What is the atmosphere of the novel 1984 and how is it created?

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shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

George Orwell’s 1984 has been called a depressing dystopian story. A dystopia is a future world where things have gone wrong (the opposite of “utopia,” a perfect future world).

To achieve this effect, Orwell has to create a negative atmosphere in which his characters struggle to understand and escape forces that are beyond their control. Writers typically create their mood and atmosphere through diction (word choice) and imagery. Some words and images have more power to convey ideas to readers. A skilled writer like Orwell can create a dreary, depressing future world by carefully choosing what words and images to use.

The reader doesn’t have to go far to find a good example of this in 1984. Here is the very paragraph in the book:

It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.

This opening paragraph immediately tells the reader that the main character, Winston Smith, is in a hostile environment. The atmosphere here is threatening and disheartening. A clock that strikes thirteen signals to the reader that things just aren’t right in this place. And notice the little environmental detail near the end, the “gritty dust” that follows him through the door. Orwell does not write this accidentally. The presence of the dust suggests uncleanness. The fact that the dust follows him, apparently against his wishes, portrays Smith as a person in danger and under surveillance, which is the case throughout the story.

The atmosphere created by Orwell leaves the reader with no illusions about the direction the story is going after the first paragraph. This is not a happy, clean world, and events are not going to be favorable for the main character.

luannw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The atmosphere of "1984" is bleak and gray.  Orwell describes the setting with words that give us this atmosphere.  When he describes where Winston lives in the beginning, and when he describes the city, where Winston works, etc., he does not use words that have a positive feeling.  He does not use many color words except words that denote darkness like "gray", "brown", and such.  The most color we encounter comes when Winston and Julia get together, especially in the golden country.  Orwell's use of the government created language of Newspeak lets the reader see how much control the government has.  It has created new words and new definitions for old words in its attempt to gain complete control over its citizens.  Orwell also helps to create the atmosphere of the novel through the Big Brother posters described and how they appear to constantly look at people. The technology that Orwell describes adds to the bleakness because the technology doesn't make people's lives better, it is used to spy on the citizens and to control them rather than help them.