How do the settings and surroundings contribute to 1984's meaning?

Expert Answers
kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In 1984, Orwell uses setting to emphasise some of the book's most important themes, like the total control of the party and Winston's growing sense of rebellion.

Consider, for example, Victory Mansions, the setting for the book's opening chapter. The building is run-down and decayed: it smells of "boiled cabbage," the lifts rarely work and there is a single, tatty poster on the wall. This setting represents how the party unequally shares the resources of Oceania to keep people in a constant state of need and dependency. The party keeps the wealth for itself, while the other citizens fester in dilapidated accommodations, lacking the resources to ever overthrow the party and take control.

Similarly, Winston's workplace, the Ministry of Truth, is a building which emphasises the party's powers. We see this through its eye-catching design:

It was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace.

The building dominates those around it and serves as a focal point on the skyline. This design reflects its purpose, as a place where people's attentions are misdirected and thoughts are manipulated according to the party's agenda. 

In contrast, consider the room above Mr Charrington's shop. This is a place in the prole district which is outside of the party's control, and Orwell uses its description and atmosphere to reflect this:

The furniture was still arranged as though the room was meant to be lived in. There was a strip of carpet on the floor, a picture or two on the walls, and a deep slatternly arm-chair drawn up to the fireplace.

This room harks back to an era before the party. There is no telescreen and the decor suggests individuality and freedom of expression. It is, therefore, the ideal place for Winston to rebel, and it is no coincidence that he is arrested in this room at the end of Part Two.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout the novel, Orwell wanted to depict what life would be like in a totalitarian dystopian society, where citizens have no individual rights or freedoms, and the government controls virtually every aspect of life. The setting of 1984 takes place in London, which is the chief city of Airstrip One in the nation of Oceania. London is depicted as a barren, dirty city, where goods are rare and government agents roam the streets in search of dissidents. Wilson's apartment complex is dilapidated and outdated, and posters of Big Brother hang throughout the building. The fact that there is a telescreen in his room emphasizes that lack of privacy in society and is a constant reminder of the government's control. Winston's workplace at the Ministry of Truth illustrates the extensive, complex operations involved in controlling the entire society of Oceania. The Ministry of Truth is a massive, foreboding structure that stands out in the city of ruins and represents the government's absolute control.

Despite the overwhelming influence of the government in the chief city of London, Winston finds respite in the "Golden Country," where he initially consummates his affair with Julia. The pastoral setting outside of the city contrasts the to the ever-present surveillance and polluted atmosphere of London. Charrington's apartment is another setting that hearkens back to a time before the Party consolidated power. The antique apartment allows Winston an opportunity to visit with Julia and read Goldstein's book. Unfortunately, there is a hidden telescreen in Charrington's apartment, which represents the ever-present influence and power of Big Brother. Overall, the setting creates a tension-filled atmosphere, where citizens are constantly being observed and are in danger of being arrested by the Thought Police. The oppressive, stressful setting emphasizes the nature of totalitarian regimes and serves as a warning to those reading the novel.

kkays eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Everything about the surroundings and settings of the novel contribute to the meaning behind the story.  Every place that Winston is in affects him differently. Same goes for Julia.  The two minute hate is a prime example. It shows us that even though Winston's mind is saying something different than what is going on around him he is still affected by this enviornment and shows the control the society has.  This is an anti-utopian book and everything about the setting and surroundings are geared to support that meaning.