Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
Nineteen Eighty-Four is George Orwell’s unswervingly grim vision of a dystopian future. The author always intended it as more warning than prophecy, so that even though its title date has passed, its lessons about the dangers of conformity, mental coercion, and verbal deception retain their validity and relevance. Orwell’s careful use of clear, understandable language makes the unfamiliar world of Nineteen Eighty-Four comprehensible to every level of reader, and his theme of personal individuality and human emotion, particularly love, trying to establish themselves in spite of the relentless pressure of the modern industrial state has perennial appeal to young adult audiences.
The novel depicts a world divided into three totalitarian superpowers that are constantly at war with one another: Oceania, dominated by the former United States; Eurasia, dominated by Western Europe; and Eastasia, dominated by China and Japan. Since the novel belongs to the genre of the dystopia, a negative Utopia, much of its content is necessarily involved in describing Oceanian society—not only in the features of its everyday life, much of which reflects British life in 1948 (a year whose inverted numbers may have suggested the novel’s title), but also in detailed explanations of the historical origins of Ingsoc and Oceania, as well as its official language, Newspeak. Orwell, rather clumsily in the view of some critics, gives much of this information in the form of a book-within-a-book, the supposed handbook of the...
(The entire section is 625 words.)
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The Principles of Newspeak
This section defines Newspeak, the official language of Oceania, and sets forth its purpose: to meet the specific needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism while making all other methods of thought impossible. When Oldspeak has become obsolete, the last link with the past will have been destroyed.
The vocabulary of Newspeak has been built by inventing new words, eliminating old words, and stripping existing words of their finer shades of meaning. Newspeak, based on English, has three classes of vocabulary words:
1. “A” – words used for everyday life; reserved for simple thoughts, concrete objects, or physical actions.
2. “B” – words created for political purposes with the proper mental attitude; all are compound; made up without a plan.
3. “C” – supplementary; scientific and technical terms.
The straightforward manner of the appendix and the elaborate care taken to construct the grammar and vocabulary lend credibility to the existence of Oceania.
Some critics believe that Orwell was pointing out the importance of language as a shaper of thought and the inadvisability of narrowing vocabulary to limit its range. When we consider the nature of the words in the “B” vocabulary, the satirical purpose of the novel becomes more obvious, for words like “honor,” “justice,” “democracy,” and “religion” no longer...
(The entire section is 541 words.)
The Plot (Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature)
Winston Smith begins a diary, an act tantamount to signing his own death sentence in a ruthlessly totalitarian state bent on eradicating individuality. He is determined to stay alive—and “human”—as long as he can. To do so, he must escape the all-seeing eye and all-hearing ear of the Thought Police behind the omnipresent telescreen.
Winston and Julia, who work in the Ministry of Truth, become lovers and find an illusory haven above Charrington’s shop in the district of the “proles,” or masses outside the Party. Earlier, the lovers revealed themselves to O’Brien, allegedly a member of the “Brotherhood” intent on toppling Big Brother. O’Brien sends them “the book,” supposedly written by Goldstein, Big Brother’s enemy. The Thought Police smash into the lovers’ refuge and drag them away to the Ministry of Love.
As he expected, Winston is maniacally tortured, but to his surprise his torturer is O’Brien, a self-styled therapist, determined to return Winston to “sanity.” Winston masters “doublethink,” or the capacity to believe that two plus two equals five, or any other number suggested. Confident that he has satisfied O’Brien’s insane demands without betraying the self that loves Julia, Winston is totally unprepared for the horror of what awaits him in Room 101. Knowing that Winston has a phobia of rats, O’Brien has devised a wire mask to fit over his head with a door his tormentors can open into a cage of starving rats. Winston in mindless terror screams, “Do it to Julia! Not me!” Internally devastated by the horrible recognition of his betrayal, Winston accepts self-annihilation as a “victory over himself.” The last sentence confirms his conversion: “He loved Big Brother.”
Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*London. Capital of a future (from the perspective of 1949, when George Orwell wrote the book) political unit called Airstrip One in the superstate Oceania that is the setting for the novel. London’s skyline is dominated by four government ministries, whose enormous bulk and tasteless architecture distinguish them from the surviving historical structures surrounding them. Residential sectors of the city segregate members of the unnamed Party from proles (“proletarians”), but both Proles and Outer Party members live in crumbling tenement buildings that are unsanitary, crowded, and poorly maintained. Police patrols are highly visible; posters of Big Brother—the ever-present, seemingly loving personification of the state—are ubiquitous.
The city’s squalor is symptomatic of the Ingsoc government’s disdain for the welfare of its own citizens. This is the result of a change in the fundamental principles and core values of the society; human rights are nonexistent, and all available resources support building and maintaining government structures that administer and preserve the collective. The life of the individual is barren; this barrenness is suggested by lack of luxury, beauty, and privacy.
