Irony in 1984: Examples & Analysis

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

George Orwell uses many literary devices to illustrate the societal issues he brings up in his novel ''1984.'' In this lesson, you'll learn about one of the most prominent of these: irony.

1984

Have you ever been in a situation where what you expected was the exact opposite of what happened? Maybe you know of a traffic cop who was suspended for speeding or for not paying parking tickets. This is an example of irony. Irony is when the expected outcome is the opposite of what really happens. It is a very common literary device, and we see it come up continuously throughout George Orwell's novel 1984.

The Party Slogan

The big points of irony that show up in the novel are closely involved with the Party. The Party is the only name given to the ruling government of Oceania, where the novel takes place. The Party's slogan is made up of three parts:

  • War is Peace
  • Freedom is Slavery
  • Ignorance is Strength

The entire slogan is inherently ironic, especially the first two lines. War is supposed to be the opposite of peace, so you wouldn't expect the two to be grouped together. The same goes for freedom and slavery. Yet this completely contradictory slogan is supposed to be (and generally is) accepted by everyone in the Party. The reader sees the irony here, and so does the main character, Winston Smith, but the Party and most of its members simply don't acknowledge it.

The Ministries

The government of Oceania is run out of three Ministries. The names of these Ministries are completely opposite of what they actually do, and so they further the pattern of irony we see in how the Party is run.

The first ministry is the Ministry of Truth. This is where Winston works. Ironically, the Ministry of Truth is centered on creating lies. The workers in Winston's department spend their day changing historical records so that they reflect whatever is currently happening at the time. For example, when Oceania switches from being at war with Eurasia to being at war with Eastasia, every historical document is changed so that it looks as if they have always been at war with Eastasia. Far from being concerned with truth, the Ministry of Truth is concerned with fabricating things so that history and the present all run together in one continuous lie.

The second ministry is the Ministry of Peace. We never hear much about it, except that it is a concern with war. Oceania is continuously at war, and the Ministry of Peace is where everything related to the war is handled. Peace is never considered, and so the name is very ironic.

Finally, we have the Ministry of Love, which is (again, ironically) the most feared ministry of them all. It is in charge of law and order, which is largely achieved through torture and murder. Winston describes this ministry very well: ''One did not know what happened inside the Ministry of Love, but it was possible to guess: torture, drugs, delicate instruments that registered your nervous reactions, gradual wearing down by sleeplessness and solitude and persistent questioning.'' These are certainly not the actions of a loving organization.

All of these ministries, like the slogan, represent the inherent irony that everyone in the Party is meant to accept. This irony is represented in Newspeak, the official language of Oceania, as ''doublethink.'' It basically means that you are supposed to separate your mind so that, if the Party wants you to, you can accept two completely contradictory things at the same time. Irony, and forcing people to accept it blindly, is a tool the Party knowingly and purposefully uses as we have seen in the previous examples.

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