Satire in 1984

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  • 0:03 1984
  • 1:10 What's in a Name?
  • 2:43 Blind Acceptance
  • 3:59 Parsons
  • 4:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lauren Posey

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

'1984' is more than just a dystopian novel; it is a deeply satirical political commentary. In this lesson, you'll take a closer look at the details of satire in '1984.'

1984

There are a number of ways that you could go about commenting on political situations. You could write a letter to a newspaper, call in to a radio station, or even just discuss it with friends. If you're a novelist, though, you might turn to satire to get your message across. Satire is a literary device where humor, irony, and exaggeration are used to criticize some aspect of society, and it is very often used in the context of criticizing politics. This is the context we see in George Orwell's novel 1984.

Really, the entirety of 1984 is a political satire. It was written in 1949, near the end of WWII, when the governments of Russia and Germany made totalitarianism a very real concern. 1984 is a satire of totalitarian governments and what might happen if the government was allowed to be in complete and total control of the people. Of course, it is exaggerated and even ridiculous at times, but the underlying commentary and fear is very serious, especially when you look at it in the context of when it was written.

What's in a Name?

One aspect of satire in the novel is the use of labels to try and make something seem better than it is. An example of this is all the supplies and housing that have 'Victory' at the beginning, such as Victory coffee, Victory cigarettes, Victory gin, and the Victory Mansions where Winston, the main character, lives.

A running issue in the novel is that any of the supplies with 'Victory' at the beginning are pretty bad. We see this from the very first page where Winston describes the Victory Mansions: 'The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats.' Clearly, there is nothing victorious or mansion-like about Victory Mansions. In addition, the tobacco often falls out of Victory cigarettes, and Victory coffee is regarded as generally tasting terrible.

The idea behind the name is that people are supposed to view these supplies as superior.'Victory' is a positive term, indicating superiority over something. By using this label for sub-par products, Orwell is satirizing the propaganda that was seen throughout WWII. This propaganda also used buzzwords like 'victory' to give the illusion of positive superiority, regardless of the actual state of things.

We see this aspect of satire again in the names of the ministries that are the center of the Party's power. The Ministry of Love is concerned with torture, the Ministry of Truth with lies and propaganda, and the Ministry of Peace with war. Here, again, positive and happy terms are used to disguise the negative things that are actually associated with the ministries.

Blind Acceptance

Orwell also uses his novel to satirize the fanaticism and blind stupidity possible in people as a group. He does this through the blind acceptance of Party members of anything the Party says. No matter how ridiculous or clearly false it is, Party members are expected to (and do) accept it without question as the truth.

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