Literary Devices in 1984

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  • 0:02 Literary Devices in 1984
  • 1:00 Allusion
  • 1:38 Similes and Metaphors
  • 3:09 Irony
  • 4:04 Foreshadowing
  • 5:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: William Wickham
George Orwell was a master of literary devices. In this lesson, we will explore the primary literary devices that help make up the masterpiece that is ''1984''.

Literary Devices in 1984

What makes a book memorable? How do authors create images in your head or lead you down the path of their narrative? When an author such as George Orwell sets out to create a story, a great many tools are available to him, called literary devices. These are tools used in literature to highlight important points, create interest, and express the voice of the author in a written work. Often, they help the reader feel like you are part of the story. They can make time disappear. They may pull you in o a tale, creating the world in your imagination.

This lesson will provide examples of the primary literary devices used in George Orwell's 1984. The list of literary devices is long. However, there are a number of primary devices that many authors use to engage the reader. For this lesson, we will focus on five of these devices: allusion, similes, metaphors, irony, and foreshadowing.


The first literary device we will look at is allusion. Allusion is a technique with which the author connects real events with their narrative without directly naming it as such. Because 1984 was written during the rise of Communism in Europe, the novel is rife with allusion. Many of the scenes in 1984 can be compared to Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia.

For example, in Chapter 2, Orwell describes the 'Spies,' a group of children whose purpose it is to gather information on members of the community and report misconduct to the Party. This is an allusion to the Hitler Youth of Nazi Germany.

Similes and Metaphors

Another literary device employed by Orwell is the simile. Similes use ''like'' or ''as'' to illustrate a point by relating two concepts, ideas, or images. Orwell writes, 'He felt as though he were wandering in the forests of the sea bottom, lost in a monstrous world where he himself was the monster. He was alone.' In the comparison of Winston to a monster, we might guess how alone it would feel to be on the wrong side of society. Winston is the outsider, where the wrong move could mean death. Orwell uses a great many similes in 1984.

Similar to a simile but slightly different, a metaphor compares two unrelated ideas directly instead of using ''like'' or ''as.'' Although Orwell does not use many metaphors in 1984, the few that he does include are profound.

For instance, after Winston and Julia find the room above the cafe, a room where they can be isolated from the evil dystopian society, Orwell writes, 'The room was a world, a pocket of the past where extinct animals could walk.' What makes this a metaphor is the wording: the room is a world. Not 'like a world' or 'as big as a world,' but a world in itself. Orwell saves his use of metaphor for only the biggest of ideas in 1984. Using it to describe the room shows the reader how important it is to the novel.


Irony, an expression of meaning that is deliberately contradictory to what is expected, is not only a literary device but also a central theme in 1984. It is used in many ways, but none so blatantly as by the Party's slogan 'War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength.'

Firstly, the dystopian Oceania is in a never-ending war. Oceania can remain at peace as long as its attention, its hatred, and its energy are consumed by the waging of this war. Secondly, the Proles (working-class citizens) cannot take action against the Party to free themselves because that would lead to enslavement. Finally, the Proles must completely accept ignorance; to challenge the Party would be to weaken society. Each of these slogan ideas are ironical because the meaning expressed contradicts the reality of those living in Oceania.

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