How does George Orwell utilize imagery to enhance the meaning of his work 1984? What are some meanings of the work?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Imagery is used by an author to create mental pictures for a reader. Imagery is specifically created using words that relate to the five senses, such as touch, taste, sound, sight, and smell (Bainbridge Island School District, "9th Literary Terms: Imagery"). Abstract words, such as love and hate, cannot create mental pictures because a reader cannot literally see love or hate. Hence, when looking for imagery, we are looking for only words and phrases that pertain to the five senses.

We can see examples of imagery all throughout George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984; he especially makes use of imagery in the very first paragraphs to describe the bleak setting of the novel and to begin to introduce themes. In particular, Orwell even uses paradoxical images to begin to draw out the theme concerning the paradox of the totalitarian government: Seldom are these governments established to make things worse for what it considers to be its citizens; yet, liberties within these sorts of governments are restrained in such a way that the attempt to make things better for its citizens paradoxically results in making things consequentially worse.

One example of paradoxical imagery can be seen in the phrase "bright cold day" within the first clause of the first sentence: "It was a bright cold day in April" (Ch. 1). The words "bright," "cold," and "day" count as image words because we can see brightness, see and experience daytime, and feel coldness, so these words create mental pictures in our heads as readers. But more interestingly, bright and cold can also be seen as paradoxical concepts. More often than not, though certainly not always, cold days are often cloudy; a bright day can only be generated by the presence and visibility of the sun, so brightness often, though not always, goes hand in hand with warmth. Yet Orwell makes a point of setting the story on a "bright cold day," which is particularly interesting and paradoxical if we remember most of the story is set in London in the year 1984, a typically rainy location all throughout the year, even in April. Hence, the image a "bright cold day" can be considered paradoxical because the images are opposites, and this paradox helps to draw out the theme concerning the paradox of totalitarian governments.

A second paradoxical image can also be seen in the second clause of this exact same opening sentence of the book: "...and the clocks were striking thirteen." Since we can see clocks, see clocks striking any hour, and even see the number 13, all of these words count as sight images. Yet, we also all know that clocks certainly do not have 13 hours; therefore, describing a clock as having 13 hours is paradoxical. And, again, this paradoxical image helps to draw Orwell's theme concerning the paradox of totalitarian governments.