What is the main conflict in 1984?

Quick answer:

The basic problem in 1984 is that Winston is trying to escape Big Brother's control, but it is impossible because Big Brother controls everything.

Expert Answers

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The basic problem that is shown in 1984 is what happens when individuals wish to break away from a dominant political or social reality.  This is the most elemental reality in the novel.  Winston wishes to live a life away from the totalizing control of Big Brother.  He wishes to live a life that exists outside of the control of Big Brother.  This cannot be done in Oceania, as Big Brother's power is all- encompassing.  In both action and thought, Big Brother controls everything.  This is the problem in the novel.  Everything stems from this collision between external power and internal desire.  

The novel can be reduced to this dynamic.  In sexual desire, internal thought, the recollection of memories, and the display of fears, the crashing between internal experience and external control reveals itself. Winston finds himself fighting a near impossible battle that is still not entirely resolved by the end of the novel.  It is what constitutes some of Orwell's greatest contribution to the literary discourse because he shows that the battle of the modern setting is one in which individuals seek to find a realm away from external control.  In the most brutal of ways, Orwell shows this battle to be one in which the latter wins.  Oceania is a realm where external control is evident in all of its forms.  Yet, the reader leaves the book with understanding the need to fight the battle because the option of Big Brother, or even something like it appearing, is a reality that must be automatically rejected.

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