What is Orwell's message in 1984?

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There are several messages within Orwell's 1984, including warnings about totalitarianism, the potential dangers of technology, and the ways in which language can be used and manipulated.

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It’s highly probable George Orwell wrote 1984 with more than one message in mind. Other Educators have discussed messages connected to oppressive regimes and totalitarianism. Another central message to think about is technology. It’s possible that 1984 is trying to send a message about how technology can be utilized for nefarious aims.

Remember, 1984 was published in 1949. Orwell had just witnessed World War Two: a war that demonstrated how technology could create horrible devastation. Orwell was also seeing the gradual evolution of computers. In 1951, two years after 1984 was published, the first commercial computer would hit the market.

In 1984, technology is not portrayed as a progressive development. Orwell turns technology into a weapon for the Party. They can spy on Winston, Julia, and the other citizens through the multitude of screens and microphones throughout Oceania. Maybe Orwell is trying to say that technology will ultimately be more oppressive than liberating.

One might connect Orwell’s message about technology to debates happening right now about large tech corporations and the power they have to spy on people, censor people, and so on.

Another message to consider involves language. Orwell’s 1984 could be sending a message about the way in which language can be manipulated to make something malign seem benign. In 1984, the leader is called Big Brother, which makes them look like a caring member of the family instead of a despot. There’s also the deceptively named ministries, including the Ministry of Love, which is not so loving as it is torturous—literally torturous.

The tricky language goes back to technology. Many big tech firms employ mawkish, jejune language and marketing that belies their hegemony. Think about Apple; it’s not a gigantic tech corporation that avoids taxes and abuses its overseas worker—it’s a wholesome fruit. The message in 1984 about technology appears to be quite relevant to today’s world.

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As other educators have commented, Orwell wrote 1984 as a warning against the dangers of totalitarian governments. With this in mind, it is also worth noting that 1984 highlights the impact of such political regimes on the development of language. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Newspeak, the official language of Oceania. While Newspeak is pure fiction, the idea that politicians use language to influence the public and to further their own agendas is not. In fact, this is an important and often-overlooked theme in 1984

To put this into context, consider Syme's explanation of Newspeak in Part One, Chapter Five. In a conversation with Winston, Syme explains the purpose of Newspeak:

Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end, we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.

In other words, by taking direct control of the English language, the Party intends to manipulate the thoughts of the population. If they cannot express discontent, for example, then it follows that they cannot feel it. The purpose of this is to ensure that rebellion is kept to a minimum, thereby allowing the Party to flourish. 

Orwell uses Newspeak to demonstrate the extremes of thought control but it has an important message for people living under all types of government: that language is instrumental in defining our liberty and freedom and we must never allow those in power to manipulate it. 


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As an extension of the points made above, we can look at the ways Orwell depicts life under a totalitarian regime. The de-humanization, constant intimidation and anti-intellectualism that besets every person living in Oceania stands as an inevitable set of symptoms of fascism/totalitarianism in government. 

"Anyone who thinks subversive thoughts can be turned in by spies or by Big Brother, who monitors them through highly sensitive telescreens. If someone does not have the proper facial expression, they are considered guilty of Facecrime, so all emotions must be extremely carefully guarded" (eNotes).

Thus the message of the book is not limited to the notion that totalitarianism in government is bad. The message extends to the ways in which formal government attitudes can, and do, penetrate into the lives of those living in a society. 

When leadership takes on such an extreme political philosophy (one that cannot allow compromise or question, e.g. "totalitarianism"), practical measures must be taken by the government to quell any and all resistance. The paranoia of such a system becomes, in itself, part of the system. People cannot be allowed to think freely, to act freely or to question the policies of the government - even privately.

"Such a pessimistic vision of the future serves a purpose, as Orwell knew. He wrote 1984 as a warning in order to make people aware that this type of society could exist if trends such as jingoism, oppression of the working class, and the erosion of language that expresses the vastness of human experience continued" (eNotes).

Orwell's message then is one of alarm. His message is that specific politics lead to specific social practices, which are unavoidable, inevitable and symptomatic of the nature of those politics. 

Be wary of trading your liberty for your safety, we might say, in echo of Benjamin Franklin. 

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I think that one of the most profound messages of Orwell's work lies in the basic relationship between human beings and their government.  It seems that Orwell is advocating that individuals possess a much more skeptical and vigilant view of their government.  Orwell is not one to claim passivity here and suggest that individuals "trust" their government.  Rather, the narrative presented in 1984 is one where individuals have to be mindful of what government can do in order to consolidate their own power and control individuals.  In this message, Orwell is demanding that individuals be more aware of the motivations of their government and speak out more in a public and demonstrative manner.

Nothing seems to be gained from silence, other than that government benefits when people say nothing.  It is one of the critical points made in the novel that any government might be predisposed to wanting to consolidate their own power at the expense of the people and their need for a transparent government. The use of intelligence and technology against its own people is a part of this process and there is little surprise that government can and has utilized these ends in order to substantiate their own control.   Orwell's message is to this point and that individuals must be aware of this risk and the potential for its reality in the modern setting.

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The overall message is that totalitarian governments such as those of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia are/were bad.

When Orwell wrote 1984, he was concerned that governments were moving more toward totalitarianism.  He worried that these governments might start taking away more and more of people's rights and freedoms.

Because of this, he wrote the book to try to get people to think about what could happen if governments kept becoming more controlling and totalitarian.

So, the book is kind of a warning about what might happen and a call for people to be careful so they can make sure they are not letting their governments move in this direction.

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