What is "1984" by George Orwell about?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a word, totalitarianism.  Orwell's insightful novel was published in 1948 and set in 1984--short of the mark--and was frighteningly prophetic for the late twentieth century.

In 1984 the main character, Winston Smith, suffers the loss of his individual prsonality as he is recreated in the Party's image until he not only obeys, but loves Big Brother. 

Winston works at the Ministry of Truth (a manufactured "truth") where information is produced and diseminated.  His job is to alter or "rectify" all past new articles which have once been "proven" to be false.  This rewriting of history was very prevalent with Communist Russia and Orwell allusions are not missed as Big Brother is used to represent Stalin.

The citizens of Winston's society are made to attend Two Minute Hate sessions where they are conditioned to think in certain ways.  At this session Winston meets a girl whom he suspects feels as he does.  In clandestine meetings he and Julia meet and are able to actually talk to one another and make love.  Julia confides that she despises the Party; with this antipathy in common, the two are able to steal precious moments of freedom.

Later, Winston acquires a forbidden copy of Goldstein's book which urges an overthrow of the Party and the secret history of Oceania.  Shortly after his reading of this book, Winston is arrested.  He is tortured and confesses to various crimes.  However, rather than being executed, Winston is subjected to a "cure" for his thoughts. Brain-washed, Winston walks to his execution in the Ministry of Love.

In 1984 Orwell protrays the thought-control of totalitarian governments.  His insight is profound, not just in communist countries, but in places where subliminal suggestion now has so influenced people's thinking in free societies.  Thus, 1984 is as relevant today as when it was written


timbrady eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The book is also about the corruption of language under the direction of the state.  Creation of the Newspeak dictionary is referred to often in the book.  This dictionary attetmpts to limit the amount of words available to the people (rather than increase the number as in our society).  The goal is to rid the language of any words (thoughts) that could work against the state.  We do all of our thinking through words (I know that some people would say that we do it through images, but I think that it comes down to words in the end).  Many of these words have temperatures; all of them point to something.  In the case of concrete nouns (pens, trees, etc), the correspondence is usually clear; no one would call a car a pen.  When it comes to the non-concrete nouns, it gets a lot tougher; what does "love" refer to?  What does "loyalty" refer to?  What does "freedom" refer to?  If these words can be taken out of the language, or made to point to something the STATE wants them to point to, then our ability to think has been limited, and the less we can think the more we can be controlled.  It's more suble than beating us, but it may work all the better.  After all, what's left when our "ownlife" has become a bad thing?

If you want to read more of Orwell's thoughts about this, I refer you to the article below.

1984 by George Orwell is a fictional novel about a man living under a totalitarian government that is constantly controlling its people and punishing the ones who rebel against it. its about how a man tried to break free and learn the real history instead of the fake made up one that the government had created to control its people.

sseche | Student

mwestwood is correct up to the direct comparison to Stalin. Orwell has written that he was warning against creeping totalitarianism of all types not specifically communism. Orwell worked as a colonial policeman in Burma and participated in state oppression 1st hand. He writes from experience. An interesting current comparison would be the deliberate suppression of science in the Bush Administration. Please read 1984 and Animal Farm, both are short books. 

fred1993 | Student

You could also compare South Korea to 1984.