Like the ever-present, ever-watchful eyes of Big Brother, George Orwell’s visionary novel, first published in 1949, continues to haunt readers to this day. At its most basic, 1984 examines a totalitarian futuristic society tightly controlled by a police state and governed by the all-seeing Big Brother. Although it is a work of fiction, it raises questions relevant to any organized society in any time and place, and probes as well the deeper moral questions of the corrupting influence of power and how individuals determine their very existence. As we follow Winston Smith through Oceania, we confront institutions and ideas we consider inherent to a functioning civilization: art and expression; the role of family as the backbone of society; the importance and unassailability of history; and the strengths and weaknesses of the individual.
That this story reads as fresh and frightening to generations twice, thrice, four times removed from World War II is no small literary feat. For this is a novel clearly borne of England’s waning colonialism, of catastrophic world wars and tenuous alliances, of the rise of brownshirts and gulags and fascism. It is impossible, and perhaps imprudent, to read 1984 without considering the political history that frames the novel. Yet as the book makes clear, power has a funny effect on people, from the Left to the Right. Is it really that far of a stretch from “the end justifies the means” to “power is the end, not the means”? Not just then, but now?
A brilliant and timeless socio-political treatise, no doubt, but what makes this book so relevant to our day and age is the cautionary note it strikes on technology, power, and the shifting nature of truth. It is in the day-to-day effects of Party protocol—fractured relationships, isolated workers, lost privacy, endless political sound bites, the pillaging of language and expression—that modern readers find a universal thread. Whether or not Facebook is monitoring your “friends” or you willingly post your every move, word, and thought online, technology has forever altered our social landscape. It has changed how we connect with one another, isolating some while linking others, facilitating like-seeking-like. In our post–9/11 world, where everyone from pop stars to presidents Tweet their own necessarily brief newsfeed to legions of pledged followers, questions of language, control, and expression are even more prescient than ever. Given the nature of the themes and questions raised in this remarkable book, it’s hard to imagine 1984 as any less relevant for generations to come.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Describe the importance of freedom of expression in society using examples from Winston’s daily life in Oceania.
2. Show through examples Winston and Julia’s different attitudes toward a totalitarian regime and their different ways of subverting it.
3. Cite several current-day examples that show how 1984’s theme of individual privacy continues to be an issue even well beyond the year 1984.
4. Explain why intimate relationships—friendship, marriage, family—are dangerous to a totalitarian regime.
5. Explain the various steps the Party took to finally break Winston.
6. Explain what is meant by the slogan “War is Peace.”
7. Cite through examples how the Party succeeds in controlling and manipulating information.
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Chapter Guide
- The Chapter Guide is organized for a chapter-by-chapter study of the novel. Chapter Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
- Chapter Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each chapter and to acquaint them generally with the chapter’s content.
- Before chapter Chapter Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading...
(The entire section is 459 words.)
1. Writing in his diary for a future generation to discover, Winston comes to believe his task is futile and that his words will be lost to time. Yet 1984, originally published in 1949, remains one of the most influential novels of all time. What qualities of the book make it timeless in this way? Identify the novel’s universal themes that continue to speak to new generations.
2. What message is Orwell trying to convey about conformity and groupthink in the novel? Can you think of instances today where groupthink occurs?
3. Write one paragraph for each of the three parts of the novel describing the main characters and plot points introduced for each, then...
(The entire section is 549 words.)
orthodoxy: set of beliefs
parody: a mocking imitation
specious: misleading; superficially attractive but deceptive
1. Where do we first see Big Brother and what is his message?
Posters of Big Brother appear on each landing of Winston’s apartment building. The posters read BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU and the eyes in the picture are drawn such that they appear to follow the viewer.
2. Describe the scene from the war film that Winston recounts.
A helicopter hovers over a lifeboat...
(The entire section is 377 words.)
discountenance: to disapprove
partisanship: partiality, allegiance
1. Who knocks at Winston’s door and why?
His neighbor, Mrs. Parsons, who needs him to help her fix her sink.
