Nineteen Eighty-Four

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A centennial printing of Nineteen Eighty-Four

Nineteen Eighty-Four (often 1984) is a darkly satirical political novel written by George Orwell. The story takes place in a nightmarish dystopia where the omnipresent State enforces perfect conformity among members of a totalitarian Party through indoctrination, propaganda, fear, and ruthless punishment. The novel introduced the concepts of the ever-present, all-seeing Big Brother, the notorious Room 101, the ubiquitous thought police, and the bureaucrats' and politicians' language Newspeak. Many commentators draw parallels between today's society and the world of 1984, suggesting that we are starting to live in what has become known as Orwellian society. The novel was successful in terms of sales, and has remained one of the most influential books of the 20th century.

Along with Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four is one of the first and most cited characterizations of a realistic dystopia to have appeared in English literature. The book has been translated into many languages. Orwell acknowledged the influence on his novel of Yevgeny Zamyatin's Russian novel We, completed in 1921. Nineteen Eighty-Four has been used to the point of cliché in discussions of privacy issues. The term "Orwellian" has come to describe actions or organisations that are thought to be reminiscent of the society depicted in the novel.


History of the novel

The title

The novel was written by George Orwell under the working title of The Last Man in Europe. However, the book's publishers in both the United Kingdom and the United States, where it was simultaneously released, moved to change its title for marketing purposes to Nineteen Eighty-Four. First published on June 8, 1949, the bulk of the novel was written by Orwell on the island of Jura, Scotland in 1948, although Orwell had been writing small parts of it since 1945. The book begins approximately on April 4th, 1984 (the first entry in Winston Smith's diary) at 1.00 pm ("It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen...").

Theories about the title

The original working title of The Last Man in Europe was a natural evolution of the theme of the novel itself in which the hero finally gives up. When the publishers requested a new title Orwell did not object. It has been suggested that Orwell had originally chosen to call it Nineteen Eighty, but as his writing dragged on due to the advance of his tuberculosis, Orwell changed it to Nineteen Eighty-Two and then to Nineteen Eighty-Four. From this beginning of speculation a number of competing theories have also arisen regarding the meaning of the title. Some have suggested that Orwell simply switched the last two digits of the year in which he wrote the book (1948), but others have suggested that it may also have been an allusion to the centenary of the Fabian Society, a socialist organization founded in 1884. Alternatively, still other theories link it to Jack London's novel The Iron Heel, in which the power of a political movement reaches its height in 1984, or even to G. K. Chesterton's The Napoleon of Notting Hill, also set in that year. Even further suggestions are that it refers to a poem that his wife, Eileen O'Shaughnessy, had written called End of the Century, 1984. The only real knowledge that we have is that the working name was The Last Man in Europe because it related to the storyline of the book, and that the publishers wanted to change the name for purposes of mass marketing. It might also be noted, again, that the first entry in the main character's diary, near the start of the book, is "April 4, 1984."

Orwell's inspiration

The world of Nineteen Eighty-Four also reflects various aspects of the social and political life of both the United Kingdom and the United States of America. There have been suggestions that the primary character was named Winston after Winston Churchill, who had been British Prime Minister during the Second World War.

Orwell is reported to have said that the book described what he saw as the actual situation in the United Kingdom in 1948, where rationing was still in place, and the British Empire was dissolving at the same time as newspapers were reporting its triumphs. His work for the overseas service of the BBC, which at the time was under the control of the Ministry of Information, also played a significant role as the basis for his Ministry of Truth (as he later admitted to Malcolm Muggeridge).

Orwell's Homage to Catalonia sets forth his distrust of totalitarianism and the betrayal of revolutions. Coming Up For Air, at points, celebrates the individual freedom that is lost in Nineteen Eighty-Four. His essay Why I Write explains clearly that all the "serious work" he had written since the Spanish Civil War in 1936 was "written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism". (Why I Write (

The world of Nineteen Eighty-Four

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Peter Cushing (left) as Winston Smith with Donald Pleasence as Syme in the 1954 BBC television adaptation of the novel.

