1984 Questions and Answers
by George Orwell

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What parts of the plot and which characters seem related to a possible theme in the novel 1984?

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1984 is a unified, tightly constructed novel, in which there are no superfluous scenes or characters. It would be accurate, then, to say that the entire plot and all the major characters are used by Orwell to express his basic themes. But, as with any literary work, there is no absolute agreement among critics and general readers as to what those themes are. In answering this question, we need to be selective and limit our focus. Volumes of criticism and commentary have been written about 1984 since it first appeared seventy years ago, and an absolutely comprehensive response about characters, plot, and theme would be beyond the scope of our answer.

Most readers would agree, however, that one of Orwell's important themes is that our awareness of objective reality is a tenuous thing that can be manipulated or destroyed by those who hold political power. In our own time, we have heard references to "alternative facts" and the statement that "truth is not truth." In 1984, Winston himself is a participant in the continuing process of rewriting and falsifying history in his job at the Ministry of Truth. He knows that what he's doing is wrong, of course, and he hates the Party for its oppression of the people. But he is powerless to do anything about it. Orwell's theme is not merely that of the powerlessness of the individual, but one of isolation and alienation. Even Julia, though she's rebelling against the Party as Winston is, doesn't seem to care when Winston tells her that he's held in his hands objective evidence of the Party's obliteration of historical truth. Her reaction seems to be that everything happening in the world is nonsense and lies anyway, so who cares?

A recurring theme of dystopian fiction is the hope that resistance can somehow be achieved against the system, or that there exists some remnant of the past world, the one that existed prior to the dystopia, in which a rebel such as Winston can find refuge. Though Mr. Charrington is a relatively minor character in the story, he and his shop seem to symbolize this vanished life that existed before the cataclysm that destroyed the old world. But it's a mere illusion for Winston and Julia: Charrington turns out to be a Thought Police agent, and not only is the seeming idyll of Winston and Julia destroyed, but their lives as thinking people are destroyed as well when they are arrested, tortured, and brainwashed. The interactions of Winston, Julia, Charrington, and ultimately O'Brien illustrate these themes of the distortion of objective truth, the individual's alienation, and the illusory nature of hope in a totalitarian society.

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