Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Here is my first Literature Analysis, on George Orwell's famous novel, 1984.

All page numbers are from the Signet Classic edition of 1984, originally published July 1950.


Winston Smith is the book's "everyman" protagonist, who works for a totalitarian government called the Party, headed by the mythical Big Brother. All the Party members live in fear of the Thought Police watching them through the ubiquitous telescreens, studying everyone for the slightest signs of heresy. While most of the Party members are held under the spell of the government's propaganda, Winston begins to see through it. The government continually modifies all records of the past, so that all available information will always agree with whatever the Party is saying at any given moment. Winston begins keeping a diary, and often muses on the past and the nature of truth.

Winston also suspects a high-ranking Party member named O'Brien of unorthodoxy, and hopes he can somehow befriend him. In Winston's building, there is a dark-haired girl (Julia) who seems to be following him, and Winston is worried that she is a spy for the Thought Police.

Winston eats lunch with two of his acquaintances, who are sort of foils to each other: Syme is intensely patriotic, but very intelligent and transparent; he understands and clearly explains the government's actions and motives to others. On the other hand, Parsons is boring, not very smart, and easily controlled by the government; in other words, a model Party member. Later, Syme is "vaporized" (taken away and erased from all records by the Party), which Winston had predicted would happen.

Winston visits a pub in the proletarian part of town and asks an elderly man about the old days before the Party took over, but the man is largely incoherent, so Winston feels he has lost all chances of finding out about the past.

One day, the dark-haired girl (Julia) slips Winston a note saying "I love you." They covertly arrange a meeting where they don't think there are any microphones or telescreens, and Winston finds out that the girl is a rebel like he is. They sleep together, an act forbidden by the Party. They continue to see each other, and Winston rents a room in the proletarian part of town, above the shop where he bought his diary.

O'Brien invites Winston to his house on the pretense of giving him a dictionary. Winston brings Julia with him, and they learn that O'Brien is part of a secret anti-Party organization called the Brotherhood. Winston and Julia are sworn in, and soon Winston is delivered a book written by the Brotherhood's leader, which explains in detail how the Party controls its members.

Unfortunately, the man from whom Winston is renting a room turns out to be a member of the Thought Police. Winston and Julia are both captured.

Winston is taken to a prison, where he sees many of his former coworkers, including Parsons, even though Winston was sure Parsons was the perfect Party member. Winston is tortured repeatedly and is forced to confess to a long list of crimes that he and his torturers both know he didn't do. He also has several sessions with O'Brien (who was apparently working for the Party all along), in which O'Brien basically plays mind games with him and uses a special machine to inflict massive pain on Winston when he answers badly. He is finally taken to Room 101, where each prisoner is subjected to a special torture consisiting of whatever his or her worst fear is (think Dementors). For Winston, it's being eaten alive by rats; however, as soon as he yells for them to do it to Julia instead, they close the rat cage, because they know Winston is broken.

Winston is released, but he is now almost completely soulless. While he is in a café, a telescreen broadcasts news of a major battle victory against the enemy. Suddenly, Winston realizes that he loves Big Brother.

Author's purpose

The author's purpose is to present a detailed picture of a dystopia as a warning. 1984 was published in 1949, just after WWII. Given the events of the two world wars, especially the introduction of the atomic bomb, it was clear that the governments were becoming verrrry powerful-- perhaps too powerful. Orwell wanted to caution the world against letting governments become too strong, because if they do, it might turn out like the world he presented in his novel.


The theme of 1984 is that governments, when they become too powerful, are capable of controlling minds, crushing free will, and almost completely destroying happiness.


Orwell's tone is gloomy and pessimistic, but not cynical-- he doesn't question the basic goodness of humanity, but he does assert that the human spirit isn't strong enough to overcome a totalitarian government as strong as the Party. His tone occasionally contains flickers of hope, even though the novel ultimately ends in tragedy.