Synopsis of the novel

The novel focuses upon one man named Winston Smith who ultimately gives up at the end of the novel: hence its original working name of The Last Man in Europe. Although the storyline is unified, it could be described as having three parts: The first part deals with the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four as seen through the eyes of Winston; the second part deals with Winston's forbidden sexual relationship with Julia and his eagerness to rebel against the Party, and the third part deals with Winston's capture and torture by O'Brien.

The world described in Nineteen Eighty-Four contains striking and deliberate parallels with the Stalinist Soviet Union, notably the themes of a betrayed revolution – with which Orwell famously dealt in Animal Farm – the subordination of individuals to "the Party", and the extensive and institutional use of propaganda, especially as it influenced the main character of the book, Winston Smith.

Winston Smith, a member of the Outer Party, lives in the ruins of London, the chief city of Airstrip One - a front-line province of the totalitarian hyperstate Oceania. Winston grew up in post-Second World War Britain, during the revolution and civil war. When his parents died during the civil war, he was picked up by the growing Ingsoc movement and given a job in the Outer Party. Like the rest of the population, Winston lives a squalid and materially deprived existence. He lives in a filthy one-room apartment in "Victory Mansions", and is forced to live on a diet of hard bread, synthetic meals served at his workplace, and vast amounts of industrial-grade "Victory Gin". He is deeply unhappy in his life and keeps a secret diary of his illegal thoughts about the Party. Winston is employed by Ministry of Truth, which exercised complete control over all media in Oceania: his job in the Ministry's Records Department involves doctoring historical records in order to comply with the Party's version of the past. Since the perception of the past is constantly shaped by the events of the present, the task is a never-ending one.

However, Winston is fascinated by the real past, and eagerly tries to find out more about the forbidden truth. At the Ministry of Truth, he encounters Julia, a mechanic on the novel-writing machines, and the two begin an illegal relationship, regularly meeting up in the countryside (away from surveillance) or in a room above an antique shop in a prole area of the city. As the relationship progresses, Winston's views begin to change, and he finds himself relentlessly questioning Ingsoc. Unknown to him, he and Julia are under surveillance by the Thought Police, and when he is approached by Inner Party member O'Brien, he believes that he has made contact with the Resistance. O'Brien gives Winston a copy of "the book", a searing criticism of Ingsoc that Smith believes was written by Emmanuel Goldstein.

Winston and Julia are apprehended by the Thought Police and interrogated separately in the Ministry of Love, where opponents of the regime are tortured and executed. O'Brien reveals to Winston that he has been brought to "be cured" of his hatred for the Party, and subjects Winston to numerous torture sessions. During one of these sessions, he explains to Winston the nature of the endless world war, and that the purpose of the torture is not to extract a fake confession, but to actually change the way Winston thinks. This is achieved through a combination of torture and electroshock therapy, until O'Brien decides that Winston is "cured". However, Winston unconciously utters Julia's name in his sleep, proving that he has not been completely brainwashed. Winston is terrified of rats, and in Room 101, O'Brien uses these to destroy Winston's feelings for Julia. At the end of the novel, Winston and Julia meet, but their feelings for each other no longer exist. Winston has become an alcoholic and we know that eventually he will be shot, but the last sentence of the novel reveals that the torture and 'reprogramming' have been successful: 'He loved Big Brother'.

At the end of the novel there is an appendix on Newspeak (the artificial language invented and, by degrees, imposed by the Party to limit the capacity to express or even think "unorthodox" thoughts), in the style of an academic essay.

History of 1984

The novel itself initially explains little about the history of Oceania, but during the second part of 1984, Winston Smith receives a copy of "the book", apparently written by Emmanuel Goldstein, a tract which explains the concepts of party rule and the history of the Ingsoc party (in fact, O'Brien reveals later on that the novel was written by a committee that included him. In other words the work is a fake, although, of course, O'Brien could be lying). In the novel, Winston reads from "the book" that a revolution in the United Kingdom came shortly after the Allied victory in the Second World War, and lasted for a short but undefined period, plunging Great Britain into civil war. At the same time, the Soviet Union embarked on a mass invasion of mainland Europe, eventually overrunning the entire continent apart from the British Isles and Iceland. A Third World War then broke out between the three emerging powers of Oceania (led by what had previously been the United States), Eastasia (controlled by a revitalised China), and Eurasia (the expanded Soviet Union). As the three powers fought for global dominance, hundreds of atomic bombs were dropped on Europe, western Russia, and North America (Eastasia apparently escaped the bombs, perhaps explaining how this relatively small state was able to emerge without being crushed by the much larger powers of Eurasia and Oceania). Curiously, the novel fails to explain why the United States, when constructing Oceania, chose to adopt the British political system of Ingsoc. This suggests that the version of history portrayed in "the book" book is not entirely accurate (which again supports the thesis that it is a fake: the inherent unreliability of all written sources is one of Orwell's points).