2. Why does Winston feel sorry for Mrs. Parsons?
He thinks her children will turn on her one day, and that she knows it and fears them. Children are Spies for the Party and frequently turn on their parents.
3. What were the Parsons children upset that they could not do?
They wanted to go see a hanging....
(The entire section is 113 words.)
annihilate: to destroy completely
disdainfully: contemptuously, scornfully
repudiate: to refuse or reject
1. Who is Oceania fighting, and what does Winston remember about Oceania’s enemy?
Oceania is at war with Eurasia, which, according to the Party, means they have always been at war with Eurasia. However, Winston remembers that four years ago they had been at war with Eastasia and allied with Eurasia.
2. About whom does Winston dream?
He dreams his mother and sister are in a sinking ship while he watches them from above.
3. Where is the Golden...
(The entire section is 175 words.)
conviction: strong belief
heretical: dissenting; against God
multifarious: varied, diverse
palimpsest: something with many layers, some hidden underneath
proletariat: working class
1. What is the purpose of a memory hole?
It acts as a garbage chute. Documents to be destroyed, as well as stray scraps of paper, are put in memory holes, where they are carried to enormous furnaces and burned.
2. What is Winston’s job? Does he like it? Why or why not?
His job is to rewrite past news items to make them consistent with the...
(The entire section is 193 words.)
edify: to inform or enlighten
philologist: one who studies literature
scrutiny: close observation
1. What is the coveted item Winston’s friend Syme asks for?
2. What does Syme say the word “bad” is replaced with in Newspeak? Why is the change made?
“Bad” is replaced by “ungood.” The Party is attempting to remove all shades of meaning in language. The truest antonym for good, therefore, is not bad, which could carry multiple meanings, but simply the negation of good, or ungood.
3. What is the uniform...
(The entire section is 136 words.)
furtive: sneaky, shady
1. This chapter opens with a surprising revelation. Who is Katharine and what is her significance?
We learn that Winston was or is married, and that his wife, Katharine, has been gone for some time. We also learn that he doesn’t care, or perhaps prefers, that they are no longer together.
2. Describe Katharine.
She is tall and straight, fair-haired, and seems noble, but she is not intelligent and swallows everything the Party feeds her.
3. Why did Winston and Katharine ultimately part?
(The entire section is 136 words.)
indoctrinate: to teach a certain set of beliefs or principles
subjection: forced submission
truism: obvious truth
1. Why does Winston believe that “if there is hope, it lies in the proles”?
The proles comprise a majority of the population, and live outside the reach of the Party. Winston does not believe the Party can be destroyed from within.
2. What was the uniform of the capitalist, according to the children’s history textbook?
A long, black frock coat and a top hat.
3. What is the significance of the dated newspaper page Winston holds for a...
(The entire section is 210 words.)
anodyne: inoffensive, benign
bourgeoisie: middle class
incongruous: disjointed; inconsistent
palpable: tangible, able to be touched
reconnoiter: to explore; do reconnaissance
strident: loud; harsh
1. What is “ownlife”?
2. What does Winston buy on his second trip to the shop?
He buys a glass paperweight that appeals to him because its main function is to be pretty. It also contains a piece of coral, or the natural world, taken from the Indian Ocean.
3. Why does the...
(The entire section is 140 words.)
malignant: evil, malevolent
prominent: standing out
1. What does the sash on the girl from the Fiction Department represent?
It is a reminder of chastity, a value held dear by the Party. It also marks her membership in the Junior Anti-Sex League.
2. How does the girl from the Fiction Department get her message to Winston, and what is that message?
She falls in front of him, and uses his gesture of helping her up to pass him a note that says, “I love you.”
3. Before Winston reads the message from the girl, what two...
(The entire section is 180 words.)
incredulity: state of disbelief
ironical: differing from expectations
undermine: to subvert
1. Since there are no telescreens in the countryside, what is there to fear?
The Party is said to hide microphones in places where telescreens are not practical. Even the fields and forests seem to be under their control.
2. Why is Winston incapable of being intimate with the girl at first?
He is too used to being without physical contact, and cannot easily feel desire.
