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Things You Didn't Know

Every book has a story—check out these 10 unusual facts about 1984 by George Orwell.

1984 | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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There are few novels that have had as great an influence on pop culture as 1984. First published in England in 1949, George Orwell's 1984 warned of the dangers of a totalitarian society and a surveillance state.

Orwell's publisher saw great promise in the novel's success, even writing in a company memo, "If we can't sell 15 to 20 thousand copies we ought to be shot." They needn't have been concerned: millions of copies of the novel have been sold worldwide in more than 65 languages. The Guardian has even called it "the definitive novel of the 20th century."

1984 is still evoked to draw comparisons with societal concerns about privacy and oppression. Many words and phrases popularized by 1984 have entered modern lexicon, and the novel's popularity has inspired countless adaptations and spin-offs.

1. Aldous Huxley—the author of Brave New World—was Orwell's French teacher.

George Orwell, born Eric Arthur Blair, studied at Eton, a prestigious boys' boarding school in England. One year, he studied French under Aldous Huxley, a substitute teacher who was only nine years his elder. Huxley's careful use of language was an inspiration to young Eric. Later, their two dystopian novels would be subject to constant comparison.

2. The film adaptation was shot in the year 1984.

A movie version of 1984 starring John Hurt was filmed from April–June 1984, and the closing credits pointed out that the London setting and time period were the same ones envisioned by George Orwell. Some scenes, including the one in which Winston writes in his diary on April 4, were shot on exactly the same day as the one in the novel.

3. Orwell wrote 1984 when he was seriously ill.

Desperately sick with tuberculosis and living with his young son on a remote Scottish island with no electricity, Orwell raced against time to finish writing 1984. In a letter to a friend in 1947, Orwell wrote, "I still feel deadly sick ... like a fool I decided not to go to a doctor—I wanted to get on with the book I was writing." Orwell died seven months after the book was published.

4. 1984 inspired the reality TV show Big Brother.

In 1984, Big Brother is the all-seeing, all-knowing leader of Oceania. The citizens are constantly reminded that "Big Brother is watching you." This concept inspired Big Brother, a hit reality TV show in which a group of strangers live together in an isolated house where their actions and words are constantly recorded and broadcast to millions of viewers. After it launched in the Netherlands in 1999, more than 30 other countries started their own versions of Big Brother.

5. 1984 originally had a different title.

1984 was originally going to be called The Last Man in Europe. This title was intended to suggest that Winston, the novel's protagonist, was the only person left who still had the ability to think for himself. His publisher urged him to choose a more commercial title.

6. A teacher was fired for refusing to remove 1984 from the class's reading list.

In 1961 an English teacher named Richard Wyman was dismissed from his duties at a high school in Wrenshall, Minnesota, when he refused to take 1984 off his class's reading list. However, both he and the school board came to an agreement that allowed him to return to his position. According to an article in the Star Tribune:

A joint statement said that 'the book '1984' will be returned to the library for normal usage as in the past. It will remain in the English reading list but for college preparatory students on a voluntary basis and Mr. Wyman has agreed that it will not be required of all students.

7. Orwell's Thought Police had real-life inspiration from wartime Japan.

The Thought Police in 1984 were likely inspired by the Tokko, a division of secret police established by the government of Japan in 1911. Because the Tokko's mission was to suppress so-called dangerous thoughts, this organization was sometimes called shiso keisatsu—meaning "thought police."

8. 1984 was likely inspired by the Russian novel We.

Some readers have noticed that 1984 bears a startling similarity to the 1920s Russian novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. According to one critic, "Orwell borrowed much of his plot, the outlines of three of his central figures, and the progress of the book's dramatic arc" from this earlier work. Nonetheless, Orwell is considered to be the superior writer of the two, and his work has had a much greater cultural impact.

9. Sales of 1984 soared after 2013's National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance leaks.

The idea of a total-surveillance state as described in 1984 has often been evoked to bring attention to very real concerns about privacy in the modern age. In 2013 it was revealed that the NSA had been secretly monitoring and recording people's Internet and phone usage. In the following week, sales of 1984 reportedly rose by as much as 5,000 percent!

10. 2 + 2 = 5 was an actual slogan in the Soviet Union.

The slogan 2 + 2 = 5, used by Orwell as an example of an obviously false "fact" that one may be forced to believe, was a Communist Party slogan. The party was confident that their first "five-year plan" could be achieved in four years. The equation 2 + 2 = 5 appeared on billboards and in electric lights on house fronts.

As author S.D. Tucker says in his book Forgotten Science:

Such utterly irrational notions were entirely in keeping with the delusions held by many Soviet thinkers about the prospect of transforming Russia into a kind of People's Paradise.

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