In the novel, Winston recalls a point during the atomic wars of the 1950s when an atomic bomb was dropped on Colchester (presumably by Eurasian forces), provoking mass panic in civil-war-torn Britain. As the book explains, the three powers eventually realised that continuous stalemate war was preferable to conquest, as war allowed them to keep people busy by manufacturing products that could be wasted during fighting, rather than being used to improve people's standard of living (an impoverished population was easier to control than a rich one). By the time the novel is set, the three powers have taken over most of the world, but have left a large sector of the Earth nominally free. This sector, containing the northern half of Africa, the Middle East, southern India, Indonesia, and northern Australia, has become the main battlefield for the three powers, and provides a useful source of slaves (used only for propaganda purposes). The three world powers rarely actually fight on their own territory - Airstrip One (the official name of Great Britain) has become the target of Eurasian rocket bombs, but it is hinted that the Oceanian government itself launches these weapons in order to convince Airstrip One's urban populations that they are under constant attack (the novel does not explain how short-range rocket bombs continue to land on British cities even when Oceania and Eurasia are allies, as rocket bombs could not travel all the way from Eastasia).

The revolution in Britain was betrayed in the late 1950s by the rising figure of Big Brother, who turned the socialist rebellion into a pretext for creating a terror state. By the year 1984, Airstrip One had become a police state and a province (the third richest) of the vast hyperpower Oceania, its citizens separated into three distinct, isolated classes (Inner Party, Outer Party, and Proles), controlled by the four Ministries of the Province of Airstrip One.

Ministries of Oceania

Oceania's four ministries are housed in huge pyramidal structures displaying the three slogans of the party (see below) on their sides.

  • The Ministry of Peace — Newspeak: Minipax. Concerns itself with conducting and perpetuating Oceania's peace through continuous wars.
  • The Ministry of Plenty — Newspeak: Miniplenty. Responsible for rationing and controlling food and goods.
  • The Ministry of Truth — Newspeak: Minitrue. The propaganda arm of Oceania's regime. Minitrue controls political literature, the Party organisation, and the telescreens. Winston Smith works for Minitrue, "rectifying" historical records and newspaper articles to make them conform to IngSoc's most recent pronouncements, thus making everything that the Party says true.
  • The Ministry of Love — Newspeak: Miniluv. The agency responsible for the identification, monitoring, arrest, and torture of dissidents, real or imagined. Responsible for making every Party member love the Party.

The ministries names are, of course, paradoxical--the Ministry of Peace engages in war, the Ministry of Plenty adminsters over shortages, the Ministry of Truth spreads propaganda and lies, and the Ministry of Love inflicts human misery for its own sake.

The Party

In his novel Orwell created a world in which citizens have no right to a personal life or to personal thought. Leisure and other activities are controlled through a system of strict mores. Sexual pleasure is discouraged; sex is retained only for the purpose of procreation, although artificial insemination (ARTSEM) is more encouraged.

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Big Brother: in reality, this menacing figure is the BBC design department's Roy Oxley.

The mysterious head of government is the omniscient, omnipotent, beloved Big Brother, or "B.B.", usually displayed on posters with the slogan "BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU". However, it is never quite clear whether Big Brother truly exists or not, or whether he is a fictitious leader created as a focus for the love of the Party which the Thought Police and others are there to engender. It is perfectly possible that the conflict between Big Brother and Goldstein is in fact a conflict either between two fictitious or two dead leaders, whose true purpose is to personify both the Party and its opponents.

