In this lesson, we will summarize George Orwell's novel 1984. We will then analyze the themes of the story, as well as the setting, tone, and characters.
The Worst World
Most of us spend time imagining the perfect world. A world of peace, kindness, and riches. A world of no pain and sorrow. Ultimately, a place where dreams come true. But how often have you thought about the worst world that you could live in? What would a world of disaster, war, helplessness, and fear look like? Throughout history, we have seen glimpses into a world like this, which is called a dystopia.
In 1948, George Orwell wrote his novel 1984 as a warning, particularly a warning of too much political control and what this may lead to. In his worst world, Orwell envisioned a country completely controlled by government, a country where the people had no say in their laws or even their own lives.
The novel opens in 1984 in Oceania, with the main character Winston Smith arriving home. We are immediately introduced to the image of Big Brother, the government leader who is on posters throughout town with the caption, 'Big Brother is Watching You!' We also learn that nothing is private for the citizens. There are cameras everywhere, and even their thoughts and love life can be controlled by the government.
One of the laws of Oceania is that the citizens cannot keep journals. If they do, this act is punishable by death or hard labor camp. Winston, however, has chosen to keep a journal and writes in it throughout the novel. In one of the first scenes of Winston writing in his journal, he writes, 'DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER.' Even though he knows that writing in the diary will kill him, he wants to leave something for future generations.
Winston spends his days at work but also tries to remember the past, something that is not easy. He has small memories of his mother and life before Big Brother but nothing solid or clear. He tries to piece these memories together in his diary, but without proof cannot confirm his first memory of the government. He does, however, begin to believe that freedom is the freedom to think.
While at work, Winston also becomes interested in a brunette lady, Julia. Initially, he thinks she is a spy for the government and is paranoid that she is reading his thoughts. However, one day she slips him a note that says she loves him, and the two start secretly dating. Their relationship is illegal, so the two rent a room to meet but never interact in public. As they become closer, Winston starts to open up about his doubts regarding the Party and his desire to organize a revolution, but Julia does not agree with him. Eventually, the two are discovered and separately taken.
In the last chapters of the novel, Winston is in prison. He has no concept of time or even if it is day or night. Winston is tortured by the Party because he would not accept their control. Throughout his torture, Winston clings to the idea that Julia is still alive. He tries to act like he has accepted the Party, but he cannot hide his love for Julia, which is still against the law. The Party leader O'Brien decides to take Winston to room 101, which will torture him with his biggest fear, rats. When faced with the rats, Winston yells for them to do it to Julia, which ends his love and loyalty for her.
At the close of the novel, we again see Winston. This time, he is a member of the Party and enjoys his role with them. He encounters Julia one last time, now disfigured and scarred, and feels nothing for her. At the final scene, Winston sees a picture of Big Brother and cries because he loves him so much.
One of the major themes of the novel is power and control. The Party controls everything: exercise, jobs, thoughts, and even relationships. If the Party does not like someone, they are able to vaporize that person. The Party also controls the past and what people are able to remember about it. Finally, they make sure that they control what the future will know about them as well. They manipulate documents and photographs to be sure that history shows them in a positive light.
Because of this, there is also a theme of violence. The Party uses torture to keep the citizens following them. They torture physically but also mentally and with brainwashing. Through this torture, they are able to make the citizens love them, like what happened with Winston.
Next, there is a theme of loyalty. The citizens must be loyal to the Party, even if it requires torture.
Finally, we can relate all the themes to the main idea of a totalitarian society. Orwell's novel is a warning to those who allow government too much control. It is important to remember that the novel was written following World War II, so Orwell's fears of government control emerged from his experience of war. His novel's themes all show the ways that government can create fear and use manipulation to create loyal citizens.
The novel takes place in the fictional Oceania. Remember when the novel was written it was set in the future, so Orwell describes a place that fits his vision of the future. The city is covered with cameras and posters of Big Brother. There are also images of poverty and separation of riches. Those that are higher officials in the government are able to secure money and stability, but the rest of the country is poor.
It is not surprising that the novel is dark and gloomy. This fits the theme of violence and control. This creates a mood of desperation and anger. We see this in Winston's life. His anger drives him to create a journal, and his desperation for love leads to his relationship with Julia, even if it could lead to him being sentenced to death.
In 1948, George Orwell wrote his novel 1984 as a warning of too much political power. The novel follows Winston Smith as he begins to doubt the Party in control and expresses this through his journal. He starts a relationship with Julia and the two meet in secret, which is against the law. Eventually they are caught, and Winston is tortured until he no longer loves Julia and turns his love to Big Brother. The novel's major themes are the power and control of a totalitarian government, violence, and forced loyalty.
When you've completed the video, you should be able to:
- Paraphrase the events of George Orwell's novel 1984
- Explain the themes used throughout the novel
- Describe the setting
- Analyze the tone and how it fits with the themes