Winston Smith, a member of the outer Party, spends his days rewriting history to fit the narrative that his government wants citizens to believe. But as the gap between the propaganda he writes and the reality he lives proves too much for Winston to swallow, he begins to seek some form of escape. His desperate struggle to free himself from an all-encompassing, tyrannical state illuminates the tendencies apparent in every modern society, and makes vivid the universal predicament of the individual.
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INTRODUCTION by Julian Symons
George Orwell's life as a writer falls distinctly into two parts, and it happens that he himself dated the change precisely. On 20 August 1939, the night before Stalin's Soviet Union signed a pact of friendship with Hitler's Germany, Orwell dreamed that the war expected by all adults of his generation had begun, and realized that 'I was patriotic at heart, would not sabotage or act against my own side, would support the war, would fight in it if possible.' His dream anticipated the reality of war by no more than a couple of weeks, and although Orwell's health made it impossible for him to enter the armed forces, he supported the aims of the war and was opposed to a negotiated peace.
The decision was a contradiction of much he had said and written up to that time. Only a couple of months earlier he had expressed the view that the British and French so-called democracies were 'in essence nothing but mechanisms for exploiting cheap labour', and had said the only hope of saving Britain from either foreign or home-grown Fascist rule was the emergence of a mass party whose first pledges would be 'to refuse war and to right imperial injustice'. In a letter that must have alarmed the art critic and peaceful anarchist Herbert Read who received it, he suggested that those who were both anti-war and anti-Fascist should buy and secrete printing presses in what he called 'some discreet place' so that they would be ready for the issue ofrevolutionary pamphlets when the time came.
So Orwell was inconsistent: but then his life up to that night in August 1939 had been a pattern of changes in attitude marking changed beliefs. He was born in Bengal in 1903 as Eric Arthur Blair, the only male child (he had an older and younger sister) of a civil servant in the Opium Department of the Indian government. Like many children of what he later called the 'lower-upper-middle class' he was sent as a boarder to a preparatory school, named St Cyprian's, where by an autobiographical account written not long before his death he was very unhappy. The scholarship that took him to Eton did not change his belief that the prime necessities for success in life were 'money, athleticism, tailor-made clothes and a charming smile', and that he possessed none of these attributes, being weak, ugly, unpopular and cowardly. That was not the view of Eton contemporaries like Cyril Connolly, who saw Orwell not as an outcast but a rebel. Yet the teenage rebel retained respect for the standards engendered by St Cyprian's and Eton, and a feeling that may be called sentimental or patriotic for the British Empire. He served five years in Burma with the Imperial Police, and did so by choice and not compulsion, although he said later that 'I hated the imperialism I was serving with a bitterness that I cannot make clear.'
There is no doubt that he ended by hating it, and he was not a man who did things by halves. After turning away from the Imperialist ideal he tried without much success to involve himself with the poorest and most wretched groups in society. 'At that time failure seemed to me the only virtue', and in pursuit of failure he spent some weeks with hop-pickers, lived briefly with tramps, and tried to get himself put in prison as a drunk. He lived for eighteen months in Paris, writing without much commercial success, and the record of that time, Down and Out in Paris and London was his first published book. He was not proud of or very pleased with the result, and decided to use a pseudonym rather than his given name. He suggested four possibilities to the publisher Victor Gollancz, saying 'I rather favour George Orwell.' Gollancz favoured it too, and early in 1933 the name George Orwell came into existence via a book jacket. Thereafter, while early friends continued to call him Eric, later ones like me knew him only as George.
Orwell's career after Down and Out and in the years before the war shows the uncertainties, confusions, fresh starts and false starts almost inescapable for anybody who became seriously involved in Left-wing politics during that very political decade. In that time he published four novels which had reasonable sales and reviews but no outstanding success, and The Road to Wigan Pier. The first part of this commissioned book, which dealt with the hard life of miners, was much approved by the Left intelligentsia, but the second caused shock waves of disapproval for its attack on what Orwell called 'the dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers' who were magnetically drawn to Socialism and the magical word progress 'like bluebottles to a dead cat'.
