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Controversial and thought-provoking discussion questions for various parts of 1984 by George Orwell


Controversial and thought-provoking discussion questions for 1984 by George Orwell might include: "Is the concept of Big Brother relevant in today’s society?", "How does the Party control reality, and what are the implications of this control?", and "In what ways does the novel explore the relationship between language and thought?" These questions encourage deep analysis of the novel's themes and their modern-day implications.

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What are three controversial discussion questions based on Part 2, up to chapter 7 of 1984?

One example of a question that could lead to discussion and controversy would be how the political control of Big Brother is relevant to the modern setting.  It is easy to dismiss Orwell's work as something that exists only in Oceania, that it means nothing today because we are "free."  A good discussion point would be to examine how government is able to use the elements of control and repression in order to advance their own political agenda.  Is government monitoring of personal web browsing habits or the expansion of government intrusion into phone call listening elements that Big Brother would appreciate?  Essentially, is the way in which citizens today understand the need to sacrifice some personal liberties in "the war on terror" similar to the perpetual state of war in which Oceania is immersed?  This would instigate healthy and reflective discussion.

Another point of discussion that could be very healthy would be to examine the role of schooling in Oceania and in the modern setting. In Oceania, children are bred to "love" the Party.  Their schooling is controlled by the Party.  It has moved to a particular point that children have no problem turning in their parents in accordance to the Party's wishes.  Here, again, examining the presence of centralized government's control of education might be enlightening.  High stakes standardized initiatives such as No Child Left Behind has created a very governmental approach to teaching and learning.  Centralized governmental authority in the realm of education can be a challenging notion.  Examining how governmental authority in education influences children and to what extent modern governmental control influences education today can result in some interesting debate.

I think that another question that can be seen in the early part of the novel to initiate debate is the fundamental role of human freedom.  Winston depicts a world in which individuals have been relegated to having no power.  The Party has done its best to suppress all individual control and power.  This is a condition of being that can be debated.  Is human freedom something undeniable?  At some point, do authoritarian structures crumble?  South African Apartheid, as strong and dominant as it seemed, fell apart.  Soviet- style Communism withered.  Even dictators like Qadaffi were toppled.  All of these systems broke down, in large part, to public mobilization and the undeniable presence and sacrifice that comes with individual voice.  Winston depicts a world in which this voice is silenced.  Debating whether voice can be silenced, in general, might be another interesting and illuminating topic as it brings out the understanding of the world and our place in it.

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What are some thought-provoking questions about Part 2, Chapter 10 of 1984?

When one reads Chapter 10 of Part II of George Orwell’s novel 1984, various thought-provoking questions might arise, including the following:

  • How are the first two lines of the woman’s song at the beginning of the chapter relevant to the rest of the chapter? [Answer: they foreshadow the sudden change that is about to occur to Winston and Julia.]
  • How is the coldness of the stove symbolically relevant to the rest of the chapter? [Answer: the coldness of the stove foreshadows the symbolic coldness that is about to descend upon Winston and Julia.]
  • How is it relevant to the rest of the chapter that, at the beginning, Winston and Julia are watching and listening to the old woman? [Answer: ironically, they do not realize that they are being listened to, and will soon be watched, as well.]
  • How are Winston’s hopes for the future relevant to the rest of the chapter? [Answer: the rest of the chapter will ironically show the dashing of his optimism.]
  • How is Winston’s thought about the proles’ “awakening” relevant to the rest of the chapter? [Answer: because he will soon be awakened in a different and far more depressing way.]
  • How is the description of the hidden voice as an “iron voice” symbolic? [Answer: the adjective “iron” symbolizes the rigid inflexibility of the party, as well as the party’s strength and even its potential for violence. Iron is something that seems hard and durable and lacking in any kind of vitality, and the same traits are also applicable to the party.]
  • How and why is it symbolic that the iron voice tells Winston and Julia not to touch each other? [Answer: this prohibition is symbolic because the party, in general, prohibits intimacy or any other kind of genuine bond between individuals.]
  • Why is it symbolic that the iron voice repeats the comments of Winston and Julia? [Answer: the repetitive nature of the iron voice symbolizes the rigid, mechanical nature of the society the party has built. People cannot think for themselves in this society, and it is almost as if the voice is unthinking as well. On the other hand, the tendency of the voice to mimic Winston and Julia almost sounds sarcastic and mocking as well.]
  • How and why is the change in Mr. Charrington symbolic? [Answer: the change in Mr. Charrington symbolizes the fact that nothing and no one may be what they seem to be in this society:

He was still recognizable, but he was not the same person any longer.

This sentence symbolizes the themes of appearance vs. reality, and of unstable appearances, that are crucial to the book as a whole.]

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What controversial discussion questions arise from Part 3 of 1984 by George Orwell?

Part Three of the novel covers the time from Winston's awareness that he has arrived under arrest at the Ministry of Love to the end of the novel.

O'Brien and the state release Winston from prison because they believe they have completely broken him. He is, as far as they are concerned, a mere shell of a man, with no spark of humanity left, mindlessly and abjectly devoted to Big Brother. Is this true? What evidence is there at the end, especially in Winston's memory of playing Snakes and Ladders with his mother, that he has kept part of his humanity intact? Does this qualify him as still human? Or did his betrayal of Julia truly break him?

