Introduction

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Last Updated on November 12, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 691

So you’re going to teach George Orwell’s 1984. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, 1984 has been a mainstay of English classrooms for decades. Studying 1984 will give your students unique insight into symbolism and important themes surrounding totalitarianism, propaganda, and free will. This guide highlights some of the most salient aspects of the text before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Publication Date: 1949
  • Recommended Grade Level: 9th and up
  • Approximate Word Count: 89,000
  • Author: George Orwell
  • Country of Origin: England
  • Genre: Dystopia, Political Fiction
  • Literary Period: Modern
  • Conflict: Person vs. Society, Person vs. Self, Person vs. Person 
  • Narration: Third-Person Omniscient
  • Setting: 1984, London, the capital of the fictional superstate of Oceania
  • Structure: Prose Novel
  • Dominant Literary Devices: Irony, Symbolism, World-building
  • Mood: Pessimistic, Bleak, Paranoid


Texts That Go Well With 1984

Animal Farm (1945), also by George Orwell, is an allegorical novella satirizing the events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the creation of the Soviet Union. The story is about the rebellion of barnyard animals who want to break free from the tyranny they experience on Mr. Jones’s Manor Farm. The revolution is initially sparked by an old boar, Major, who advocates for an idealistic society based on equality, justice, and progress; however, equality is stunted by Napoleon, a power-hungry pig who becomes an authoritarian dictator.

Brave New World (1932), by Aldous Huxley, is a dystopian novel set in the futuristic World State, where a single government rules over most of the globe. In the World State, humans are genetically modified, anesthetized, and organized within an intelligence-based social hierarchy. When protagonist Bernard travels to a reservation outside of the World State, he experiments with bringing its inhabitants to the tightly controlled world he knows but ultimately fails. Many find this novel particularly relevant in the modern era, when prescription drug use is on the rise and technology plays an increasing role in daily life and governance as a means of pacification.

The Giver (1993), by Lois Lowry, is a novel set in an unnamed futuristic dystopia where people have lost the ability to see colors or feel strong emotions. Similar to 1984, The Giver features an authoritarian government that determines every facet of its citizens lives, from what they wear to what jobs they serve in their community. The novel follows Jonah, a twelve-year-old boy who is selected to be the Receiver of Memory for his community. As Jonas learns to see colors and feel complex emotions, he slowly realizes how oppressive it is to live in an authoritarian society, even one trying to create its own utopia.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), by Margaret Atwood, is a dystopian novel set in Gilead, a fictional theocracy established after the United States government is overthrown by a group of fundamentalist Christians. Like 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale depicts a dismal reality of continuous war, rampant propaganda, and constant government surveillance. The novel’s protagonist, Offred, relates her experience as a Handmaid, a fertile woman charged with repopulating the United States through forced surrogacy for wealthy white families. Dissenters, people of color, the elderly, and other unwanted individuals are either executed or sent to clean up toxic waste in the Colonies.

The Hunger Games (2008) by Suzanne Collins is a dystopian novel written for young adult readers. In the fictional country of Panem (formerly the United States), a powerful regime forces a selection of children from each of the poorer districts to compete in gladiatorial death matches for food, which the wealthy elite watch for entertainment. The novel and its sequels engage in similar themes as 1984, namely the surveillance state, government corruption, structural violence. It can be considered a spiritual successor to 1984 in this new millennium, introducing the dystopian genre to a whole new generation of readers.

“The Lottery” (1948), by Shirley Jackson, is a short story about a small town’s annual ritualized killing of one of its members. It explores themes surrounding scapegoats, justice, violence, and the power of fear. Both 1984 and “The Lottery” were published in the aftermath of World War II and reflect their respective authors’ attempts to grapple with the dehumanizing effects of war and the dissolution of community bonds.

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