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George Orwell

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1984 | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In 1984 how does Winston's work at the Ministry of Truth create inner conflict, and how does that affect the plot?

Early on the narrator tells us that Winston finds it "terrifying" that something historical can be said to never have happened. He cannot forget the photograph he once saw that contradicted Party propaganda about some of its former leaders. Yet his job at the Ministry of Truth is to revise old documents to match the Party's current policy. For his job Winston must sometimes invent people and situations that never existed to support those policies. But, in his personal life, he feels the repercussions of missing history—he can't even remember his family well enough to trust that there was once real love in his life. Winston's personal diary is an effort to capture events in a true record that cannot be changed. Winston knows that history is not modifiable; he sets out to prove it on his own, and yet every day he participates in the fabrication or revision of history. This conflict regarding the ability to make up facts in his job and the opposing desire to keep the truth intact shows that there is a small part of Winston that can be reached by the Party, even though he opposes its control over the people. This is the part of Winston that will be crushed at the novel's end.

How do the principles of Newspeak describe social conditions under Big Brother in 1984?

Newspeak shows that freedom of thought and action is either nonexistent or criminal under Big Brother and the Party. Words such as thoughtcrime let readers know right away that even thoughts are subject to the rules of the Party and that people can be taken away and vaporized for thinking the wrong thing. The word unperson is used to describe a person who no longer exists because the Party has not only vaporized that person but destroyed all evidence that he or she ever lived. Newspeak is also very black and white, with no shades of gray in thought or action. In fact, blackwhite is another Newspeak word. Under Big Brother, people are either pro-Party or they are dissidents. No one is allowed to have ownlife, individual actions that are considered original, eccentric, or creative.

What purpose does the print at Mr. Charrington's shop serve in the plot of 1984?

The engraving of a church, St. Clement's Dane, serves to remind Winston of a time when churches and religion still existed and when buildings were created to be not just purposeful but inspiring and beautiful. It is also a piece that he cannot buy, because taking it home would get him into trouble. In reality the picture has been hiding a telescreen, and Winston and Julia have been watched the entire time that they have been in the room above the shop. This beautiful object has hidden the path to a horrible end at the hands of the Party.

In 1984 how does Julia's note telling Winston she loves him transform his impression of her?

In Chapter 1 of Book 2, the dark-haired girl to whom Winston had taken a strong dislike surreptitiously hands him a note that reads "I love you." Winston believes she must mean it and that she is not using the note to entrap him, "because of her unmistakable agitation." The note directly causes Winston's feelings for the girl—whose name he still does not know—to change completely. He goes from disliking her to trusting her completely, and eventually he falls in love with her. The word love is from a time gone by, when "there was still privacy, love, and friendship." When the dark-haired girl uses this word, it means she is guilty of the same rebellion that Winston feels growing within himself.

In 1984 what causes people to be so sadistic, and why is Winston different?

Most people in Oceania have been cultivated to feel hatred by the propaganda to which they are subjected nearly every waking moment. Because the Party regulates everything people hear or read, they hear no dissenting voices. The miserableness to which they have become accustomed makes them weak and fearful, so they desperately look to the Party for guidance. They are too worn out to recognize that they are being taken advantage of by the very government they think will save them from harm; they are deceived into thinking the Party will supply all of their needs. The people of Oceania are sadistic in part because they have been taught that a foreign enemy is always attacking them. In response to their fear, they vilify anyone they perceive as unsettling the order to which they have become accustomed. Somehow Winston, perhaps because he had a loving mother and has vague memories of a time that was more pleasant than life under Big Brother, keeps thinking outside the box. He keeps asking questions, if only of himself, and he believes that life could be better. It is true that, at one point, he callously kicks a severed hand into the street. But he later identifies that action as cruel and expresses regret for having done it, showing that he is different from most other people in Oceania.

In 1984 how does Winston Smith's character change when O'Brien asks him to join the Brotherhood?