3. What animal makes a sound during Winston and Julia’s meeting in the countryside?...
(The entire section is 92 words.)
doctrine: set of beliefs
privation: lack of, deprivation
zealous: very enthusiastic
1. What does Julia mean by “talking by installments”?
It is the way that she and Winston have a conversation as they walk near one another through a crowd. It allows them to avoid getting caught having a conversation, which would seem suspicious.
2. What are three important rules to Julia and Winston’s meetings and what are the rules meant to achieve?
They are very concerned with getting caught. The...
(The entire section is 130 words.)
emanation: emission; coming from a source
predestined: decided ahead of time
1. What is Julia wearing when she asks Winston to turn around? What does it symbolize?
She has put on makeup, which is never worn by Party members. Makeup is considered common and an overt sign of sexuality. By painting her face, Julia is freeing herself by acting like a prole.
2. What is the food item Julia brings to the room that she is most proud of, and how does one secure such an item?
She brings coffee, which is often stolen by servants and waiters from Inner Party members, then sold...
(The entire section is 214 words.)
disconcerting: upsetting, problematic
flagrant: blatant, obvious
impudent: disobedient; insolent
invincible: impossible to defeat
propaganda: biased information designed to promote a cause
1. How does Winston know with certainty that Syme has been vaporized?
His name no longer appears as a member of the Chess Committee.
2. Why couldn’t Winston and Julia join the Brotherhood if they wanted to?
Though they trust each...
(The entire section is 172 words.)
1. What is the message Winston receives that he has been waiting for all along?
He gets an invitation to speak with O’Brien.
2. How do people discover where others live?
They find out where others live only through inquiring—there are no directories.
3. What object does O’Brien say he wants Winston to pick up at his apartment?
He tells him he has a new edition of the Newspeak dictionary.
4. At the end of this chapter, how does the...
(The entire section is 168 words.)
remonstrance: protest, complaint
1. What happened the last time Winston saw his mother and how does he feel about what happened?
He had taken his sister’s share of chocolate and run out with it. Winston is clearly fraught with guilt about his early interactions with his family and not realizing how precious their time together was, even though he was just a child.
2. What do Julia and Winston say will happen when they are caught and questioned? What does this say about their relationship?
They say that they will confess everything about the...
(The entire section is 140 words.)
assent: to give approval
disseminate: to spread
equivocal: uncertain, ambiguous
incriminate: to accuse or charge with a crime
persiflage: light chitchat
pretext: an excuse or justification
sabotage: to destroy
1. How does O’Brien’s home and lifestyle compare to Winston’s?
O’Brien’s home is clean, spacious, light, and new. He has a servant and luxurious furnishings. Winston’s apartment is rundown, smells of boiled cabbage, and lacks all color and warmth.
2. What does O’Brien do straightaway that surprises...
(The entire section is 258 words.)
debauch (v): corrupt; (n): indulgence
execrate: to loathe
expropriate: to take away, seize
harangue: to lecture, to rant
hierarchical: arranged by rank
infallible: never wrong
oligarchy: a government run by a small group
orator: public speaker
ossify: to become bony, rigid
1. By what means will the book be delivered to Winston?
Winston will get a signal through his work—a misprinted word—and will know to leave his briefcase at home the...
(The entire section is 324 words.)
1. Who does Winston believe is immortal, and why?
The proles are immortal because they can sing and love and live, and their souls cannot be crushed by the Party.
2. Where does the voice come from inside the apartment that mimics Julia’s words?
The voice comes from the telescreen hidden behind the picture of the church.
3. Who exposes Winston and Julia, and why?
Mr. Charrington has been following them all along. He is an undercover member of the Thought...
(The entire section is 87 words.)
desultory: disappointing; lacking purpose
lethargy: lack of energy
perturbed: disturbed, unsettled
sanctimonious: superior, righteous
1. What is the significance of the razor blade in this chapter?
It allows you to kill yourself instead of enduring torture. It allows you personal escape, but does nothing to keep the resistance alive because your ideas and actions die with you....