In this excerpt from p. 66, Winston sees three men who used to be revolutionary leaders, now disgraced as traitors (meaning they were on the good side), in a café:
It was the lonely hour of fifteen. Winston could not now remember how he had come to be in the café at such a time. The place was almost empty. A tinny music was trickling from the telescreens. The three men sat in their corner almost motionless, never speaking. Uncommanded, the waiter brought fresh glasses of gin. There was a chess-board on the table beside them, with the pieces set out, but no game started. [...] The three men never stirred. But when Winston glaned again at Rutherford's ruinous face, he saw that his eyes were full of tears. And for the first time he noticed, with a kind of inward shudder, and yet not knowing at what he shuddered, that both Aaronson and Rutherford had broken noses.
In this excerpt from p. 122, Winston muses on his temporary, isolated happiness with Julia, as symbolized by the glass-encased coral:
The room was darkening. He turned over toward the light and lay gazing into the glass paperweight. The inexhaustibly interesting thing was not the fragment of coral but the interior of the glass itself. There was such a depth of it, and yet it was almost as transparent as air. It was as though the surface of the glass had been the arch of the sky, enclosing a tiny world with its atmosphere complete. [...] The paperweight was the room he was in, and the coral was Julia's life and his own, fixed in a sort of eternity at the heart of the crystal.
In this excerpt from p. 245 (the last page of the book), Winston finally conforms to the Party as he looks up at a poster of Big Brother:
[Winston] gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark mustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stuborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

Literary Elements

01) frame narrative -- Goldstein's book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism (pp. 151-164, 166-179) is the perfect example of a frame narrative; it's literally a book within a book.
02) stream-of-consciousness narration -- Winston's early diary entries (pp. 11, 20) show stream-of-consciousness narration, because Winston is writing his thoughts exactly as he thinks them (however, his later diary entries aren't stream-of-consciousness because they're more concise and premeditated)
03) symbolism -- the glass-encased coral that Winston buys from Mr. Charrington (p. 81) is symbolic of his momentarily happy life with Julia-- Winston basically says so himself (p. 122)-- and when they are caught by the Thought Police and their life is metaphorically shattered, the glass-encased coral is literally shattered (p. 183). Also, I think the prole woman represents a sort of fertility goddess (p.181).
04) nominal symbolism -- I figured this particular subset of symbolism was prominent enough for its own listing. Some of the characters' names seem to be symbolic/allusions; for example, the name "Winston" immediately brings to mind Winston Churchill, the prime minister of the UK during most of WWII, which was shortly before this book was published. Naming the character "Winston" suggests that he is a hero like Churchill, but his last name "Smith," being an exceedingly common name, suggests the opposite. Together, "Winston Smith" seems to say that the main character is a hero, but like many before him, he ultimately fails and will not be remembered. The leader of the opposition to the Party is named Emmanuel Goldstein; given that the Party is evil and Goldstein is their main enemy, it's reasonable to conclude that Goldstein is probably a nice guy who's working to free everyone from the Party's rule. His first name, Emmanuel, is another name for Jesus, suggesting that Goldstein is a sort of messiah who will save them all.
05) allusion -- The novel alludes repeatedly to "Oranges and Lemons," a British nursery rhyme.
06) foils -- as noted above in the summary, Winston's coworkers Syme and Parsons are foils to each other.
07) flashback -- Winston has several flashbacks throughout the novel, including the air raid (pp. 30-31), stealing chocolate from his sister just before she and their mother disappeared (pp. 133-135), and playing Snakes and Ladders (p. 243).
08) foreshadowing -- There are some really direct examples of foreshadowing, as well as more indirect examples. Winston correctly predicts that Syme will be vaporized (p. 53), and Winston's dream of Julia in the "Golden Country" (p. 29) happens in real life almost exactly (p. 104). More subtly, Winston's fear of rats in Mr. Charrington's room (pp. 119-120) foreshadows the contents of Room 101 (pp. 234-236).
09) irony -- Winston is certain that neither Parsons nor Julia will be vaporized (p. 53), but they are both later captured by the Thought Police. It is also ironic that the humble prole Mr. Charrington turns out to be a member of the Thought Police (pp. 184-185). Probably the book's greatest irony is that the protagonist who throughout the entire book resists the Party eventually realizes that he loves Big Brother at the end (p. 245).
10) the unreveal -- the end of Chapter 1 of Goldstein's book (pp. 178-179) is a classic "unreveal"; with great flourish, Goldstein leads up to the Party's central secret motive for its totalitarian ways, and then WINSTON STOPS READING. AND THEN HE'S CAPTURED. OMIGOD. (symbolic of the knowledge being unattainable)

1 comment:

  1. Very nice! Although the summary could be a bit briefer, as to help people who have not read this before, because they will be reading this the day before the ap exam (most likely), in a panic to get quick information to help them with the exam.