What is the argument in the book 1984?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Orwell's primary argument in his classic novel 1984 is against oppressive totalitarian regimes and how they undermine humanity. In the wake of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, Orwell felt the need to warn England about the dangers of totalitarianism and the tactics used by oppressive governments. In this novel, Orwell depicts a dystopian society which is loosely based on the practices of the Soviet Union and the Nazis. The government interferes in civilians' lives and dramatically restricts their personal freedoms. The Party spies on civilians, alters history to coincide with the government's current policies, manipulates the population via pro-government propaganda, and strikes fear into citizens by holding public executions and engaging in constant warfare. Citizens' lives are completely controlled by the government, and they are constantly reminded that they are being watched. The protagonist, Winston Smith, attempts to rebel against the Party but is eventually brainwashed into an orthodox Party member who adores Big Brother. The ending of the novel is disheartening and sad, as Winston ultimately loses his humanity. Orwell's warning is clear, and the reader will understand the threat posed by totalitarian regimes and oppressive governments.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The argument in the novel 1984 is multilayered, but it essentially hinges on not giving the government too much power. Orwell argues that if a government has absolute power, like it does in the novel, it will become corrupt and dominate citizens' lives. This is a direct confrontation of the wave of communism that was sweeping the world during Orwell's time.

More subtly, though, this novel is a challenge to think for oneself. Throughout the book, every character is told what to believe by the government and those who listen to it (and even by the so-called opposition). Winston and Julia's only true freedom is when they are rebelling against the government and living on their own whims instead of listening to the fake rebellion. By questioning authority and being willing to think for yourself, not accepting everything that is told to you, you begin to grow and truly understand the world around you.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In 1984, Orwell argues that totalitarian governments pose an immense danger to society. He demonstrates this message through his portrayal of life in Oceania. The Party, which rules with absolute power, monitors the every word and action of citizens, controls the flow and content of information, and uses extreme violence to maintain authority. They are even in the process of modifying the language so that independent thought will become an impossibility.

In addition, through the character of Winston, Orwell shows that resistance to this kind of government is absolutely futile. Despite his efforts, Winston ends up in Room 101 and, eventually, gives in to Big Brother. In other words, the Party is so strong that it cannot be overcome, no matter how hard one tries.

So, Orwell's message is that a government must never be given the opportunity to take absolute power because once it does, it will never give it up.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

1984 argues against governments that wield too much power over their citizens. Orwell originally titled the book 1948, after the year it was written, but his publisher changed the title. In 1948, a totalitarian regime in the Soviet Union spied on its citizens and tried to control all aspects of their thinking, and the Nazi government, another totalitarian state that attempted to control thought, had just three years before been defeated. Much of 1984's subject matter, such as children denouncing parents and rewrites of recent history, as well as failed five-year plans, came from real life. But Orwell's main focus was England and his fears of what was happening there, in his own country. The book argues that spying on citizens, government interventions into private life, and dumbing down language, all of which he saw going on, in the end robs humans of their humanity. The book argues that people, to remain fully human, need a strong private space, the chance to think for themselves and form their own opinions and a robust language and accurate record of history to help them support thought. Giving governments too much power works against those goals, he argued. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team