When O'Brien questions Winston and Julia about what they are willing to do to join the Brotherhood and fight to bring down the totalitarian regime of Big Brother, they answer that they are willing to do such things as spread venereal disease and throw sulfuric acid in a child's face. Up until now the reader may have felt a kind of solidarity with Winston, knowing that it would not be easy to live under the thumb of the Party. The reader may even go so far as to agree that overthrowing an oppressive regime takes courage and commitment and often violence. But hearing Winston say these grisly things, his character starts to appear more barbarous and less understandable. It seems that, once Winston and Julia agree to such actions, they have already lost their humanity. They don't need Big Brother to take it from them.

In 1984 what is the role of the Brotherhood, and why was it created?

The Brotherhood is the rebel group that is supposedly led by Emmanuel Goldstein. However, no one has ever seen Goldstein, and it's hard to know whether the group even exists, given the fact that the Party makes up people and facts all the time in order to support its version of history. The group is supposed to be fighting to overthrow Big Brother, but in Chapter 8 of Book 2, O'Brien tells Julia and Winston that there is no feeling of solidarity in the rebel group; members can't even recognize one another. It begins to seem odd that members of the Brotherhood are asked to do such violent things to people, and even the organization's name is very close to the name Big Brother. As it becomes clear which side O'Brien is on, it seems that the Brotherhood is really a ruse created to smoke out traitors to the Party in Oceania. As far as readers know at the end of the book, the Brotherhood is simply a false claim made by the Party—and so merely part of the Party's plan to squash the resistance.

In 1984 what is the difference between the Ministry of Plenty and the Ministry of Love?

The Ministry of Plenty creates shortages in material goods because it is easier to control a populace that is weak, underfed, and demoralized than one that lives in peace, plenty, and harmony. In "the book," Goldstein says that, to keep "the Low" down, they must be crushed so much by drudgery that they can't be conscious of anything outside their miserable lives. Shortages are the key to this for two reasons. One, they keep the poor destitute and therefore unable to rebel. Two, if everyone had enough there wouldn't be a class division. The power structure of the Party depends on the hierarchy created by the haves and the have-nots. This is a kind of daily, slow torture that keeps people obedient. The Ministry of Love also tortures people to keep them obedient, but the difference is that the torture is extremely violent. Dissidents, which includes anyone who has done anything against the Party, including thinking non-Party thoughts or even being intelligent, are tortured with drugs and electric shocks. They are conditioned into believing that whatever the Party says is true and that their anti-Party beliefs are false.

How is technology used in 1984?

The Party exerts its control using a variety of technological tools. The telescreen is used to issue propaganda, to control what people see and hear, and to watch people in their homes, to prevent them from doing anything that would be considered anti-Party. The Party also uses helicopters to watch people when they are outside, making sure they don't spend much time by themselves. The Ministry of Love uses a dial machine that delivers painful shocks to prisoners in order to reprogram them to accept the Party's version of truth. All of these tools are used to spy on and to harm people, ensuring their obedience to the Party. There are no positive uses of technology in this novel, because, in the words of O'Brien, "We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power."

In 1984 how does Julia's unwillingness to be separated from Winston, even to create a more successful rebellion, deepen her character and advance the plot?

Julia tells O'Brien she is willing to do any grisly task the Brotherhood asks of her in the name of the rebellion, except separate from Winston. Up until this point, her character seems to be a bit shallow, only rebelling just enough to please herself but not enough to create any meaningful change. She doesn't really listen to Winston when he reads to her, because she really doesn't want to work all that hard to resist the Party. She's creative when it comes to finding a way to meet Winston, but it seems like this might be purely for sexual reasons. But when Julia says that the one thing she won't do for the Brotherhood is leave Winston, the reader finally trusts that her love for Winston is real. Unfortunately, because O'Brien is actually a true member of the Party, this statement also provides the Party with leverage against Julia. They now know that to destroy her sense of humanity, the first thing O'Brien should do after arresting the two lovers is separate them.

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