Nineteen-Eighty Four by George Orwell: The Basics

Brief Analysis for Mainstream English Year 11 Students studying ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ by George Orwell in AOS1 Unit 1 Analytical Study

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George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ is a dystopian fiction novel set in a futuristic Britain which has become part of a global party state.  The story is told via the protagonist Winston Smith who desperately tries to hold on to his sense of identity while fighting the impregnable doctrines of ‘Big Brother’ and ‘The Party’.  Defying a ban on individuality, Winston dares to express his thoughts in a diary and pursues a relationship with Julia. These criminal deeds bring Winston into the eye of the Party, who then must reform the nonconformist.

First published in 1949 as a dystopian fiction and social criticism, the novel is intended to shine a light on the problems of the present day, even if they are set in the future.  In Orwell’s case this meant highlighting the dangers of totalitarian regimes such as the Nazis in Germany during WW11 and the Communists in the Soviet Union (Russia) after WW11.  By extrapolating into the future, Orwell depicts such a regime being in power in England and explores what the implications of that might be for its citizens. 

Structure of the Novel

Part One – Eight Chapters

  • Introduces/describes main characters
  • Describes society and control of the masses
  • Winston is used to contrast the reality of life in Oceania versus the stated reality of the government
  • Relationship between Winston and Julia
  • The Proles are introduced

Part Two – Ten Chapters

  • Winston and Julia’s relationship develops
  • Their commitment to O’Brien

Part Three – Six Chapters

  • Winston’s torture/ ‘cure’
  • The mighty power of the Party
  • The destruction of the individual

Character Study

Winston Smith

Winston Smith is the protagonist and ‘hero’ of 1984.  The novel is told from his point of the view so it is not surprising that the reader connects with him and his plight.  Winston is an individual living in a demoralizing, totalitarian government trying to fight for his right to personal inner and outer freedom.  He is aware of what has been lost and the deceit and immorality of the society.  In his own small way, he stands up for truth and freedom.

Intellectually Winston questions the status quo and is frustrated by the lack of privacy. Every element of life is controlled and people need to even watch their expressions so they so not commit ‘face crime’. Winston can see things as they really are – life is not good. Conditions are poor and lies are everywhere. In fact, he works at the Ministry of Truth, where he has to change facts, history and current news to suit the Party.

Winston is a true hero because he puts in a brave fight and knows on some level that he is doomed. The novel highlights how unorthodox people who rebel are not tolerated and quickly destroyed in such authoritarian governments.  He is a hero but not in the traditional sense of the word.  Key Point is that Winston is characterised by both pessimism and hope.  He feels that he will inevitably be discovered and tortured by the Thought Police, yet he rebels anyway and holds onto hope as long as he can, locating that hope eventually not in his own rebellion but in the proles.

Along the way the reader clearly sees that Winston is genuinely naïve and delusional regarding how much change he can enact.  His tendency towards his nostalgic, emotional yearning probably encourages him to be too trusting of O’Brien and Mr Charrington.  

Winston Quotes

‘Now that he had recognised himself as a dead man it became important to stay alive as long as possible’ (p.33)

‘The one thing that matters is that we shouldn’t betray one another, although even that can’t make the slightest difference’ (p.192)

‘But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished.  He had won the victory over himself.  He loved Big Brother’ (p.342)


Everything we know about Julia is through Winston’s observations so we may not have the full picture.  Like Winston, Julia is rebellious and an independent thinker.  Unlike Winston, she is confident, daring, determined and very selfish. Julia wants to improve her life and that is enough.  She sees no point in trying to change the political landscape or harp on about the past.  When Winston tries to talk about his memories or the past as well as his dreams, she either does not understand him or does not care and falls asleep on him.  Julia is resilient and ruthless in the way she lives her life.  She has gained remarkable knowledge and knows how to use the black market to get what she wants.  In the end, Julia is a survivor.

Julia Quotes

‘Life as she saw it was quite simple.  You wanted a good time; “they” meaning the Party, wanted to stop you having it; you broke the rules as best you could’ (p.151)

‘As they walked back across the grass, she looked directly at him for the first time.  It was only a momentary glance, full of contempt and dislike’ (p.336)


O’Brien is the embodiment of cold hard evil as he is the system and keeper of the power. O’Brien has lost the ability to separate himself from the Party and he does not care. As quite an intelligent man, he is dangerous because he has no need for emotions. He is both a physical and mental sadist – toying with ideas, facts and memories. When it comes to torture, O’Brien sees all his victims as inferior and deserving of their punishment. It becomes sickly clear O’Brien is doing his ‘job’ with extra zealousness, representing the worst Nazis like Dr. Mengele and his ‘scientific’ experiments on the Jews.

O’Brien loves the power that he has over people and his role in the Inner Party. His arrogance is also due to the fact that he is one of the favourite ‘insiders’ who knows what is really going on; and he lives a more affluent lifestyle.

