exquisite irony, utterlyantithetical to its name so that the Ministry of Truth isconcerned with lies, an idea that Orwell seems to havegained by his work at the BBC.The Ministry of Truth as a Ministry ofLies would also be a parody of thefirst of the four freedoms: "freedomof speech."
"The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war," wrote Orwell.A few years earlier, Roosevelt had described the fourth of hisfreedoms as being "freedom from fear." Reality said otherwiseand so did Orwell in describing the "Ministry of Peace.""... the Ministry of Love," wrote Orwell, was in realityconcerned "with torture." The second of the four freedomsaddressed the issue of religion. If "God is love" then the"Ministry of Love" could be interpreted as mocking that idealas well.Finally, Orwell described the "Ministry of Plenty" as dealing inreality "with starvation." The third of Roosevelts four freedomsaddressed the issue of freedom from want. Orwell seems tohave heard these words with a sarcastic mindset.
The PartyIn his novel Orwell creates a world in which citizens haveno right to a personal life or personal thought. Leisureand other activities are controlled through strict mores.Sexual pleasure is discouraged, with females beingtaught not to enjoy it; sex is retained only for the purposeof reproduction.The menacing figure of BigBrother has been variouslyinterpreted to be that ofSoviet leader Josef Stalinand BBC design departmentsRoy Oxley.
The mysterious head of government is the omniscient,omnipotent, beloved Big Brother, or "BB." Big Brother isdescribed as "a man of about forty-five, with a heavy blackmoustache and ruggedly handsome features."He is usually displayed on posters with the slogan "BIGBROTHER IS WATCHING YOU."His nemesis is the hatedEmmanuel Goldstein, a Partymember who had been inleague with Big Brother andThe Party during therevolution. Goldstein is saidto be a major part of theBrotherhood, a vastunderground anti-Partyfellowship.
The three slogans of the Party, visible everywhere, are:•WAR IS PEACE•FREEDOM IS SLAVERY•IGNORANCE IS STRENGTHWhile by definition these words are antonyms, in the world of1984 the world is in a state of constant war, no one is free, andeveryone is ignorant.Through the universality of the extremes the terms becomemeaningless, and the slogans become axiomatic.They echo the slogan "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work MakesFreedom") on the gates of Auschwitz and other Naziconcentration camps; the slogans are obvious non sequitursbeing passed off as truth by a totalitarian power.This type of semiconscious lie, and the deliberate self-deceptionwith which the citizens are encouraged to accept it, is calleddoublethink.
The world is controlled by three functionally similarauthoritarian superstates engaged in perpetual war witheach other: Oceania (ideology: Ingsoc – EnglishSocialism), Eurasia (ideology: Neo-Bolshevism) andEastasia (ideology: Death Worship or Obliteration of theSelf).In terms of the political map of the late 1940s when thebook was written, Oceania covers the areas of the BritishEmpire and Commonwealth, the United States of Americaand Latin America; Eastasia corresponds to China,Japan, Korea, and India, and Eurasia corresponds to theSoviet Union and Continental Europe.The United Kingdoms placement in Oceania rather thanin Eurasia is commented upon in the book as anundisputed historic anomaly.
Political Geography in the world ofNineteen Eighty-Four
London, the novels setting, is the capital of theOceanian province of Airstrip One, the renamed Britainand Ireland. Goldsteins book explains that the threeideologies are basically the same, but it is imperativeto keep the public uninformed about that. Thepopulation is led to believe that the other twoideologies are detestable.
NewspeakNewspeak, the "official language" ofOceania, is extraordinary in that itsvocabulary decreases every year; thestate of Oceania sees no purpose inmaintaining a complex language, and soNewspeak is a language dedicated to the"destruction of words." As the characterSyme puts it:
"Of course the great wastage is in the verbs andadjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can begot rid of as well... If you have a word like good, whatneed is there for a word like bad? Ungood will do justas well... Or again, if you want a stronger version ofgood, what sense is there in having a whole string ofvague useless words like excellent and splendid and allthe rest of them? Plusgood covers the meaning, ordoubleplusgood if you want something stronger still....In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness willbe covered by only six words; in reality, only one word."(Part One, Chapter Five)
The true goal of Newspeak is to take away the ability toadequately conceptualize revolution, or even dissent, byremoving words that could be used to that end. Since thethought police had yet to develop a method of readingpeoples minds to catch dissent, Newspeak was createdso that it wasnt even possible to think a dissentingthought. This concept has been examined (and widelydiscounted) in linguistics. (Sapir-Whorf hypothesis)
TechnologyThe world of Nineteen Eighty-Four is foremost a political,not a technological, dystopia. (Hence it can be quiteinaccurate to refer to it whenever there are concerns aboutnew technologies.) The technological level of the societyin the novel is mostly crude and less advanced than in thereal 1980s. Apart from the telescreens and speech-recognizing typewriters, it is no more advanced than inwartime Britain. Living standards are low and declining,with rationing and unpalatable ersatz products; in thatregard, Orwells vision is diametrically opposed to thetechnological hedonism of Brave New World.
None of the three blocs has much genuine interest intechnological progress, since it could destabilize theirgrip on power.Nuclear weapons, in particular, are avoided in theperpetual war, since its whole point is to be indecisive.The technologies that are employed are obsolete andperhaps deliberately wasteful, such as huge floatingfortresses.This stagnation is related to what is perhaps the mostfrightening aspect of the novel: for all their brutality, theregimes are not going to burn themselves out instrategically significant conquests or technological armsraces. Rather, they have reached a stable equilibrium thatcould last for ever.