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1984 | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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Orwell suggests that fear and hate are powerful tools of mind control. Which details from 1984 support his view?

In Big Brother's 1984, the natural emotion of love has been twisted by fear and hate. It doesn't exist even in Party families, where children spy on their parents and turn them over to the Thought Police. Sex is allowed, but only if the two people don't love each other. People who are in love are not allowed to marry. The Party cannot risk relationships in which the bonds of love are stronger than the couple's love for Big Brother. The ritual of Two Minutes Hate is an "act of self-hypnosis, a deliberate drowning of consciousness" that uses fear and hate to control the populace by giving them common enemies. The Two Minutes Hate builds solidarity in a bleak, friendless world. The events in Room 101, where prisoners' worst fears are used to break their spirit and force their acceptance of Party beliefs, are another example of mind control through a negative emotion.

In 1984 what role does self-trust play in Winston's assessment of his sanity?

Until he is tortured by O'Brien, Winston trusts his sanity. Unlike most people in Oceania, he knows that history doesn't change, 2 + 2 = 4, there are immutable facts such as the existence of gravity, and the earth is not the center of the universe. He trusts his own instincts for truth and what is right, and he trusts his powers of observation. He even begins to trust his memory. Self-trust is critical to Winston's assessment of his sanity. When he says, "Sanity is not statistical," he shows that he does not need validation from others to believe he is sane. When he is tortured, however, his trust in himself is broken as he betrays Julia. The end of that trust is the end of his sanity.

What qualifies 1984 as a science fiction novel?

Science fiction is a genre in which the writer uses the impact of actual or imagined science to create a future or an alternate world. Good science fiction creates a world the reader finds plausible. Some science fiction is very reliant on advances in science; other science fiction is based more on sociology than hard science and often serves as social criticism. Examples are Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. 1984 is the latter kind of science fiction, based on sociology more than technology or scientific advancements of Orwell's own time. The invention of televisions that transmit both ways is one of the few examples of hard science/technology in 1984. However, most of the novel explores the consequences of totalitarianism, a social construct, run rampant.

How is Winston and Julia's meeting at the end of 1984 foreshadowed in the novel?

At the end of 1984, the Party has achieved its ultimate victory over Winston, causing him to lose his humanity by doing the one thing he said he would not do: betray Julia. Julia has done the same, because, when they are both released and run into each other, each one admits the betrayal to the other. Their meeting at the Chestnut Tree Café was foreshadowed in Book 1, Chapter 7, as a voice on the telescreen sang, "Under the spreading chestnut tree/I sold you and you sold me:/There lie they, and here lie we/Under the spreading chestnut tree." The Party lies, and both characters accept the lies now. They said they would never leave each other, and now neither one of them cares if they ever see the other again—though they lie to each other again by saying they should meet up.

What makes O'Brien an interesting antagonist in 1984?

O'Brien has many positive qualities that make him an interesting character, even though he is an antagonist. He is intelligent, able to convince Winston that he is a member of the Brotherhood. He is also witty. When Winston greets him in his prison cell, thinking he is a fellow prisoner, by saying, "They've got you too!" O'Brien responds,"They got me a long time ago." He is also attractive; even after he has tortured Winston, Winston thinks he has "never loved him so deeply" and that "O'Brien was a person who could be talked to." Finally, O'Brien is mysterious. Does "They got me a long time ago" mean that he was once a rebel, like Winston? Or does it mean that he has been a faithful Party member all his life? The latter seems more likely given the fate of dissidents, but readers cannot be entirely sure.

There is a joke that 1984 isn't an instruction manual. What does the joke mean? Why is it relevant?

Like any good joke, it is both funny and holds some truth, and it serves as an example of wry humor. The novel 1984 has come to represent the model of an oppressive regime. In it Orwell meticulously details the methods used by the Party to control the populace, including surveillance, language control, scapegoating, the destruction of the family, torture, and murder. Totalitarian governments use these methods in the 21st century (as do other forms of government), as if 1984 showed them how. The joke is relevant because of concerns about personal privacy and surveillance. 1984 began an ongoing debate about the line between safety and privacy. The image of Big Brother on the telescreen tracking an individual's movements parallels smartphone features that track users' movements and cameras in classrooms and public spaces. Even democratic governments struggle to strike a balance that preserves personal freedom and public safety.

Compare and contrast the portrayal of a government's abuses of power in Animal Farm and 1984.

In 1984 the Party rewrites the past and gets rid of anyone who doesn't accept its version of truth by vaporizing them. The upper class holds the power and continues to build it for the sake of having power. They torture and murder people who disagree with them or do anything wrong. Winston's experience in Room 101 is an example of the extreme force used on people who don't obey the Party. Hunger is another method used to control the populace. In Animal Farm Napoleon and the other pigs also rewrite history to suit their needs. As in 1984 the ruling animals purge those who can't be controlled. Their hunger for power is literal as they gorge themselves on food and use hunger to keep the rest of the population under control. The protagonists are different in the two novels, but the theme is the same: power for power's sake destroys society.

Consider 1984's theme of Freedom versus Oppression in light of the events of World War II and Stalin's regime in the Soviet Union.

Orwell wrote 1984 in reaction to the rise of totalitarian governments such as Stalin's in the Soviet Union. Under Stalin's rule, anyone perceived as an enemy of the government was executed or condemned to forced labor. In Nazi Germany Jews and enemies of the state were sent to death camps and slave labor camps. Forced labor camps, or "Joycamps," were also a feature of Big Brother's Party in 1984. Orwell had good reason to write his cautionary tale about governments that suppress freedom and individual thought. Not only had he seen the dangers of totalitarian regimes, but he also saw how World War II had fragmented British society. In the years following the war, people faced economic downturn, cities still badly damaged by fighting, and families decimated by brothers and husbands lost in combat. Under such circumstances people can be more willing to turn to their government for solace and support. The novel warns of the consequences of doing so at the cost of freedom and democracy.

Can 1984 be called a tragedy in the classical sense? Why or why not?

A classic tragedy tells of the failure and, often, death of a protagonist because of a character flaw. In Book 3, Chapter 3, O'Brien tells Winston, "It [Winston's end] was all contained in that first act," which refers to Winston's act of rebelling against the all-powerful Party. 1984 is a tragedy because Winston's downfall was destined as soon as he took the first defiant step of buying a diary and a pen and writing down his thoughts. Winston's tragic flaw is to care too much about the truth. The Party and Big Brother are too powerful to let such a man survive. While Winston doesn't actually die in this novel, his story is a tragedy because he can no longer think independently or feel love, the qualities that made him feel alive.

Can Winston be seen as a hero in 1984?

At first sight Winston doesn't seem like a hero. He is physically weak, out of shape, drinks too much, and smokes, and his job at the Ministry of Truth is pitiful. But when Winston skips lunch to go home and risk his life to write in a diary, he begins to follow the path of a hero. He rebels against the Party not only by writing down his thoughts but by falling in love with Julia and trying to join the Brotherhood. He discovers that love fulfills him and that being with someone who understands the value of intimacy and freedom is worth fighting for. He holds on to his love for Julia for as long as he can, before he is broken through torture. At the same time, Winston fails in his mission. He cannot defeat the Party. He is perhaps best described as a tragic hero, a central character who is doomed to fail.

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