The Spanish Civil War took him to Spain to fight for the Republic, and his experience there was the basis of his finest work during the decade. Homage to Catalonia appeared in 1938 in an edition of only 1 ,500 copies, 600 of them still unsold when he died in 1950. The story of his life during the thirties might be called 'the education of a Socialist', from the first blundering attempts to understand the poor by living with or like them, through a high-minded period of linking himself with a political party (in Orwell's case the splinter group the Independent Labour Party), into the full understanding of the noble idealism and bitter internecine hatreds within groups that called themselves Socialist, as they were demonstrated to him during his months in Spain. In 1947 he said:
Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism as I understand it ... Looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably when I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.
It is no wonder that at the time he regarded the Spanish experience as a turning point in his attitude towards society, yet there was one more lesson still to learn. He emerged from Spain an apparent revolutionary, as we have seen in the call for a mass anti-war party and preparation for guerrilla warfare. Yet such a thesis went against the deepest impulses of his nature, the love of his country, its people, customs and landscape, that was the emotional basis of his personality. An understanding of this prompted the final realization of what Eric Blair/George Orwell truly believed: that it was necessary for the war to be fought, with Socialism the end to be achieved when it had been won. By the side of that went the obligation to expose the deceits and villainous practices of Communist parties, as he had seen them in Spain and imagined them in the Soviet Union. He did not stray from those purposes in the last decade of his life.
Because George Orwell is now so famous, with all the books consistently appearing in new editions, and the adjective Orwellian stamped on the mind of every politician and leaderwriter for use once a week, it is well to be reminded of the way in which he was regarded during most of his life. Had he died in 1939 (something quite possible, for his health was never good) he would be remembered now as a maverick with some lively but highly eccentric opinions that need not be considered seriously. And if his life had been cut off before his last decade that would not have been an unreasonable view, for the achievements up to then had been minor. The account of life as a plongeur in Down and Out, the description of going down a mine in Wigan Pier and much of Homage To Catalonia have the extraordinary directness of his finest writing, but there are elements in the first two books that leave a sense of the writer being selective, not telling us all the facts of the case.
We know now that this was so, that he could have escaped from the squalor of the down and out life earlier than he did, and that some details of his Wigan experiences were not exactly reported. A passage in The Road to Wigan Pier describes how, from the train that took him away from the town, he saw a girl kneeling on the stones in the backyard of a little slum house. She was pushing a stick up a blocked waste pipe, and her face wore 'the most desolate, hopeless expression I have ever seen'. The image is a powerful one, the actual incident described in Orwell's diary much less so. In fact he saw the girl walking up a squalid alley, she was not clearing a blocked pipe and he was not in a train. Perhaps this only matters if we are looking for the literal accuracy expected of (but rarely found in) newspaper reporting. There can be no doubt that in these books, and to a lesser extent in Homage To Catalonia, Orwell is presenting reality heightened for emotional effect. Something similar can be said of much writing based on things seen, and later set down for literary effect.
The fiction of the thirties reveals his limitations as a novelist, in particular an inability to imagine characters outside his own direct experience. Burmese Days is primarily interesting in the light of the author's reactions to the country, and Keep The Aspidistra Flying as an echo of Orwell's own hard times, with the other characters not much more than shadows. This book may have been influenced by Gissing, whose portraits of Victorian lower-class London Orwell greatly admired, as A Clergyman's Daughter was influenced - and damaged - by his reading of Ulysses. The novels as a whole produce their undoubtedly powerful effect through the intensity with which the writer communicates his feelings about Imperial Burma and depression Britain, but in terms of character and incident they are not successful books. When Coming Up For Air was reprinted in 1947 he sent me a copy. I suggested that a good many of the opinions and thoughts and feelings attributed to George Bowling were really those of George Orwell, and he replied:
Of course you are perfectly right about my own character constantly intruding on that of the narrator. I am not a real novelist anyway ... One difficulty I have never solved is that one has masses of experience which one passionately wants to write about, e g. the part about fishing in that-book, and no way of using them up except by disguising them as a novel.
