Symbols & Symbolism in 1984

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  • 0:04 Symbols and 1984
  • 0:58 The Glass Paperweight
  • 2:21 Telescreens
  • 3:59 Big Brother
  • 5:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Liz Breazeale
Symbols are important literary devices used in many works around the world, and they're present even in George Orwell's famed 1984. In this lesson, learn about some of the major symbols at work in this dystopian novel.

Symbols and 1984

You've probably heard of symbols and symbolism before, but in a literary sense, what does it mean? Symbolism means that a person, place, or thing is used by the author to represent a larger, more abstract idea. This is often used to bring to mind an important theme at work.

Here's a real world example: Hearts have become a symbol of love and passion, which are big ideas that are really hard to define, and hard to explain. But a heart is a concrete thing, so it's easier to draw a heart instead of writing a long description of what the word 'love' really means.

Symbols abound in George Orwell's incredibly famous 1984, his dystopian novel still read around the world. In this lesson, you'll learn about three major symbols at work in the book: the glass paperweight, telescreens, and Big Brother.

The Glass Paperweight

The glass paperweight is an important symbol in the novel, and represents Winston's failed attempts to connect to and understand the past. This may sound odd, because in today's world, if you have a question about a particular event or object you can search online or even read about it. But this isn't the case for the citizens of Orwell's novel. The government rewrites history so often and has such control over its citizens' minds and memories that the real past is completely lost.

So you could see why owning this glass paperweight is important for Winston. After he purchases it, he often wonders where this beautiful object came from and struggles to understand the past it belongs to. What was its purpose? Why was it made? Winston asks the man he buys it from and is enthralled to learn that sometimes things were made once for sheer beauty.

Winston leaves the glass paperweight in the room he rents, and the room becomes a safe place, where he can imagine the past and try to work out his own memories. Is the past as he has been taught a lie? What are his own thoughts? Can he trust his memories?

But the rented room is raided by the police. As Winston is arrested, the glass paperweight symbolically shatters. Winston's attempt to discover the truth and reconnect to the past is destroyed with the paperweight.


Telescreens are exactly what they sound like: screens in the walls of your house that monitor your every move. They're even in your bedroom to watch you while you sleep, and in the bathrooms at your job. In short, telescreens are everywhere, and they provide an excellent symbol for government surveillance, which is one of the things Orwell strongly warns against in this novel.

Not only this, but did you know that these telescreens can also speak to you? Pretty terrifying. They often use this function to keep people in line and warn them when they've committed some violation. They also transmit important government news and information, and are used to lead morning exercise routines that are required for all citizens. What a great symbol for not only government surveillance, but the manipulation of technology by the government.

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