In 1949, George Orwell wrote 1984, his now legendary and terrifying glimpse into the future. His vision of an omni-present and ultra-repressive State is rooted in the ominous world events of Orwell's own time and is given shape and substance by his astute play on our own fears.
As the novel opens, we learn that in year 1984, the world has been divided into three states: Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia, all of which, it is said, are almost continually in battle with one another. This world structure has come about following a nuclear war which took place sometime in the 1950's. In the state of Oceania, a revolution has resulted in the rise of an all-seeing figurehead known only as Big Brother, and a secretive group of individuals referred to as The Party. Under this regime, basic freedoms of expression-even thought-are strictly forbidden. History and memory are actively erased and rewritten so as to support the omnipotence and infallibility of The Party and its pronouncements. To this end, the State even employs its own language, Newspeak, and its own thought process, Doublethink.
It's against this background that we are introduced to Winston Smith, a low-level Party member (not to be confused with the elite group which surrounds Big Brother) who works in the Ministry of Truth. His job here, paradoxically, is to destroy and rewrite news articles and State facts and figures so as to align them with the most current views of The Party. A resident of Airstrip One-formerly London, England-Smith lives in a world devoid of even the simplest liberties. In this repressive society, where thoughts themselves can be ascertained and monitored, Winston finds himself alone and in quiet "revolution" against Big Brother. Boldly, he even goes as far as to write his own thoughts down on paper- a crime worthy of abduction by the Thought Police.
Early in the novel, Winston meets Julia, another worker at the Ministry of Truth, whom he has been watching from afar. Secretly, the two begin a love affair. This liaison inspires Winston to indulge his ever-growing obsession with revolution, and he and Julia begin to discuss, however implausible, ideas for the overthrow of The Party. Winston's eventual (and inevitable) capture at the hands of the Thought Police leads to his purification and re-education by inner Party members.
Orwell's strict attention to detail and realistic description of a world thirty-five years ahead of his own add validity to 1984, and make its larger conclusions all the more frightening. Even today, the novel remains a bleak and shadowy forewarning of what might someday occur, or as some may argue, is already happening.
1. 1984 “JOURNAL”
You are required to keep a 1984 “Journal.”
This “journal” can either be a notebook or three-ring-binder.
You will be required to turn in your “journal” on the first day of school at the beginning of class.
In order to earn the most possible points, you must complete all of the required components.
You need to organize your journal and make sure that it is your best work! I recommend using tab dividers or some similar type of organization system.
This is my first impression of what you are willing to do and capable of doing in CP English 12—you do not want to give me the first wrong impression!
That means that, it is highly suggested that you keep these questions in mind as you read because we will be working with these questions over the first few weeks of school.
Therefore, you need to be prepared to discuss and complete these questions in whatever format I decide is necessary in class.
1. The world within which Winston lives is replete with contradictions. For example a, major tenet of the Party's philosophy is that War is Peace. Similarly, the Ministry of Love serves as, what we would consider, a department of war. What role do these contradictions serve on a grand scale? Discuss other contradictions inherent in the Party's philosophy. What role does contradiction serve within the framework of Doublethink? How does Doublethink satisfy the needs of The Party?
2. In the afterword, the commentator describes 1984 as "a warning." Indeed, throughout the text, Orwell plants both subtle and overt warnings to the reader. What do you think are some of the larger issues at hand here?
3. Describe the role that O'Brien plays in Winston's life. Why do you think that initially, Winston is drawn to O'Brien? Why does he implicitly trust him, despite the enormous dangers involved?
4. Discuss the significance and nature of Winston's dreams. Deconstruct the dream wherein O'Brien claims that they "shall meet in a place where there is no darkness," and the dream in which Winston's mother and sister disappear. What are the underpinnings of these dreams? What deeper meanings do they hold? Why do you think the author devotes as much time as he does to Winston's dreams?
5. Discuss Winston as a heroic figure. What qualities does he posses that could define him as one?
6. Compare and contrast some of the other characters in Winston's world: Parsons, Syme, O'Brien. How does Winston view each one? How do they differ from Winston? What opinion do you think each one has of Winston?
7. Early on in the novel, we learn of Winston's belief in the proles as a liberating force. What accounts for Winston's almost blind faith in the proles? What are some of the characteristics of the proles that, in Winston's eyes, make them the ultimate means for overthrowing Big Brother?
8. From her first appearance as "the dark-haired girl," through to the end of the novel, Julia is a key figure in 1984. Trace the path of Julia in relation to Winston's life; in what ways does she influence him? Did you trust her, initially? Overall, do you feel she had a positive or negative impact upon him?
9. After his first formal meeting with O'Brien, Winston receives a book, ostensibly written by Emmanuel Goldberg. In reading passages from this book, Winston is further enlightened as to "how" the current society came into being. Focus on these passages, and in particular, on the theory of the High, Middle and Low classes. If true, what does this theory hold for the proles? Is Winston's plan for the proles now altered? Why or why not?
10. Following his capture in Mr. Charrington's spare room, Winston undergoes a process of "philosophical cleansing" and re-education against which he valiantly, but unsuccessfully fights. Discuss Winston's "capitulation" at the hands of O'Brien. How is Winston brought to "love Big Brother?" In sacrificing Julia, how has Winston, in essence, signaled his own end?
11. How would you describe the author's tone in 1984? Does it add to or detract from the character's discourse?
12. In the final analysis, how accurate was Orwell in his vision of the future? In what ways does our contemporary society compare to his idea of society in 1984? Are there examples in which he was correct? What is most opposite? Do you see a potential for aspects of Orwell's "vision" to come true?
13. During his final encounter with O'Brien, Winston argues that, if all else fails, the inherent nature of the individual-the "spirit of man"-is strong enough to undermine a society such as that created by The Party. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Is Winston's belief applicable to the world we live in today? Can you cite examples in our own recent history that support or dismiss Winston's belief in the resiliency and righteousness of the human spirit?
14. Given Winston's own acknowledgment that he is under constant surveillance, and that it would only be a matter of time before the Thought Police caught him, no one in his world could be trusted. Prior to his capture, which character or characters did you envision as betraying Winston? How did you foresee his ultimate demise? Did you, on the contrary, feel that by some chance he would overcome the forces aligned against him, and fulfill his wish to conquer The Party?
2. VISUAL/WRITTEN PROJECT:
I want you to create a project for 1984, which demonstrates that you understand perhaps the most fundamental concept/theme of the novel, which is propaganda and government control.
Here are a few suggestions for your project:
Brotherhood Cartoons. Create political cartoons that may have appeared in a secret publication of the Brotherhood.
Use contemporary political cartoons from newspapers and magazines as models.
Be Warned! Design posters or T-shirts that express the warnings of 1984 that relate specifically to our time. Suggest that their creations include both visual and verbal warnings and that they are specific about what they are warning against.
You can use language and images from the novel.
Research one of the key personalities in world communism: for example, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Joseph Stalin, Fidel Castro, Alexander Dubcek, Mikhail Gorbachev, Eric Honecker, Wojciech Jaruszelski, Mao Zedong, or Ho Chi Minh.
Write a biographical sketch that includes a discussion of how the life or ideas of this leader relate to 1984.
4. Communism in the United States. Find out about the Communist Party in the United States: its beginnings, its history, its key personalities, membership during the Stalin era, the McCarthy years, and the party today.
Combine what you have learned into a report or power point presentation.
You will be presenting this project in front of the class and these will be displayed in my classroom or hallway.
Therefore, not only should you do your best for your own satisfaction, you should also do well because you are going to have an audience!
This project is due on the first day of school at the beginning of class, just like your journal.