Author: George Orwell
Biographical information about the author: Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair in Motihari, Bengal, India, in 1903. A year after his birth, he moved to England with his mother and older sister. He attended boarding school in 1911, where he started noticing differences in social classes and how they treated each other. In 1933, he published his first novel, Down and Out in Paris and London. To avoid embarrassing his family (due to the book's depressing nature), he wrote it under the pseudonym of George Orwell. Later, he married Eileen O'Shaughnessy and fought in the Spanish Civil War. After returning to England, he suffered health problems (mostly tuberculosis), but still continued writing. 1984 was written shortly before his death, which occurred in 1950.
Genre: Dystopian literature/Drama
Characteristics of the genre: 1984 set most of the characteristics for dystopian literature--the story takes place in a future, with an oppressive, controlling government that bans free thought and promotes propaganda. It also counts as a drama due to its heavy conflict and emotional weight.
Date of Publication: June 8, 1949
Historical information about the period of publication or setting of the novel: 1984 was published soon after World War II. Several totalitarian regimes had just collapsed, and one of the greatest threats to Britain and the U.S. was the communist Soviet Union. Orwell wrote the novel to warn society about the dangers of totalitarianism--1984 isn't meant to speak against any specific political party (he himself was a socialist), but it's meant to warn against totalitarianism.
Exposition: Winston Smith, a citizen of Airstrip One of Oceania (formerly known as England) goes about his daily life. He subtly rebels against the governing Party and its omnipresent leader, Big Brother, by keeping a diary that criticizes them, hidden from the telescreens and microphones that monitor citizens' movements.
Inciting Incident: A young woman named Julia, who Winston suspected was a spy for the Party, slips him a note stating that she loves him.
Rising Action: Winston meets up with Julia and discovers that she hates the Party as much as he does. They start a love affair, eventually renting a room above the shop where Winston bought his diary. Winston believes that his coworker, Inner Party member O'Brien, is secretly a member of the resistance movement known as the Brotherhood, so he and Julia approach him and confess their true allegiance. O'Brien swears them into the Brotherhood and gives Winston a book which explains the policies of the Party and the true state of the world. Winston and Julia are in their rented room when the Thought Police arrest them.
Climax: Winston and Julia are taken to the Ministry of Love, where O'Brien is revealed to be one of the Thought Police. He tortures Winston with electroshock in order to skew Winston's thought process and rid him of his hatred of Big Brother and the Party. While Winston, under torture, confesses to crimes he didn't commit and implicates everybody else--including Julia--he doesn't stop loving her, and thus O'Brien can't complete his task. O'Brien moves Winston to Room 101, which contains every prisoner's worst fear, and orders a wire cage filled with hungry rats to be fitted onto his face. Frightened, Winston begs them to do it to Julia instead, thus betraying her.
Falling Action: After O'Brien is successful in reforming Winston, he's released. Winston later sees Julia in a park, where she reveals that she had betrayed him as well.
Conclusion: Winston sits in a café and proclaims his love for Big Brother.
Memorable Quotes (min. 3)
"Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten."(52) This quote highlights the theme of control through language--by eradicating words and creating a whole new language, the Party wishes to make it virtually impossible to rebel, because there will be no way to express those sentiments.
"Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don't care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me!" (286) These words signify the climax of the novel, the point where Winston loses and the Party wins.
"'Who controls the past', ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'"(34) This quote highlights the theme of controlling people through memory; since the Party is in power, they control what people know of the past. Thus, they control the past. Since they control what people know of the past, they can manipulate it to suit their will, and thus control the future.
Stylistic Devices and/or Literary Techniques (min. 5)
Foreshadowing: Before Winston and Julia go to O'Brien, they discuss what would happen if they got caught--torture and confession. Winston tells Julia, "Confession is not betrayal. What you say or do doesn't matter; only feelings matter. If they could make me stop loving you--that would be the real betrayal."(166), and Julia replies with "It's the one thing they cannot do"(166). Unfortunately, when they are captured and taken to the Ministry of Love, it turns out that they can make Winston stop loving Julia.
Animal motif: Goldstein's face is said to have "resembled the face of a sheep, and the voice, too, had a sheeplike quality"(12). This is ironic for a rebel leader, since sheep are usually associated with blind followers. In addition, the Ministry workers are described as "beetlelike"(60), which perfectly conveys how grubby, mindless, and grounded these workers are, rooted in their lives of toil for the Party.
Significant names: Winston Smith's first name is an allusion to Churchill, and his last name conveys his role as an "everyman" character, somebody people can relate to. Even O'Brien recognizes this, describing him as "the last man."(270). Julia's name is a form of Juliet, which signifies her role as the love interest. Emmanuel Goldstein's first name makes him sound like a savior, which, if he exists, he's attempting to be for the people of Oceania. The names of the Ministries are a direct contrast to their true purposes--the Ministry of Truth promotes propaganda, the Ministry of Plenty imposes strict rations, and the Ministry of Love enforces the Party's laws and punishes criminals.
Foil: Julia, who's had sex "scores of times"(125) in order to rebel against the Party, serves as one to Winston's absent wife, Katharine, who hates sex, but sees it as a "duty to the Party"(67). In addition, Julia is a foil to O'Brien: Winston first sees her as "an agent of the Thought Police"(10) and O'Brien as a possible ally, while they're both truly the opposite.