I am not a real novelist anyway: it was through acceptance of this fact that Orwell came to realize the nature of his genius, and to fulfil it in the two great moral fables, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Table of Contents
Introduction by Sam Sloan 5
Chapter One 11
Chapter Two 33
Chapter Three 44
Chapter Four 54
Chapter Five 68
Chapter Six 86
Chapter Seven 94
Chapter Eight 136
PART TWO 137
Chapter One 137
Chapter Two 152
Chapter Three 165
Chapter Four 177
Chapter Five 192
Chapter Six 203
Chapter Seven 208
Chapter Eight 218
Chapter Nine 233
Chapter Ten 282
Chapter One 291
Chapter Two 309
Chapter Three 337
Chapter Four 355
Chapter Five 365
Chapter Six 371
Afterword by Erich Fromm 400
Reading Group Guide
INTRODUCTIONIn 1949, on the heels of another literary classic, Animal Farm, George Orwell wrote 1984, his now legendary and terrifying glimpse into the future. His vision of an omni-present and ultra-repressive State is rooted in the ominous world events of Orwell's own time and is given shape and substance by his astute play on our own fears.As the novel opens, we learn that in year 1984, the world has been divided into three states: Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia, all of which, it is said, are almost continually in battle with one another. This world structure has come about following a nuclear war which took place sometime in the 1950's. In the state of Oceania, a revolution has resulted in the rise of an all-seeing figurehead known only as Big Brother, and a secretive group of individuals referred to as The Party. Under this regime, basic freedoms of expression—even thought—are strictly forbidden. History and memory are actively erased and rewritten so as to support the omnipotence and infallibility of The Party and its pronouncements. To this end, the State even employs its own language, Newspeak, and its own thought process, Doublethink.It's against this background that we are introduced to Winston Smith, a low-level Party member (not to be confused with the elite group which surrounds Big Brother) who works in the Ministry of Truth. His job here, paradoxically, is to destroy and rewrite news articles and State facts and figures so as to align them with the most current views of The Party. A resident of Airstrip One—formerly London, England—Smith lives in a world devoid of even the simplest liberties. In this repressive society, where thoughts themselves can be ascertained and monitored, Winston finds himself alone and in quiet "revolution" against Big Brother. Boldly, he even goes as far as to write his own thoughts down on paper— a crime worthy of abduction by the Thought Police.Early in the novel, Winston meets Julia, another worker at the Ministry of Truth, whom he has been watching from afar. Secretly, the two begin a love affair. This liaison inspires Winston to indulge his ever-growing obsession with revolution, and he and Julia begin to discuss, however implausible, ideas for the overthrow of The Party. Winston's eventual (and inevitable) capture at the hands of the Thought Police leads to his purification and re-education by inner Party members.Orwell's strict attention to detail and realistic description of a world thirty-five years ahead of his own add validity to 1984, and make its larger conclusions all the more frightening. Even today, the novel remains a bleak and shadowy forewarning of what might someday occur.
ABOUT GEORGE ORWELLEric Arthur Blair (George Orwell) was born in 1903 in India, where his father worked for the Civil Service. The family moved to England in 1907 and in 1917 Orwell entered Eton, where he contributed regularly to the various college magazines. From 1922 to 1927 he served with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, an experience that inspired his first novel, Burmese Days (1934). Several years of poverty followed. He lived in Paris for two years before returning to England, where he worked successively as a private tutor, schoolteacher and bookshop assistant, and contributed reviews and articles to a number of periodicals. Down and Out in Paris and London was published in 1933.In 1936, he was commissioned by Victor Gollancz to visit areas of mass unemployment in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) is a powerful description of the poverty he saw there. At the end of 1936 Orwell went to Spain to fight for the Republicans and was wounded, and Homage to Catalonia is his account of the civil war. He was admitted to a sanatorium in 1938 and from then on was never fully fit. He spent six months in Morocco and there wrote Coming Up for Air. During the Second World War he served in the Home Guard and worked for the BBC Eastern Service from 1941 to 1943. As literary editor of the Tribune he contributed a regular page of political and literary commentary, and he also wrote for the Observer and later for the Manchester Evening News. His unique political allegory, Animal Farm, was published in 1945, and it was this novel, together with Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), which brought him world-wide fame.George Orwell died in London in January 1950. A few days before, Desmond MacCarthy had sent him a message of greeting in which he wrote: "You have made an indelible mark on English literature . . . you are among the few memorable writers of your generation."
- The world within which Winston lives is replete with contradictions. For example a, major tenet of the Party's philosophy is that War is Peace. Similarly, the Ministry of Love serves as, what we would consider, a department of war. What role do these contradictions serve on a grand scale? Discuss other contradictions inherent in the Party's philosophy. What role does contradiction serve within the framework of Doublethink? How does Doublethink satisfy the needs of The Party?
- In the afterword, the commentator describes 1984 as "a warning." Indeed, throughout the text, Orwell plants both subtle and overt warnings to the reader. What do you think are some of the larger issues at hand here?
