1984 – Pre-reading guide

George Orwell’s classic tale of a
future world gone horribly wrong
"A book that goes through the reader like an east wind,
cracking the skin, opening the sores; hope has died in
Mr. Orwell's wintry mind, and only pain is known. I do
not think I have ever read a novel more frightening and
depressing; and yet, such are the originality, the
suspense, the speed of writing and withering indignation
that it is impossible to put the book down. The faults of
Orwell as a writer--monotony, nagging, the lonely
schoolboy shambling down the one dispiriting track--are
transformed now he rises to a large subject."
New Statesman - V. S. Pritchett (06/18/1949)
"...it is probable that no other work of this generation has made us
desire freedom more earnestly or loathe tyranny with such
fullness....It is in the intimate history, of course, that he reveals his
stature as a novelist, for it is here that the moral and the
psychological values with which he is concerned are brought out of
the realm of political prophecy into that of personalized
drama....'Nineteen Eighty-Four', the most contemporary novel of this
year and who knows of how many past and to come, is a great
examination into and dramatization of Lord Acton's famous
apothegm, 'Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts
New York Times Book Review - Mark Schorer (06/12/1949)
"'Nineteen Eighty-Four' confirms its author in the
special, honorable place he holds in our
intellectual life....[I]t is a profound, terrifying, and
wholly fascinating book....Orwell's theory of
power is developed brilliantly, at considerable
length. And the social system that it postulates
is described with magnificent circumstantiality."
New Yorker - Lionel Trilling
The Author – George Orwell
• Born in 1903 in India, grew up in England
• Joined the civil service after school and became a
sergeant in the police force
• Saw British imperialism first-hand in India, was
appalled at the opposition he witnessed
• Chose to live among the lower classes for one
• Became a socialist, moved to Spain, and was
kicked out by the Socialist Party
Literary Contributions
• Considered to be "the best English essayist since
Hazlitt, perhaps since Dr. Johnson”
Wrote Animal Farm in 1945
Wrote 1984 in 1949
In 1984, 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit
451 were honored with the Prometheus Award
for their contributions to dystopian literature.
In 2011, Orwell received it again for Animal
What is it about?
• A novel of psychological
• The world of 1984 is a
terror that warns us about
a future where the
government controls
everything and individual
rights are taken away
• The novel was a response
to Totalitarian
governments (Stalin,
Hitler, Mussolini, etc.)
negative utopia --- a
• The main character,
Winston Smith, tries to
rebel against society
• He begins his rebellion
with the simple act of
writing in his journal --which is illegal
What is this world like?
• All citizens are
monitored by
telescreens, which are
present in all homes
and workplaces
• The government is
represented by Big
Brother, a figure who
“sees everything”
• Laws are enforced by the
• Citizens are constantly
Thought Police, who
arrest and “vaporize”
anyone who even thinks
disruptive thoughts
• History is constantly
rewritten so that the
predictions of Big Brother
will never be wrong
asked to show their
allegiance by engaging in
rallies and meetings to
support Big Brother
• Hatred for the enemies of
Big Brother is encouraged
through the use of
• The society of Oceania is
constantly at war with
other countries --- or so
Big Brother says.
A few terms from 1984
• Doublethink – the ability
• Thought crime – thinking
to believe two
contradictory things at the
same time
• Newspeak – the language
of Oceania
• Ingsoc – Oceania’s form
of government
anti-party thoughts
• Inner Party/Outer party –
those closest to Big
Brother and those on the
• Proles – the lower classes
who live in a separate part
of the city
Winston Smith – the protagonist
• A normal, insignificant, lonely man in a world that
is devoid of creativity and color
Feels that something is missing in his life and
wants to break free
Constantly paranoid that he will be discovered and
arrested for Thought Crime
Was once married
Works in the Records Department
• Alienation
• Love
• Individuality/Freedom
of Thought and Speech
• Governmental Control
• Appearance vs. Reality
Questions to consider as you read
• This novel predicted one possible future.
Are we closer to 1984 today than we were
in 1949?
How are our thoughts controlled today?
Who is Big Brother?
What are the key symbols in the novel?
In what ways are we watched and
monitored today?
• This word comes directly
from Orwell’s writing in
1984. It carries a negative
connotation and refers to
anything involving
controlling/monitoring of
the individual. For
example, the installation
of security cameras…
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