His political opponent is the hated Emmanuel Goldstein, a Party member who had been in league with Big Brother and the Party during the revolution. Goldstein is said to be a major part of the Brotherhood, a vast underground anti-Party fellowship. The reader never truly finds out whether the Brotherhood exists or not, but the implication is that Goldstein is either entirely fictitious or was eliminated long ago. Party members are expected to vilify Goldstein and the Brotherhood via the daily "two minute hate." During this ritual citizens are expected to ridicule and shout at a video of the hated "bleating" Goldstein expounding his alternative philosophy (indeed, the image ultimately morphed into a bleating sheep).

The three slogans of the Party, on display everywhere, are:


Each of these is of course either contradictory or the opposite of what we normally believe, and in 1984 the world is in a state of constant war, no one is free, and everyone is ignorant. Through their constant repetition, the terms become meaningless, and the slogans become axiomatic. This type of misuse of language, and the deliberate self-deception with which the citizens are encouraged to accept it, is called doublethink.

One essential consequence of doublethink is that the Party can rewrite history with impunity, for "The Party is never wrong." The ultimate aim of the Party is, according to O'Brian, to gain and retain full power over all the people of Oceania; he sums this up with perhaps the most chilling prophecy of the entire novel:

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face for ever.

Political geography

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The world of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Not all boundaries are given in detail in the book, so some are speculation. Note: At the end of the novel, there are news reports that Oceania has captured the whole of Africa, though their credibility is left uncertain.

The world is controlled by three functionally similar authoritarian superstates engaged in perpetual war with each other: Oceania (ideology: Ingsoc or English Socialism), Eurasia (ideology: Neo-Bolshevism), and Eastasia (ideology: Death Worship or Obliteration of the Self). In terms of the political map of the late 1940s when the book was written, Oceania covers the areas of the British Empire (or the Commonwealth), the American continent, and Australia. Eastasia corresponds to China, Japan, Korea, and India. Eurasia corresponds to the Soviet Union and Continental Europe. That Great Britain is in Oceania rather than in Eurasia is commented upon in the book as an historical anomaly. Goldstein's book explains that the ideologies of the three states are basically the same, but it is imperative to keep the public ignorant of that. The population is led to believe that the other two ideologies are detestable. London, the novel's setting, is the capital of the Oceanian province of Airstrip One, the renamed Great Britain and Ireland.


Newspeak, the "official language" of Oceania, is extraordinary in that its vocabulary decreases every year; the state of Oceania sees no purpose in maintaining a complex language, and so Newspeak is a language dedicated to the "destruction of words". As the character Syme puts it:

Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well... If you have a word like 'good', what need is there for a word like 'bad'? 'Ungood' will do just as well... Or again, if you want a stronger version of 'good', what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like 'excellent' and 'splendid' and all the rest of them? 'Plusgood' covers the meaning, or 'doubleplusgood' if you want something stronger still.... In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words; in reality, only one word. (Part One, Chapter Five)

The true goal of Newspeak is to take away the ability to conceptualise revolution adequately, or even to dissent, by removing words that could be used to that end. Syme openly discusses this aim, this indiscretion being the presumed reason for his disappearance later on. Since the thought police had yet to develop a method of reading people's minds to catch dissent, Newspeak was created. (This concept has been examined (and widely discounted) in linguistics: see the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.)

See also: External link to a Newspeak Dictionary (


The world of Nineteen Eighty-Four is first and foremost a political, not a technological, dystopia. The technological level of the society in the novel is mostly crude and less advanced than in the real 1980s. Apart from the telescreens and speech-recognizing typewriters, it is no more advanced than in wartime Britain. Living standards are low and declining, with rationing and unpalatable ersatz products; in that regard, Orwell's vision is diametrically opposed to the technologically advanced hedonism of Brave New World.

None of the three blocs has much genuine interest in technological progress, since it could destabilise their grip on power. Atomic weapons, in particular, are avoided in the perpetual war, since its whole point is to be indecisive. The technologies employed are obsolete and perhaps deliberately wasteful. This stagnation is related to what is perhaps the most frightening aspect of the novel: for all their brutality, the regimes are not going to burn themselves out in strategically significant conquests or technological arms races. Rather, they have reached a stable equilibrium which could theoretically last forever.