Inner Party member Winston Smith has a fascination with the past that he acts out by paying clandestine visits to the oldest and meanest areas of the city, where the proles live and work. Because the proles are considered by Inner Party leaders to be beneath concern, their sectors are largely ignored by the government and have become de facto museums of prerevolutionary culture, customs, and mores. Only within the prole neighborhoods can Winston enjoy the smell of real coffee, the sounds of unconstrained conversation and songs, and the sights of uninhibited children playing and adults gathering to talk—all of which reminds Winston of his own childhood and suggest the complexity and fullness of prerevolutionary life.
Victory Mansions. Run-down London building in which Winston has a flat on the seventh floor. The building has bad plumbing, no heat, a broken elevator, and the inescapable stench of rancid cabbage. The one thing in the building that works flawlessly is its network of telescreens, which broadcast ceaseless propaganda and, in turn, watch residents through television cameras.
Charrington’s shop. Cramped, dilapidated antique store in a prole sector of London that Winston frequents. He sees the shop as a microcosmic remnant of the past, but it is, in fact, a carefully maintained surveillance tool. Its upstairs apartment, which Winston rents for trysts with Julia, becomes the place of their downfall. Though infested by biting bedbugs and large, aggressive rats, the room also has a private entrance to facilitate Winston and Julia’s secret meetings. There they abandon themselves to sensuality only because they think the room has no telescreen. However, it does have a telescreen, which,...
(The entire section is 1246 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 1 Questions and Answers
1. When does the novel begin?
2. Where does the novel begin?
3. Cite the caption on the posters in Winston’s building.
4. What is Newspeak?
5. What does a telescreen do?
6. What are the Party’s three slogans?
7. Name the four Ministries of the government.
8. What is the purpose of the Two Minutes Hate?
9. What is thoughtcrime?
10. What is the penalty for thoughtcrime?
1. The novel begins at 13 o’clock on a day in April 1984.
2. The novel begins at Victory Gardens.
3. The caption on the posters reads “Big Brother...
(The entire section is 161 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 2 Questions and Answers
1. What form of address has replaced “Mrs.”?
2. What game are the Parsons’ children playing?
3. Give the crime the children accuse Winston of committing.
4. What popular spectacle took place that afternoon?
5. What is a “child hero”?
6. Who speaks in Winston’s dream?
7. What does the speaker in the dream tell Winston?
8. What is the bad news delivered via the telescreen?
9. Winston addresses his diary to whom or to what?
10. Explain why Winston washes his hands before he returns to work.
1. The new form of address is “Comrade.”...
(The entire section is 196 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 3 Questions and Answers
1. How old was Winston when his mother disappeared?
2. What is the only thing Winston remembers about his father?
3. What does Winston surmise happened to his parents?
4. Where are Winston’s mother and sister in his dream?
5. Who appears in Winston’s second dream?
6. What is Winston muttering as he awakens?
7. What is Airstrip One?
8. With whom is Oceania at war?
9. What is the Party slogan?
10. What is Ingsoc?
1. Winston was 10 or 11 years old when his mother disappeared.
2. Winston only remembers the thin soles on his...
(The entire section is 179 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 4 and 5 Questions and Answers
1. What is the official phrase for altering records?
2. What is the primary job of the Ministry of Truth?
3. What is “Pornosec”?
4. What is Winston’s greatest pleasure in life?
5. Who is Comrade Ogilvy?
6. What is Syme’s current project at the Records Department?
7. According to Syme, what is the whole aim of Newspeak?
8. What does Syme predict will have occurred by 2050?
9. Tell why Winston believes Syme will disappear one day.
10. Who does Winston believe is following him?
1. The official phrase for altering records is to “rectify”...
(The entire section is 205 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 6 and 7 Questions and Answers
1. What does Winston believe is the most deadly danger of all?
2. What is the unforgivable crime?
3. What is the only recognized purpose of marriage?
4. Why did Winston call Katharine the “human soundtrack”?
5. Why does Winston believe a real love affair would be almost unthinkable?
6. What percent of Oceania’s population is comprised of proles?
7. What does Winston copy into his diary?
8. What is Winston’s proof that the confessions of Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford were lies?
9. What happened to Winston’s proof?
10. To whom is Winston writing the diary?
(The entire section is 217 words.)