Second, the novel posits the idea, beloved of totalitarians and later discussed by Hannah Arendt in her book On Totalitarianism, that power determines truth. If the state has enough power, O'Brien argues, it can make anything it wants the truth. We see this demonstrated when O"Brien makes Winston really believe two plus two equals five. However, does power really determine truth? If so, then why do absolutist or totalitarian governments have a track record of failure?

Third, O'Brien tells Winston that power is forcing a person to do something he doesn't want to do. He calls the vision of the Party a boot stamping down on a human face. What might this tell us about O'Brien's limits? Are there other forms of power? Although Orwell was not a Christian, and in fact, despised the way Christianity tried to control people, he was brought up in a Christian tradition. Christianity argues that love is the most powerful force in the universe and will triumph over hate. Could Winston be right when he looks at the simple bonds of love and family that the proles have maintained and says that will defeat the Party? Or do events in the novel prove him wrong?

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What controversial discussion questions arise from Part 3 of 1984 by George Orwell?

There are very profound questions one could ask of George Orwell's 1984 (with focus on part three). Here are multiple questions which will create discussion and bring out controversy.

- What is the meaning of "War is Peace?"

- What is the meaning of "Freedom is Slavery?"

- What is the meaning of "Ignorance is Strength?"

- If the purpose of torture at the Ministry of Love is not to obtain confessions alone, what is the true purpose?

- How effective is it to use a person's greatest fear against him or her?

- What is the significance of "two and two make five?" Are there any circumstances where this is actually true?

- Why must one be broken in order to find the truth?

- What is important about having a true belief, without any concerns or questions, regarding a group's ideology?

- Are there any problems with a group whose individual members fail to question anything?

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Create three controversial discussion questions using references from Part 3, Chapter 6 to the end of 1984.

I think that one compelling question that would prompt some level of reflection exists in how the past is perceived.  In the "Appendix- The Principles of Newspeak," language is introduced as a way to eliminate memory.  In "making all other modes of thought impossible," there is a desire to eliminate the past and remove that which existed before. I think that it might be interesting to see how and/ or if this done today. Do we live in a world where memory is not valued?  In a world of increasing speed and constant movement, do we value the past in our institutions and our cultural practices?Does memory lie at the heart of a globalized world?  

Another issue that has to be examined is the betrayal of Julia and Winston.  It can be debated in an entirely separate forum if they loved one another.  Yet, when Winston recalls their betrayal and the manner  in which it was executed, a good discussion point would be how Orwell shows the realm of the personal in light of the political. Our romantic tendencies and even our hope and faith in mythology and illusion compels us to believe that the realm of the personal will overcome that of the political.  Resistance through love will rebuke authority structures that seek to negate it.  As old as Shakespeare, this sentiment is triggered when we see Winston and Julia.  In the detailing of their betrayal in the close of the book, it might be an interesting element to examine if individuals can withstand the pressure from external reality.  Can love conquer all?  Put another way, is the betrayal that is shown in the end when both confess to Big Brother or even when Winston "loses sight" of Julia realistic?  Essentially, the relationship between Julia and Winston can become an interesting discussion point on what love is, how relationships are formed, and how individuals act towards one another in the realm of the personal.  It will not be an earth shattering discourse, but it will probably reveal much about individual predisposition towards love.

I think that the last question that needs to be raised upon the conclusion of the book was whether Orwell was right.  Orwell concludes that "Big Brother wins."  The authority of the totalitarian regime is impervious to just about everything.  Certainly, this conclusion has to be reexamined in the modern setting.  In the last two plus decades, we have seen the Soviet Union fall, the Iron Curtain drop, dicators like Ceausecu, Saddam Hussein, Gadaffi overthrown and executed in favor of rock music, Coca- Cola, and blue jeans.  Castro is no longer in power in Cuba, where there are signs of change. China's brand of communism has become synonymous with capitalism.  The all- encompassing power of authoritarian structures around the world have seen their match with the passage of time.  They have become replaced with high speed internet through wireless technology, mobile smart phones, and the ability to text in a winner to "American Idol," "Indian Idol," "Arab Idol," and any other nation to whom the "Idol" brand name has been sold.  Orwell's conclusion in the ending that the machinery of the dictatorship is beyond toppling might have to be questioned in the modern setting.  I think that this might be an interesting discussion point to have given the ending of Orwell's novel and where we are now.

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What are some upper-level thinking discussion questions for chapters 4-6 in book one of 1984?

Here are some questions that I got out of a study guide that was created for teachers.  You can add your own in there.  If you want to focus on just one question, then you can have students get into groups of 2-3-4? (depending on how big the class is) and have each student answer the question.  Then as a group, have them come up with the group's best answer.  Then have all of the groups put their final answer up on the chalkboard/whiteboard to share with the whole class.  This will take 15 minutes easily to get discussion time and overall discussion of all the answers on the board at the end.  It looks like you are now the teacher! good luck!

 1.  Although Winston enjoys creating his own stories, such as Ogilvy, he does ponder the ethics of rewriting the past.  What are his concerns?

2.  When the announcement of the increase in chocolate distribution is made, what is Winston thinking as he hears this?  How would you react to that message?

3.  Winston writes in his diary during these chapters.  What are some of his frustrations with the party at this point in time?

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