Genre of 1984

Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition

George Orwell's 1984 is one of the most famous novels that imagines a world where the government controls everyone and everything, propping up an endless war and keeping close surveillance over its citizens. Readers may wonder exactly what genre of writing 1984 falls under. Read on to learn more about 1984, including how readers might categorize its genre!

Genre of 1984

1984, written by George Orwell, is an example of a novel in the dystopian literature genre. Dystopian literature specifically looks at how political, social, and economic structures can go bad and oppress the people that they are meant to help. In order to better understand what the dystopian genre is, we should first compare it to its opposite genre - utopian literature.

George Orwell, the author of 1984

Utopia vs. Dystopia

Though the word utopia, which means good place or no place, was used in ancient Greece, the word was most notably applied to literature in Sir Thomas More's book Utopia, in which More described the perfect society that would make everyone happy.

Dystopia, on the other hand, means not-good place in Greek. Dystopian writing arose as a response to utopian writing to show how the same things that might make the world a perfect place, such as government, corporations, or religious leaders, could also make it a terrible place.

To construct a dystopian piece of fiction, the writer must choose an organization or group that has political, social, economic, or religious power within our current society and then imagine what it would be like if they gained total control over the society. The dystopian story can act as a warning to show what might happen to society if we are not careful to limit the power of these organizations.

In dystopian writing, the organization that has gained power and its leaders oppress citizens in a number of ways:

In dystopian stories, complete surveillance of the citizenship is one of the most common tropes

1. Information is closely controlled. Sometimes important information is hidden, and other times, information is altered or falsified outright. This confuses the citizenship and hides from them anything that might cause dissent.

2. Things about the old, free society are changed or destroyed in order to erase them from memory, such as ways of writing, ways of speaking, or artifacts that have important historical or cultural value.

3. Citizens are watched most or all of the time. Constant surveillance allows the leaders of society to watch everyone and to make sure that no one is trying to rise up against them.

4. Citizens are often distracted with unimportant things to make sure that they do not focus on their lack of freedom. For example, citizens might be distracted with television entertainment (such as in the books Fahrenheit 451 or The Running Man) or shopping in commerce (such as in the book Jennifer Government).

The main characters in dystopian novels are often trying to take down, deal with, or escape their oppressive societies, and oftentimes, the main character fails to do so in order to show how powerful these dystopian leaders can be.

These things are common to most, if not all, dystopian stories. Let's apply them to Orwell's 1984, as well.

How 1984 fits the dystopian genre

In 1984, the Ministry of Truth puts forth propaganda about the war with Eurasia and presents the Party that runs society in only the best possible light, leaving out information about the torture of citizens or the economic struggles facing most of the population. It is effective at hiding information from its citizens.

The Ministry of Truth has even destroyed the old language of English and replaced it with a Party-endorsed language. Newspeak is the new language of the masses, and the words in it are often contradictory and confusing. By destroying the old way of speaking, the citizens lose an important connection to the days before the Party came into control.

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