Part 1, Chapter 8 Questions and Answers
1. Instead of spending a night at the Community Center, where does Winston go?
2. What does the Newspeak term “ownlife” imply?
3. After the bombing, what does Winston see lying in the street?
4. What is the one public event to which the proles pay attention?
5. What does Winston learn from the old man in the bar?
6. What does Winston buy at Charrington’s shop?
7. What is different about the room above Charrington’s shop?
8. Why does Winston plan to return to the shop?
9. Who seems to be spying on Winston as he leaves Char-rington’s shop?
10. What is Winston’s current...
(The entire section is 211 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 1 Questions and Answers
1. How much time has passed since Winston spotted the girl from the Fiction Department outside the junk shop?
2. What conflicting emotions does Winston feel before helping the girl?
3. Give the possible sources of the note.
4. Give the message on the note.
5. Tell why Winston no longer believes the girl is an enemy.
6. Where do Winston and the girl plan to meet?
7. Tell what Winston and the girl witness in the square.
8. When and where will the couple meet again?
9. What emotion prevails when Party members see foreigners?
10. What does the girl do right before she leaves?
(The entire section is 199 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 2 Questions and Answers
1. Tell why a person is no safer in the countryside than in London.
2. What does Winston confess?
3. What is Winston’s immediate feeling as he holds Julia in his arms?
4. What is Winston’s idea of a love offering?
5. What is the emblem of the Junior Anti-Sex League?
6. Where did Julia obtain the chocolate?
7. What has attracted Julia to Winston?
8. Why is Winston shocked at the coarseness of Julia’s language?
9. What is Julia’s feeling about her many other lovers?
10. What is the one act of rebellion that could ruin the Party?
(The entire section is 229 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 3 Questions and Answers
1. Tell why Winston does not need to know Julia’s surname or address.
2. What does Julia mean by “talking in installments”?
3. How does Julia spend much of her free time?
4. What does Julia do at the Fiction Department?
5. What special job was Julia selected for at work?
6. What is Julia’s only interest in Party doctrine?
7. Give Julia’s opinion of revolt against the Party.
8. What is Julia’s reaction when Winston tells her the details of his loveless marriage?
9. According to Julia, what does sexual privation produce?
10. What does Julia believe will help Winston and her to...
(The entire section is 241 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 4 Questions and Answers
1. What does Winston’s heart keep saying about the affair?
2. What does Winston see and hear under the window?
3. What is Winston thinking of as he awaits Julia?
4. What has Julia brought?
5. What does Winston see when he faces Julia?
6. Why does Julia throw a shoe into the corner?
7. What is Winston’s reaction when Julia describes the rat?
8. What is Winston’s opinion of the paperweight?
9. According to Winston, who might know the missing line to the nursery rhyme?
10. What has the paperweight come to symbolize for Winston?
(The entire section is 207 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 5 Questions and Answers
1. Who vanishes?
2. How is Winston preparing for Hate Week at work?
3. Who organizes the squads of volunteers?
4. What is pictured on the new poster appearing all over
5. What causes the proles to feel increasingly patriotic?
6. How does Winston regard the room over Charrington’s shop?
7. What does Julia take for granted?
8. What does Julia believe about the stories of Goldstein and the underground?
9. What is Julia’s impulse during the Two Minutes Hate?
10. What is Julia’s interest in the next generation?
1. Syme vanishes....
(The entire section is 181 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 6 Questions and Answers
1. Where is Winston when O’Brien approaches him?
2. How does O’Brien compliment Winston?
3. Why does O’Brien refer to Syme only indirectly?
4. How does O’Brien turn Winston into his accomplice?
5. What does O’Brien think is an ingenious development in the tenth edition of the Newspeak dictionary?
6. What is O’Brien willing to lend Winston?
7. What happens to the paper with the address?
8. What prevents Winston from finding out O’Brien’s address on his own?
9. What is the one thing of which Winston is now certain?
10. What feeling does Winston experience as he talks with...
(The entire section is 207 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 7 Questions and Answers
1. What do the arm gestures made by Winston’s mother in the dreams have in common with one another?
2. What does Winston remember in his dream?
3. What does Winston believe the proles have retained, but Party members have lost?
4. How did Winston spend many of his childhood afternoons?
5. How did Winston’s mother react to her husband’s disappearance?
6. What did Winston do with his sister’s portion of the chocolate ration?
7. What did Winston find when he returned home?
8. What is a Reclamation Center?
9. In Winston’s mind, what would prove he had betrayed Julia?
(The entire section is 214 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 8 Questions and Answers