O’Brien Quotes

‘But at any rate he had the appearance of being a person that you could talk to, if somehow you could cheat the telescreen and get him alone’ (p.13)

‘An unmistakable message had passed.  It was though their two minds had opened and the thoughts were flowing from one into the other through their eyes’ (p.20)

Big Brother

Big Brother is the public face of the Party, the face that watches over all the citizens of Oceania from posters and telescreens.  Orwell based Big Brother’s appearance on that of Joseph Stalin and in the mythology of the Party he was the revolutionary leader who swept them to power.  The slogan that accompanies many of the posters is ‘BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU’, and he therefore embodies the surveillance state that monitors the citizens at every moment.  O’Brien asserts that Big Brother exists when he tells Winston ‘Of course he exists.  The Party exists.  Big Brother is the embodiment of the Party’ (p.296).  In the end Winston accepts that he loves Big Brother which shows the ultimate victory of the Party over the individual.


Parsons comes across as ridiculous through Orwell’s use of black humour.  He is happy when his daughter informs on him to the Thought Police.  He represents the powerlessness of people and the hardships they have to put up with it and never complain about, assuming they can see what is wrong. Despite his loyalty and conformity, Parsons becomes a victim – again highlighting the lack of control and security people have.


Symes is clearly intelligent, which may have led to his downfall.  As the expert on Newspeak, Symes was quick to gloat and talk to others.  ‘One of these days, thought Winston with sudden deep conviction, Syme will be vaporized.  He sees too clearly and speaks to plainly.  The Party does not like such people.’


Goldstein is a scapegoat, blamed for all the problems.  He is stereotyped as Jewish and is meant to symbolize Trotsky.  In Russian history, Trotsky became Stalin’s scapegoat – taking the focus away from his own selfish, evil deeds.


For a while, Charrington held for Winston what he yearns for from life – individuality, beauty, the romance of the past.  The items in the shop lure Winston in.  When Winston and Julia are arrested, Charrington’s appearance is changed and he is revealed as a spy for the ‘Thought Police’.

Social Structure of Oceania

INGSOC – Inner Party 2% of Oceania

  • INGSOC is the name of the English Socialist Party – representing the political ideology of the totalitarian government in Oceania – Inner Party make policies, decisions and govern whilst living an upper class/privileged lifestyle
  • Big Brother is the leader but he may or may not exist
  • As history is constantly altered and rewritten, the origins of the Party are somewhat blurred
  • At one point Emmanuel Goldstein was a significant member but then he supposedly betrayed the Party or he is classified as an enemy of the Party
  • The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism written by Goldstein refers to the Party as an Oligarchical Collectivism

The Outer Party – 13% of Oceania

  • Administrative workers such as Winston
  • Implement, manage policies
  • Voiceless and powerless
  • Spied on through telescreens and other surveillance
  • Allowed Victory cigarettes and gin as their only luxury
  • Very poor living conditions and food rations despite being called ‘middle class’
  • Sex is forbidden except for procreation in marriage
  • Intimacy, love, relationships are seen as ‘dangerous’ as they may encourage an emotional life with others rather than the Party

The Proles – 85% of Oceania

  • Lowest class, manual labourers. 
  • Live in poverty, but under less surveillance
  • Kept happy with seemingly more freedom – sex, alcohol, sport, gambling, pornography and fiction
  • Most are uneducated and thus do not impose such a threat to the Party
  • Minimal surveillance for potential ‘thinkers’ by Thought Police
Major Themes
Dangers of totalitarianism / control & powerInterrogation / torture / violencePropaganda / history / control of the past / manipulation of historySurveillance / informers
Courage / resistance / rebellionLove / connectionLanguage / communicationLanguage as mind control
Philosophical viewpointstechnologyPsychological manipulationrepression
Death of privacyAbolishment of sex and intimacyMemory and the pastWarfare
Major Symbols & Literary Motifs
Big Brother / posters of Big BrotherEmmanuel GoldsteinNewspeakDoublethink
Mutability of the pastTelescreensGlass paperweightSt Clements Church
Victory Gin / Victory CigarettesJulia’s scarlet anti sex sashThe place where there is no darknessRed armed prole woman
Urban decayDreamsWinston’s motherRoom 101
Memory holesSong Church bells / Oranges & lemonsBirdsWinston’s varicose ulcer
2+2 = 5Goldstein’s bookThought PoliceMinistry of Truth
INGSOC slogan ‘Our new happy life’Song ‘Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree’Ministry of LoveWar is peace / freedom is slavery / ignorance is strength
ThoughtcrimeBombing of Airstrip OneOceania/Eastasia allegiance at war2 minutes of Hate / Hate week
Big Brother’s ‘Order of the Day’Confessions of ‘Thought Criminals’News in Oceania emphasis on figuresWinston’s job revisits history

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