(The entire section is 141 words.)
exaltation: extreme happiness
prevaricate: to be misleading or evasive
seditious: rebellious against the state
unrepentant: not remorseful
1. What is a disease Winston suffers from, according to O’Brien?
He has a poor memory, which actually means he has a good memory and remembers the past. O’Brien feels Winston is also unwilling to fix it.
2. What does O’Brien want Winston to say when he holds up four fingers in front of him?
That he is actually holding five fingers. He is trying to get Winston to stop differentiating between that which is...
(The entire section is 234 words.)
insurrection: violent uprising
malleable: pliable; easily influenced
1. What are the three stages of Winston’s reintegration?
Learning, understanding, and acceptance.
2. According to O’Brien, who wrote the book supposedly authored by Goldstein, and what does he say about the information it contains?
He says that O’Brien himself, along with others, authored the book. He says that it is both completely true and propaganda manufactured by the Party.
3. Why does the Party cling to power?...
(The entire section is 223 words.)
fallacy: mistaken belief
capitulate: to surrender
inscrutable: mysterious; impossible to understand
persevere: to continue even when something becomes difficult
torpid: dormant, inactive
1. As the chapter opens, what is Winston’s physical state and how has it changed?
He is gaining weight and getting healthier. They have treated his wound and given him dentures. He is eating well. He is growing proud again of his body.
2. What does Winston realize about the past seven years and why does he come to that conclusion?
He is shown tapes of his actions and listens to recordings...
(The entire section is 252 words.)
convulsion: a sudden, violent movement
unendurable: not able to be withstood
1. What happens to Winston in Room 101?
He is strapped to a chair and a mask containing rats—the thing he fears the most—is fitted to his head. If O’Brien raises a lever they will attack his face.
2. How does Winston ultimately avoid the punishment? How is this significant in the novel?
He realizes he must put someone else between him and the rats. He screams out that they should attack Julia in his place. With this betrayal, Winston has finally done the...
(The entire section is 112 words.)
cauterize: to burn or deaden
oblique: indirect, not straightforward
1. What are Winston’s reactions to news about the war?
He is moved and thrilled about the outcome and is stirred by the update in a way he wasn’t before. He believes in the war, has taken a side in it, and is invested in Oceania’s positioning in the conflict.
2. What is different about Julia when Winston meets her again?
Her waist is thick and stiff, reminding him of a corpse.
3. As Winston sits in the bar...
(The entire section is 259 words.)
1. What were two purposes of Newspeak?
To express the principles of Ingsoc and eliminate all other modes of thought.
2. How could the word “free” be used in Newspeak, and how could it not be used?
It could be used to describe the absence of something, but not to mean “liberated.”
3. According to the Appendix, what would happen if you tried to convert the passage from the Declaration of Independence about all men being created equal?
There would be no words to express the concepts and therefore a translation would be impossible. It would simply be summarized as...
(The entire section is 173 words.)
Part I: Multiple Choice
1. Where and how do we first learn of Big Brother?
A. On a poster in Winston’s apartment building
B. On a billboard by the Ministry of Truth
C. In the Two Minutes Hate
D. On the telescreen
E. From Mrs. Parsons
2. What are the three slogans of the Party?
A. War is Necessary. Freedom is Strength. Ignorance is Bliss.
B. War is Strength. Ignorance is Slavery. Freedom is Peace.
C. War is Slavery. Freedom is Strength. Ignorance is...
(The entire section is 1565 words.)
1. According to the book, society is divided into three groups, the High, the Middle, and the Low people or what we might call the upper, middle, and lower classes. Describe which class the following characters represent and cite three defining features of each class that distinguishes it from the others. O’Brien (Inner Party), Winston (Outer Party), the old man in the pub (prole).
Ironically, O’Brien and all members of the Inner Party might best be compared to those capitalists of old still demonized by the Party. Clearly in the upper class of Oceania, O’Brien enjoys greater luxury and material comforts than Winston. He is allowed to drink wine; lives in a sumptuous, spacious apartment; has a servant;...
(The entire section is 2218 words.)