Unreliable narrator: The point of view is in third person limited omniscient--we are limited to Winston's narration. In some ways, this enhances the novel--we are able to share Winston's emotions, views on other characters, and pain when he's tortured. In other ways, we are extremely limited--because Winston never leaves Airstrip One, we don't know the actual state of the world. The book Winston reads claims that "Oceania comprises the Americas, the Atlantic islands including the British Isles, Australasia, and the Southern portion of Africa"(185), but later O'Brien claims to have wrote the book, meaning that for all we know Airstrip One is all of Oceania. We don't know if there's actually a Big Brother or Brotherhood, whether the Party is as omniscient as it claims, and, after the rat cage is strapped to his face, we can't even trust Winston's narrative.
Significant Characters (min. 5)
Winston Smith (protagonist): Winston is an "everyman" character, whose only extraordinary quality is the ability to see through the Party's lies. He can also be considered an antihero: when O'Brien asks him if he is prepared "to cheat, to forge, to blackmail, to corrupt the minds of children, to distribute habit-forming drugs, to encourage prostitution, disseminate venereal diseases--to do anything which is likely to cause demoralization weaken the power of the Party"(172), Winston never hesitates before saying yes. As the protagonist, he's a round character. Winston can be described as thoughtful, quiet, and resigned--from the first chapter onward, he knows perfectly well that he'll be arrested and killed by the Party one day.
Julia (love interest): Julia is significant because she inspires Winston to rebel against the Party--he starts keeping a diary because of his fascination with her, and after they start meeting illicitly, he starts taking other risks, such as secretly renting a room. Unlike Winston, however, Julia isn't interested in a grand-scale rebellion--she's satisfied with thumbing her nose at the authorities by privately flouting their rules. Julia is a round character and can be described as daring, sensual, and pragmatic.
O'Brien (antagonist): O'Brien is a bigger antagonist than Big Brother, purely out of the fact that he is very much present. He's capable of gaining Winston's trust without saying a word, and later is personally responsible for Winston's downfall. We actually don't know much about O'Brien--he could merely be an Inner Party member, he could be much higher up in the Party than he claims, he could be brainwashed like Winston was, or he could even be a Brotherhood member getting rid of loose ends. He's very much a round character, and can be described as manipulative, cruel, and duplicitous,
Big Brother (symbol of oppression): Big Brother is more of a symbol than a character. He never appears except for on a poster, and nobody's sure whether he exists or not. He represents the Party as a whole. While he may not exist, Big Brother is very much a constant presence in 1984, where he looms over the main characters, always reminding them that "BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU."(2) If he's a character, then Big Brother is a flat one, and can be described as threatening, commanding, and cruel. Big Brother is also noteworthy because he's the one character everybody's heard of, even if they've never read the book.
Emmanuel Goldstein (symbol of rebellion): Goldstein is Big Brother's complete opposite. Like Big Brother, we aren't sure if he exists or whether he was made up by the Party to unite Oceania against a common enemy, but in universe, he's believed to head the Brotherhood, a shadow organization bent on taking down the Party. To Winston, Goldstein is a symbol of freedom and rebellion, the "sole guardian of truth and sanity in a world of lies"(14). Since Goldstein doesn't appear in person, he's a flat character, and can be described as brave, rebellious, and clever.
Significance of Setting
Orwell did some significant worldbuilding for his setting. 1984 is set in a near-future (for the time it was published, anyways) world where the country, Oceania, is in a constant state of war, living conditions are very poor, and society is divided into three classes--the Inner Party members (the "High"(201)), all other Party members (the "Middle"(201)), and the proles (the "Low"(201)). All Party members are under surveillance through telescreens set in almost every room. The Party's efforts to control humanity contribute to the themes of the novel.
Significance of the Opening Scene
The opening scene is where most of the exposition appears. We are introduced to a lot of concepts used in the novel, such as thoughtcrime, Newspeak, telescreens, the Party and their slogans ("War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength"(4)), and the Thought Police. We are also introduced to Winston. In the first chapter, Winston writes "DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER"(18) in his diary; this provides a contrast to the ending of the novel. The beginning is rather boring and pessimistic, reflecting Winston's life at the time.
Significance of the Ending/Closing Scene
In the ending, Winston is drinking and thinking about the Party, just like the beginning. However, Winston's attitude is very different from the beginning: in the closing scene, "he [loves] Big Brother"(298). This provides an ironic contrast.
Possible Themes – Topics of Discussion (min. 3)
One of the main methods that the Party uses to ensure loyalty is to abolish private loyalties. They twist the family structure by encouraging children to spy on their parents, and they convince members to see the Party as a whole as their family, which is why they call their leader "Big Brother". The Party also teaches its members that sex is dirty and undesirable, and is merely a way to produce more Party members. Because of repression, people instead direct that energy towards worshipping the Party.
Language is central to both freedom and oppression.
The Party goes to great lengths to control what people say and think. Much is made of Newspeak, which eliminates words deemed dangerous and frivolous and makes it literally impossible to rebel because there's no way to express such sentiments; in fact, the Appendix goes to great detail on the mechanics of the language.
Memory is unreliable.
The Party also controls people through their memories. They censor anything concerning the past, including written records and photographs, so that they can change it whenever it suits them. People are raised to believe that whatever the Party says is true, no matter what their memory tells them--if Oceania is at war with Eastasia, then it was always at war with Eastasia, even if it was at war with Eurasia a day ago. If someone manages to see past this, like Winston, then the Party will capture them and torture them to such lengths that they won't be able to tell the difference between appearance and reality. Winston is not immune to such measures--in the end, he believes that any memory which counteracts the Party is false.
AP English: Literature and Composition- Major Works Data Sheet