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Please note that the book was written soon after WWII. This helps you understand the book better. When the book was written, the world had just been torn apart by a war against a totalitarian government. The world was entering into a Cold War between two more superpowers. When you think of this, the setting for the book makes more sense.
The book is a dystopian novel that is meant to show us what happens when we allow governments to become totalitarian. Its setting is very dark and dismal because it is trying to give us this warning. In this way, the setting is really meant to drive home to us the major theme of the book.
Another important aspect of setting to consider in this book is how everything is labeled. You have the Victory Gardens and all of the ministry buildings. Yet, each of these locations are actually opposite of what theur names suggest. It makes sense to me that you would find confusion. The Ministry of Love is really about torture, and the Ministry of Truth is really a place where lies are created.
The buildings are all described in shades of grey and the story takes place in a decaying London. These features of setting symbolize the quality of life characters experience throughout the book.
The book was written many years before 1984 as something of a futuristic view of how a totalitarian system might develop. I had occasion to read it in 1967, when the date was far off in the future, and the novel was quite frightening with the description of a police state, "big brother," etc. My guess is Orwell intended to show a society if fascism or for that matter communism, was allowed to continue its logical course. If you compare the book to those two ideologies, it will probably make more sense to you.
For an interesting comparison, you should also read Brave New World.
Although the title depicts a future date relative to when it was published, I believe the setting can allude to any time from that date to the present and beyond. And maybe it was written as a warning to any civilization that allows its government more and more control, including yours at present day. Are you free now or supplied an illusion of freedom? Is the "enemy" truly our foe or portrayed to be in order to get the support for action against? Are we being brain-washed by big brother? Who knows? ;)
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