- Describe the role that O'Brien plays in Winston's life. Why do you think that initially, Winston is drawn to O'Brien? Why does he implicitly trust him, despite the enormous dangers involved?
- Discuss the significance and nature of Winston's dreams. Deconstruct the dream wherein O'Brien claims that they "shall meet in a place where there is no darkness" (page 22), and the dream in which Winston's mother and sister disappear (page 26). What are the underpinnings of these dreams? What deeper meanings do they hold? Why do you think the author devotes as much time as he does to Winston's dreams?
- Discuss Winston as a heroic figure. What qualities does he posses that could define him as one?
- Compare and contrast some of the other characters in Winston's world: Parsons, Syme, O'Brien. How does Winston view each one? How do they differ from Winston? What opinion do you think each one has of Winston?
- On pages 147-148, Winston reflects on the omnipresence of The Party: "He thought of the telescreen with its never-sleeping ear. They could spy upon you night and day, but if you kept your head you could still outwit them….Facts at any rate, could not be kept hidden. They could be tracked down by inquiry, they could be squeezed out of you by torture. But if the object was not to stay alive, but to stay human, what difference did it ultimately make?" What, in essence, is Winston saying about the lone individual in relation to The State? Does this contention remain true throughout the novel?
- Early on in the novel, we learn of Winston's belief in the proles as a liberating force. What accounts for Winston's almost blind faith in the proles? What are some of the characteristics of the proles that, in Winston's eyes, make them the ultimate means for overthrowing Big Brother?
- From her first appearance as "the dark-haired girl," through to the end of the novel, Julia is a key figure in 1984. Trace the path of Julia in relation to Winston's life; in what ways does she influence him? Did you trust her, initially? Overall, do you feel she had a positive or negative impact upon him?
- After his first formal meeting with O'Brien, Winston receives a book, ostensibly written by Emmanuel Goldberg. In reading passages from this book, Winston is further enlightened as to "how" the current society came into being. Focus on these passages, and in particular, on the theory of the High, Middle and Low classes (page 179). If true, what does this theory hold for the proles? Is Winston's plan for the proles now altered? Why or why not?
- During Winston's interrogation, O'Brien explains that whereas preceding totalitarian regimes had failed, The Party was truly successful in its consolidation of power (page 226). How, according to O'Brien, does the The Party as an oligarchy differ from Nazism or Russian Communism? How does he define the role of the martyr, both in terms of The Party and the other totalitarian systems?
- Following his capture in Mr. Charrington's spare room, Winston undergoes a process of "philosophical cleansing" and re-education against which he valiantly, but unsuccessfully fights. Discuss Winston's "capitulation" at the hands of O'Brien. How is Winston brought to "love Big Brother?" In sacrificing Julia, how has Winston, in essence, signaled his own end?
- How would you describe the author's tone in 1984? Does it add to or detract from the character's discourse?
- Discuss the role of sex and intimacy in 1984. What specific function does the Party's directive on sexual interaction serve?
- In the final analysis, how accurate was Orwell in his vision of the future? In what ways does our contemporary society compare to his idea of society in 1984? Are there examples in which he was correct? What is most opposite? Do you see a potential for aspects of Orwell's "vision" to come true?
- During his final encounter with O'Brien, Winston argues that, if all else fails, the inherent nature of the individual-the "spirit of man"-is strong enough to undermine a society such as that created by The Party. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Is Winston's belief applicable to the world we live in today? Can you cite examples in our own recent history that support or dismiss Winston's belief in the resiliency and righteousness of the human spirit?
- Prior to meeting her, Winston fantasizes about Julia in violent, humiliating ways. Later, he describes in his diary an encounter with a middle-aged, toothless prostitute. How do you account for these thoughts? How does Winston's understanding of women change after his first liaison with Julia?
- Given Winston's own acknowledgment that he is under constant surveillance, and that it would only be a matter of time before the Thought Police caught him, no one in his world could be trusted. Prior to his capture, which character or characters did you envision as betraying Winston? How did you foresee his ultimate demise? Did you, on the contrary, feel that by some chance he would overcome the forces aligned against him, and fulfill his wish to conquer The Party?
- Imagine yourself as Winston Smith at the beginning of 1984. What would you do to undermine The Party? Knowing what you know now, how would you extricate yourself from the fate that awaits you?
- Refer back to Winston's conversation with the old man at the pub (page 78). Why is Winston so determined in his approach to the old man? What is Winston hoping to learn from him?