Nineteen Eighty-Four has been made into a cinema film twice – in 1956 ( (external link to IMDb entry) and in 1984 ( (external link to IMDb entry). The 1984 cinematic film 1984 is a reasonably faithful adaptation of the novel, and was critically acclaimed. It is notable for containing Richard Burton's last performance.


Nineteen Eighty-Four was first broadcast as programme number 55 on August 27, 1949 at 9.00p.m. as a one-hour production over the N.B.C. radio network as part of the N.B.C. University Theater, which adapted the world's great novels for broadcast. Another broadcast on the N.B.C. radio network was made by the Theater Guild on Sunday April 26, 1953 for the United States Steel Hour. The BBC Home Service produced a version starring Patrick Troughton in 1965. BBC Radio 2 broadcast a version in May 2005.


Nineteen Eighty-Four was adapted for television by the BBC in 1954, and again in 1965.

It was voted No. 7 in the ABC's television special, My Favourite Book, which sought to find Australia's favourite book.


Lorin Maazel, better known as a conductor, has composed an opera based on 1984. The libretto is by Tom Meehan, who worked on The Producers and JD McClatchy, professor of poetry at Yale University. The opera premiered on May 16 2005 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Related Works




1984 (for the love of big brother) is the title of an album by the Eurythmics which was originally released in November 1984 on Virgin vinyl V1984 (Virgin CD CDV 1984) in the UK, and RCA vinyl ABL1-5349 (RCA CD PCD1-5371) in the USA. It contained the following tracks:

(3:28) I did it just the same; (3:59) Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four); (5:05) For the love of big brother; (1:22) Winston's diary; (6:13) Greetings from a dead man; (6:40) Julia (4:40) Doubleplusgood; (3:48) Ministry of love; (3:50) Room 101.

Oingo Boingo released a song called "Wake up (It's 1984)" on their 1983 album "Good For Your Soul". Taking heavily from the movie as well as the book, it's serves as commentary to current society.

David Bowie released the album Diamond Dogs which contained the songs: Rebel Rebel, 1984, We Are The Dead, and Big Brother. The project was originally conceived as a full length theatrical production but he was denied the rights.

Benzene Jag (, an obscure punk band formed in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada released a 45 rpm single called "Fuck off 1984" in 1983.

Rage Against the Machine released the album called "The Battle of LA" in 1999 featuring the track "Testify" containing the phrase "Who Controls the Past Now, Controls the Future, Who controls the Present Now, Controls the Past...", a slogan used by the Party in the Nineteen Eighty-Four novel.

Related topics

Big Brother Awards

Each year, the national members and affiliated organizations of Privacy International present the "Big Brother" awards to the government and private sector organisations which have done the most to threaten personal privacy in their countries. Since 1998, over forty ceremonies have been held in sixteen countries and have given out hundreds of awards to some of the most powerful government agencies, individuals and corporations in those countries.

See also


  • Nineteen-Eighty-Four, by Orwell, George. - ISBN 0451524934
  • Who's Afraid of 1984? The Case for Optimism in Looking Ahead to the 1980s, by Tuccille, Jerome. - Arlington House, New York. 1975. - ISBN 0-87000-308-9
  • Nineteen-Eighty-Four in 1984: Autonomy, Control & Communication, by Aubrey, Crispin and Chilton, Paul, eds. - Comedia Series, Marion Boyers and Scribner Books. 1983. - ISBN 0-906890-42
  • 1984 Revisited: Totalitarianism In Our Century, by Howe, Irving, ed. - New York: Harper Row, 1983. - ISBN 0-060-80660-5.
  • The Future As Nightmare: H.G. Wells and the Anti-Utopians, by Hillegas, Mark R. - Arcturus Books/Southern Illinois University Press, 1967. - ISBN 0-809-30676-X.
  • Orwell - The Authorized Biography, by Shelden, Michael. - Harper Collins. 1991 - ISBN 0-06-016709-2

External links

ELECTRONIC EDITIONS WARNING: Nineteen Eighty-Four will NOT enter the public domain in the United States of America until 2020, although it is public domain in countries such as Canada and Australia. (A list of free downloads appears under the external links section below.)

The following free online or downloadable editions of Nineteen Eighty-Four are available:

Other links:

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