1. What does Winston fear as he travels to O’Brien’s apartment?
2. What is the only evidence that suggests O’Brien is a political conspirator?
3. Why can Winston not use the excuse that he had come for the dictionary?
4. What privilege is reserved for Party members?
5. To whom does the group drink a toast?
6. According to O’Brien, what is the most Winston will ever know about the Brotherhood?
7. What is Winston prepared to do for the Brotherhood?
8. Why will the Brotherhood never be destroyed?
9. What is in the book that O’Brien plans to send to Winston?
10. Where will...
(The entire section is 210 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 9 Questions and Answers
1. With what power is Oceania now at war?
2. What has Winston been doing for the past six days at the Ministry of Truth?
3. What is the title of Goldstein’s book?
4. What are Goldstein’s three classes?
5. What does Goldstein’s book claim is the primary aim of modern warfare?
6. What is the only possible basis of a hierarchical society?
7. What are the two aims of the Party?
8. What happens to the most gifted proles?
9. Why must the past be altered?
10. Define doublethink.
1. Oceania is now at war with Eastasia.
2. Winston has...
(The entire section is 190 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 10 Questions and Answers
1. What is the only way that the secret of the love affair would be passed on?
2. What occurs to Winston as he thinks of all people?
3. What does Winston conclude is Goldstein’s final message?
4. According to Winston, what kind of world would the proles create?
5. What makes Winston believe that proles are immortal?
6. How does Winston think he and Julia can share in the future?
7. What is behind the picture on the wall?
8. What follows the voice?
9. What happens to Winston’s paperweight?
10. What occurs to Winston as he looks at Charrington?
(The entire section is 202 words.)
Part 3, Chapter 1 Questions and Answers
1. Where does Winston presume he is when he awakens?
2. What difference does Winston observe between Party prisoners and ordinary criminals?
3. Who does all the dirty jobs in the prisons?
4. Why does Winston think of O’Brien with hope?
5. What is the “place with no darkness”?
6. Why has Ampleforth been arrested?
7. Who has denounced Parsons?
8. What crime has Parsons committed?
9. What does the chinless man offer the skull-faced man?
10. Who is Winston’s surprise visitor?
1. Winston presumes he is in the Ministry of Love.
(The entire section is 166 words.)
Part 3, Chapter 2 Questions and Answers
1. What does Winston realize about his continuous beatings?
2. What is the aim of the Party torturers?
3. What becomes Winston’s only concern?
4. Who is in charge of Winston’s torture?
5. What does O’Brien think is wrong with Winston?
6. What does O’Brien throw down the memory hole?
7. What happens whenever Winston insists that O’Brien is holding up four fingers?
8. What was the Party’s purpose in bringing Winston to the Ministry of Love?
9. What does O’Brien predict will happen after Winston’s death?
10. According to O’Brien, what is the information Winston will never...
(The entire section is 201 words.)
Part 3, Chapter 3 Questions and Answers
1. Give the three stages of Winston’s reintegration.
2. What is O’Brien’s opinion of Goldstein’s book?
3. Why does the Party seek power?
4. What power is most important?
5. Where does O’Brien believe reality exists?
6. How does the Party exert its power over humans?
7. What is the foundation of the Party’s world?
8. What does Winston see when O’Brien forces him to look into the mirror?
9. What is the only degradation that has not yet happened to Winston?
10. What is the only certainty in Winston’s life?
1. The three stages of...
(The entire section is 184 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 4 and 5 Questions and Answers
1. What does Winston write on his slate?
2. What does Winston think of his few remaining contrary flashbacks?
3. Define “crimestop.”
4. What is Winston’s hallucination?
5. What is Winston’s immediate reaction after he cries out for Julia?
6. How must Winston change his feelings toward Big Brother before he can be released?
7. Where does Winston’s final torture occur?
8. What is the worst thing in the world for Winston?
9. What does Winston believe is the only way to save himself from his torture?
10. Who is the only person to whom Winston can transfer his punishment?
(The entire section is 184 words.)
Part 3, Chapter 6 Questions and Answers
1. What is Winston’s new hangout?
2. What news is Winston awaiting?
3. What is Winston’s usual routine?
4. What does Julia’s body remind Winston of when they unexpectedly meet?
5. What do Winston and Julia admit to each other?
6. Why doesn’t Winston follow Julia through the streets?
7. What is Winston’s latest false memory?
8. What is the telescreen’s announcement?
9. Whose picture hangs in the cafe?
10. Whom does Winston now love?
1. Winston’s new hangout is the Chestnut Tree Cafe.
2. Winston awaits news of the war...
(The entire section is 157 words.)
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Atkins, John. George Orwell: A Literary Study. London: Calder and Boyars, 1971. A long and detailed account of Orwell’s climb to maturity as a political writer. Because it was written in 1954, this book presents a dated perspective on Orwell’s work.
Gardner, Averil. George Orwell. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Examines Orwell’s novels, his longer nonfiction, and his essays for theme, recurrent motifs, and critical response. Includes a chronology, an extended bibliography, and an index.
Hynes, Samuel, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “1984”: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood...
(The entire section is 223 words.)