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Introduction to 1984 by George Orwell

Background Information for Pre-Reading
by

Bree Nieves

on 13 January 2016

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Transcript of Introduction to 1984 by George Orwell

Introduction to
1984
by George Orwell

Context
Orwell outlined
1984
in 1943, before he wrote
Animal Farm
. Orwell had read
We
by Yevgeny Zamyatin, another dystopian novel, while he was planning
1984
, but he was also inspired by his own experiences during the Spanish Civil War. He saw the falsification of news and he described it: "I saw history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened, according to the party: this kind of thing is frightening to me. If a leader says of such-and-such an event that it never happened—well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five—well, two and two are five."
George Orwell
Born Eric Blair in 1903 to an upper-middle class English family in India, where his father worked for the British Empire. He attended Eton, a private boys' school in Britain. Instead of attending university, he joined the Indian Police Service and was sent to Burma where he spent 5 years and realized the brutality of imperialism. He felt closer to the oppressed lower classes and began writing with socialist views, acknowledging some of the shortcomings of socialism as well. In 1937, he fought in Spain during the Spanish Civil War until he was wounded and returned to England. He wrote many political pieces and literary criticisms. His novel
Animal Farm
was published in 1945. In 1943, however, he had written an outline for
1984
and then wrote the first version in 1947. He became very ill and had to be sent to a sanatorium where he could be treated for tuberculosis. He continued to work on alterations of
1984
and produced the final version in 1948. The title and year that the novel was set in is simply a reversal of the last two digits of the publishing year. He died January 21, 1949 after his lung collapsed as a result of his poor health.
Dystopian Societies
"Dystopia" = a bad place. Authors use dystopias to warn readers of the dangers of society's present course if continued in the future. Usually a futuristic, imagined universe where there is oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society, or a "utopia." Dystopian fiction has become popular because of its ability to play on our deepest fears—the loss of life, libery, and happiness.
Oceania
Oceania is the country that Winston Smith lives in. Specifically, he lives in Airstrip One, which is the present-day United Kingdom. It is constantly at war with either Eurasia or Eastasia (always allying with one or the other). Conditions are poor, and Big Brother, the face of the Party, is always watching. They operate under a totalitarian government with the political ideology of "Ingsoc," which is Newspeak for English Socialism.
Utopia: First mentioned by Sir Thomas More in his work
Utopia
in 1516. Examples of utopias can be found earlier, though, like in Plato's
Republic
.
Etymology: Greek "ou-" meaning "no" and "-topos" meaning "place." However, we could interpret it also as coming from Greek "eu-" meaning "good" and "-topos" meaning "place."
This "good place" is really "nowhere" to be found.
Examples of Dystopian Fiction
Common Characteristics of Dystopian Societies
- Propaganda is used to control the citizens of the society.
- Information, independent thought, and freedom are restricted.
- A figurehead or concept is worshipped by the citizens of the society.
- Citizens are perceived to be under constant surveillance.
- Citizens have a fear of the outside world.
- Citizens live in a dehumanized state.
- The natural world is banished and distrusted.
- Citizens conform to uniform expectations. Individuality and dissent are bad.
We will see all of these characteristics in
1984
.
Types of Dystopian Control
Corporate Control: One or more large corporations control society through products, advertising, and/or the media.
Bureaucratic Control: Society is controlled by a mindless bureaucracy through a tangle of red tape, relentless regulations, and incompetent government officials (Ms. Nieves's graduate program).
Technological Control: Society is controlled by technology—through computers, robots, and/or scientific means.
Philosophical/Religious Control: Society is controlled by philosophical or religious ideology, often enforced through a dictatorship or theocratic government.
Elements of all of these types of control can be found in
1984
.
The Dystopian Protagonist
- Often feels trapped and is struggling to escape
- Questions the existing social and political systems
- Believes or feels that something is terribly wrong with the society in which he or she lives
- Helps the audience recognize the negative aspects of the dystopian world through his or her perspective
Winston Smith, the protagonist of
1984
, does all of these things in the novel.
Big Brother is the face of the Party in
1984
. He is always watching everything the citizens do. He is worshipped by all citizens in Oceania as the supreme savior and leader of the nation.
Real-World Example
North Korea may be the closest thing we have to a society described in 1984. Many countries have societies today with certain characteristics described in the novel, but North Korea, especially has a society under totalitarian control. Many things you notice in the novel will be seen in this video documentary by National Geographic,
Inside North Korea
(can be found on YouTube).
Important Facts About Oceania
Ministry of Truth
Ministry of Plenty
Ministry of Peace
Ministry of Love
Newspeak: The only language where the vocabulary shrinks.
Government Surveillance - "Big Brother is Watching"
Party Slogans: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength
Doublethink: accepting contrary ideas at once.
Citizens separated by class: The Inner Party, The Outer Party, and The Proles (who make up about 85% of the population).
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