Book Profile: 1984, by George Orwell (Revised Version)

George Orwell
[1] George Orwell, the famous writer of 1984 and Animal Farm.

Welcome back. As you may know already, I write Food Profiles, mainly about different ingredients with their special properties and recipes to come with. In this latest edition, I hope to return, in a Book Profile, with my simple take on the famous book 1984 by George Orwell, a highly influential and at times challenging read. I wanted to use this opportunity to analyse a few pointers in understanding this great book, especially as a passionate student in history and politics. In case you are yet to read the book, please refrain from continuing – this is a spoiler warning to it all. Otherwise, do continue and at the end of the analysis, tell me what you think can be improved or whether you want a discussion of it. My analysis will consist of George Orwell’s angle, thoughts on the book itself and the elements that I find the most intriguing.

Background – George Orwell’s angle
George Orwell’s book, Animal Farm, was a basic critique on the ideology and functioning of Communism as a socio-political way of rule. His main point, where he drew major significance in the last scene, describing the pigs to be seen by Napoleon, the main character, to enjoy themselves in the house. This was significant, as this shows that some pigs were fairer than others. Continuing with this theme, 1984 is more of the totalitarian rule that is used by dictators, who are occasionally Communist, throughout the course of history. Orwell is believed to be a Leftist politician, supporting the British Labour Party. Interestingly, Orwell is supportive of socialism, as an ideology and way of rule against capitalism. [2] However, he criticised the Far Left of being radically self-interested for their rise to power and control over the masses. This is key, as this is illustrated through references of gulags and extermination campaigns that were used extensively under the ruthless reigns of Nazi Germany under Hitler, and Stalinist Russia. The “key elements and themes” section will explain this notion further.

Personal thoughts
I will next give my personal thoughts on the book itself. Personally, I felt the book was draggy and repetitive at times, particularly with the explanation that was written by O’Brien and the re-education or torture process taken on Winston. Certainly, Orwell wanted to give his views on the world government under a Big Brother perspective, symbolised through O’Brien’s articulation and a common, revolutionary stance taken by Winston, the main protagonist of the novel. For me, the most important element is that some parts were rushed and some were seriously prolonged and unnecessary. How did Winston so easily renounce himself to O’Brien and the Brotherhood so easily? How can you trust anyone, including O’Brien, in such a dangerous world? The transition from a personal life of a radical, to the shared romantic life with Julia, to the emptiness and helplessness of a political dissident is an intelligent way to show key themes under this categories and stages.

Key elements and themes
Firstly, it is fundamental to consider the key elements or themes within the story. I picked up four main ones that kept reoccurring throughout the novella: how history can be changed through brainwashing, what is absolute truth, the notion of double-think and the use and loyalty towards Big Brother.

The first main theme is how what is the absolute truth. Throughout Winston’s elaborate re-education by O’Brien as part of the Big Brother and Ministry of Love, the reader sees a challenge of facts between the mediator, seductor and destroyer found in O’Brien’s character and the revolutionary himself, Winston. For example, one recurring line that Orwell uses to illustrate the protestation of absolute truth is through the line “two plus two equals four”, or the eventual acceptance that it can easily be three or five for that matter.This is, personally, a fair example, as this challenges an axiomatic fact that was always accepted in ontological theory, epitomised under the Enlightenment period in the mathematics and sciences. Coming to think of it, how do you distinguish between an absolute and relative truth? Is ontology and epistemology enough to achieve it? Do we not, as modern population of global democracy have natural rights to freedom of speech, expression and information? How far does and should this freedom go?

This idea of the absolute truth can be expanded widely to the theme of controlling history and knowledge. As Winston worked in the Ministry of Truth under the watchful eye of the Brotherhood, he would destroy certain evidence in official history. For example, there would be certain words that the Brotherhood would decipher to refine the dictionary. I felt the dialogue between Winston and the old man in the pub on page 113, where the rhyme, “Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement’s, You owe me three farthings, say the bells of St Martin’s” is used. The fact that it is remembered is of high importance, as the use of sophisticated language and culture is completely hindered by the Party. Another example, would be on page 182, where there is a use of “unperson”, or the dead and abolished person found in Syme. This is significant, as these twists of simpler words, limits the boundary in which the general public are allowed to fully lament the legitimacy of the party itself.

A major theme is how history can be altered through brainwashing or double-think, an invented and shortened artificial language. This is vividly illustrated through the gradual loyalty that Winston had given to Big Brother at the end of the book. At first, Winston had a strong psychological blockade against the idea of committing oneself to the divine political figure, as he frequently questioned the feasibility of the truths given by the Brotherhood and the writings by Emanuel Goldstein on page 213 onwards, a Trotsky-like figure who was responsible in constructing the ideology behind the government. [2] For example, the three short phrases “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength”, as the reader discovers, are all reversible, where slavery can easily be freedom, as this is a sense of self-fulfillment, stripping of the normal human-being of all basic desires and needs that we would want to the dead core: from love, lust, intelligence, curiosity, leisure, to simply leisure and acceptance. This is key, because Orwell shows that if a dissident is cruelly punished and showed to his deepest fears, he is a weak and helpless figure, accepting many contested truths amongst society and by the government itself. If this was expanded within history itself, Hitler’s Nazi Germany or Maoist China would be prime examples, as the young students at the Hitler Youth, together with the peasants were the main targets. When someone has little knowledge or exposure of the outside world intellectually and politically, they are easily manipulated and converted on who is the public political enemy and be despised, increasing the incentives to be exterminated as the outsiders found in the Jewish community and intelligentsia.

Finally and perhaps most significantly, one key theme is how can Big Brother be related in reality terms. Big Brother, as previously mentioned, can be a totalitarian and authoritarian figure, who can control different relative truths in order to indoctrinate the masses – be it any dictators throughout history: Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Franco, Mao… In relative terms, Big Brother can really be any dominant country in the world, but instead of doing a tireless point of using the US or China, or indeed the British and French Empires, or any of the G8 or G20 countries nowadays, exploiting one another for resources. Drawing from recent affairs, Snowden challenging the whole American set-up in the world or the WikiLeaks mastermind found in Julian Assange. Who are we, the general population to trust who in the absolute truth? Who governs the true information? Why should we accept what we are given in a society, or should we simply not intervene in our opinions and become a robot, loyal and periodic?

Ultimately, this really depends on two factors – whether the country is in an external force, in a power struggle for world dominance or hegemony as a world police, or internally, as a totalitarian and dictatorship rule to control the masses, as a collective cause to satisfy the leader in rule. Sure, I could give the Arab Spring, the Eastern Bloc, the South American countries as examples to emphasise my point, but what I want to propose is the imprint the idea of how exactly this book is definitely relevant to many cases throughout history, or indeed the present current affairs, in understanding how many thought perceptions and de-education, is tend to be perceived or manipulated. So I end this complicated book with an open-ended answer, and leave you, the reader to draw possible connections with these rules and hegemonic powers. This book was truly an eye-opener, and did make me understand better the darker side of totalitarian rule that was once used under Maoist rule in China. Anyway, till next time – as I will soon be starting my summer job. I will try my best to update my blog in the near future – if you have not already read my other articles, do check it out on the navigation boxes on the left. Cheers and hope you liked your read once again! 🙂

[2] Orwell, G., “Introduction”, 1984, (1954, London, Penguin Books)


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