Uploaded by Sam Kurtz

1984 Book Report

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Sam Kurtz
Mr. Ismail
AP English Literature
June 4 2021
Title: 1984
Author: George Orwell
Genre: Dystopian
Subgenre: Future Political Dystopia
Historical Context: This book was written during WWII, a period of widespread totalitarianism.
It was also during the rise of 20th century communism and socialism. However, Orwell himself
was a socialist and anti-capitalist. 1984, which is often mistaken for a criticism of socialism, is
more a commentary on the dangers of totalitarianism, misinformation, and a state of surveillance
than it is one on any particular economic system. The enemy isn’t socialism in the book; It’s Big
Brother. The food shortages and poverty are caused by never ending war and poor money
management, not by socialism. Additionally, Orwell’s experience working as a police officer in
a totalitarian british colony and living with the destitute in England directly inspired his writings
in 1984.
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Protagonist: Winston is a member of the Inner Party, meaning he is a part of the political
apparatus that keeps the entire country moving the way Big Brother wants it to. More
specifically, Winston works in the Ministry of Truth, where he is responsible for translating texts
into New Speak (the state devised language) and rewriting old news articles and other documents
to fit the current narrative. He essentially helps write a false version of the past and present. This
is used to control the entire context of the world the people live in, which makes it exceedingly
easy to manipulate them.
Antagonist: Big Brother is the face of the Party. He is the figurehead, plastered on telescreens
everywhere and worshiped as the savior of Oceania. He is practically devine to his supporters.
He also barely exists. He is nameless, other than as Big Brother, and is never seen in public.
Plot Summary: Winston is disillusioned with life. He feels a sense of dissatisfaction and
discomfort that for the longest time he cannot place. When it comes to him that this all stems
from a hatred of Big Brother and the Party, he is fearful. After all, this is a crime punishable by
death. He illegally purchases an empty notebook from a second hand store and stores it in a
drawer in his house that cannot be seen by a telescreen. This too terrifies him, as the
omnipresence of Big Brother and the telescreens makes any deviation from what’s accepted a
dance with death. Winston finally comes to terms with his hatred for the party when he dumps
his thoughts onto a blank page in the notebook while hidden from view of the telescreens.
Winston is both freed by this act, and trapped by it. The catharsis is pleasing to him, but
the crimes he commits in his head all day plague him with paranoia of getting caught. This is
why when he catches a girl named Julia watching him closely he suspects her immediately to be
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a Party spy out to catch him for his thought crimes. He goes as far as to prepare himself to
murder her before she hands him a note telling him that she loves him. They meet covertly, and
have a secret affair, first in the woods outside of any Party surveillance, and then in a rented
room in a Prole neighborhood that lacks telescreens. They discuss their hatred for the party, and
are thrilled when they are invited by O'brien, a powerful Party member and suspected member of
the resistance group the Brotherhood, to his apartment.
Winston teaches the two about the Brotherhood and asks them to join. They both accept.
However, it is not long before Winston and Julia are caught in their rented room by the Thought
Police. The man that rented it out to them was working with the party the entire time, as was
O’Brian. Both Winston and Julia are sent to the Ministry of Love, a facility that processes the
thought criminals and insurgents that go against the party. Winston is tortured for months, but
refuses to give in. He is sent to the infamous Room 101, where the most resilient thought
criminals are to be broken. Here he is subjected to his worst fear, rats, who are prepared to eat
away his face before Winston finally gives in. He asks his tormentors to punish Julia instead.
Upon this, he is released, a broken man. In his new life, he has learned to love the party, and
accepts big brother as his leader. He meets Julia once again, and she admits that she too turned
on him in the Ministry of Love, and they feel nothing for each other and move on.
Significant Literary Elements: The literary element that stood out most to me throughout the
book was the use of imagery to describe both the world that Winston lives in and his feelings and
reactions to it. Orwell describes the world as so drab as to elicit feelings of despair and
overwhelming understimulation. This really helps the reader feel foreign in the world and
understand Winston’s frustration. Additionally, Winston’s bouts of anger and frustration and
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disgust are described in wrenching detail. His despair is so accurately portrayed in part because
of its link to the helplessness of his situation. He is not simply in a place he doest like, he is in a
place he despises, with no way out but death, and no one else to share his thoughts with. He
doesn’t even know if his feelings are warranted because he cannot trust his own recollection of
history due to the Party’s manipulation of it. Overall this strongly contributes to the subtle
feeling of nausea and anxiety that the book generates over the course of its story.
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Final Thoughts: Reading 1984 when I read it was an astonishing experience. Being one of the
most popularly referenced (and misreferenced) books in the modern political sphere, it was very
interesting to see what everyone was talking about. In reading it, I understood the reason why
people quoted it so often and also that they were so often wrong in doing so. The dystopian
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themes in this book also felt far too close to home for my tastes. I understand why people so
often feel compelled to reference 1984 and draw connections to modern day, but they often do it
very poorly. Citations of the book in political discourse are often targeted at social regulations on
what is and is not accepted speech. However, much more poignant comparisons can be drawn
between 1984 and the rise of misinformation and proto-fascism in modern day American
politics. Having come into reading this book with the notions that it was some big criticism of
socialism, I was surprised to find out that it really is not a critique of the socialist part of the
party, and that Orwell himself was a socialist. This book also made me realize further that, in a
place as polarized as America, both groups of people see the same major issues, be it wealth
inequality or misinformation or corrupt government. The biggest difference is that different
groups of people attribute these problems to different causes. A working class person who
supports Trump would likely have a lot of similar criticisms of this country as I do as a socialist.
This is why we both see 1984 as an apt commentary on our current trajectory. The difference is
where we place the blame. Overall I was very glad I chose the book that I did, as I often struggle
to engage with long form books, especially when they don't strike me as particularly immersive.
However, 1984 both played to my interests of politics and dystopia and engaged me with really
artful immersion and worldbuilding.