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

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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.

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.