Top 10 Facts about George Orwell’s Novel 1984
1984 is one of the 20th Century’s greatest novels. Together with Animal Farm Orwell’s other well-known anti-communist novel it comprises a frightening example of a world where totalitarianism has run rampant. In a drab city in a drab state an oppressed man discovers a small spark of his unique humanity before he is tortured back into line. As we follow the hero on his journey we acknowledge the ultimate futility of his attempt to fight the system, a fight he was always doomed to lose.
1984 can be read on many levels, a thriller, a love story, a predictive novel, a searing satire or warning of the potential for a dystopian future. Orwell dedicated himself and his writing to the fight against totalitarianism and the promotion of true socialism. He was inspired to write the book as a protest against the unthinking English liberal acceptance of the existence of Stalin’s Russia and the failure to acknowledge the true nature of their ally against fascism.
A book very much of its time it has, nevertheless, stood the test of time and is as relevant now as it was when it was published in 1949. The book is extensively studied and used in many Western Schools as an aid to teach pupils about the tactics and techniques employed by totalitarian regimes worldwide.
With that in mind here are our top 10 interesting facts about 1984.
10. Orwell Understood The Seductive Nature Of And The Ultimate Consequences Of The Use Of Power
The young George Orwell (then known by his birth name of Eric Blair) spent 4 and a half years working for the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. This gave his a significant degree of personal responsibility over people and their circumstances at a comparatively young age. As a policeman George Orwell was required to witness hangings. He wrote about the experience in two short pieces, firstly the short story ‘The Hanging’ published in 1931 and again in 1946, this time as part of his ‘As I please’ newspaper column. In his writings on the subject Orwell shows the process by which he came to realize how monumental an undertaking it was to execute a man in cold blood and what it is like to have total power over someone else.
In his book ‘Shooting an Elephant and Other Stories’ Orwell talks candidly about his time in Burma and about how sights such as the scarred buttocks of men who had been caned and prisoners stuck in awful cages made him feel that the society he served and the power he wielded was an evil thing. He learned how to hate both the regime he served and the people it oppressed but be completely powerless to do anything about it. He later said ‘I have been part of an oppressive system and it has left me with a bad conscience….I was conscious of an immense weight of guilt that I had got to expiate.’
This is what makes the description of the wielding and abuse of power in 1984 so hauntingly real – it is based on Orwell’s real life experiences.
9. While A Committed Socialist Orwell Understood The Fickle Nature Of Totalitarianism
His experiences in Burma caused George Orwell to develop a lifelong commitment to and deep belief in socialism. Like many British socialists he travelled to Spain to serve with the POUM (Party of Marxist Unification in the Spanish Civil War (he claimed, he went to ‘Fight Against Fascism’).
Somewhat confusingly the Spanish Communist Party, pursuing a Russian foreign policy wanted to dial back the revolution with the aim of securing the friendship of Britain and France. While Orwell was in Barcelona the communist party in Spain (and abroad) started spreading rumors about POUM and claiming that it was hand in hand with the fascists. The rumors were directed in a very personal manner and the communist party tried to use the opportunity to wipe out key POUM men including Orwell. Having been branded a fascist by the communists Orwell was so disgusted by their conduct that he decided to join a different front altogether.
As a result of his direct interaction with communism in Spain Orwell realized, relatively early on compared with other western socialists that Communist Russia was no worker’s paradise but every bit as dangerous to the right of individual liberty as a fascist state. He had also experienced, first hand, the fickle nature of totalitarian regimes that allow them to turn on their friends in an instant and recast them in the guise of enemies, rewriting history. These themes shine through in 1984.
8. 1984 Is Orwell’s Attempt To Rationalize His Belief That Change Is Inevitable. It Was A Prediction For A Possible Future Rather Than One Set In Stone, Some Of The Predictions Are Incredibly Accurate
The book serves as a chilling warning to those who were being seduced by the imaginary benefits of a totalitarian society with the end resulting in a travesty of his deeply held socialist ideals.
At the time Orwell returned from Spain he realized that nobody was interested in what he had to say about the dangers of totalitarianism and the ruthless betrayals perpetrated by the communists. The overwhelming narrative that the media wanted to publish was left good, right bad. Orwell was one of the first British socialists to try to combat this perception. His two great novels 1984 and Animal Farm were written in part to address this problem and warn people that they had to be wary of all extreme totalitarian systems.
Orwell firmly believed that the British political system could not survive the war, he was convinced it would go; the only question being whether through a top down fascist coup or a bottom up socialist revolution. He later admitted that war and revolution are not inseparable and one does not automatically lead to the other. In 1984 Orwell attempts to explore what can happen when socialist ideals are perverted and how change and totalitarianism could combine to give rise to a possible nightmare future where the original aims of the revolution are betrayed by those who perpetuate its existence.
The post war carve up of spheres of influence and the cold war (a phrase coined by Orwell in a 1945 essay) swayed Orwell’s division of the world in 1984 into three separate spheres of control (analogous to real life superpowers Russia and the US and, to some extent predicting the rise of China) engaged in a perpetual war of changing allegiances. 1984 even anticipated the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) balance that kept the real life Cold War cold and ensured that atomic weapons were never launched. In the novel the superpowers had made liberal use of atomic weapons in the past but agreed to suspend their use as it might lead to the ascendency of one of the three powers. They all need the state of constant war to maintain power and drive their imbalanced economies. Peace would be a disaster.
7. 1984 Is One Of The World’s Most Universally Acclaimed Novels And Is Loved And Hated In Equal Measure
1984 is a critically acclaimed novel and has an enduring popularity with readers. It has been voted one of the 100 best novels for the time period from 1923-2005. Editors voted 1984 the 13th best of the top 100 modern novels and readers elevated the book’s position even further to number 6. In a ‘Big Read’ survey of UK readers 1984 came in at number 8.
The book is however, hated as much as it is loved. Parents in Florida challenged the dystopian novel for being ‘pro-communist’ and for having explicit sexual scenes. This stance is somewhat ironic given that the book was banned in the Soviet Union and was subject to restrictions in many Warsaw Pact nations for being seen as an anti-Stalin polemic. Indeed the book had a checkered history in the USSR being alternately condemned and studied.
After Stalin’s death the Soviets started to paint Orwell’s future 1984 as a prediction for the future of America, a state full of sexually corrupt capitalists who would be subject to endless scrutiny by the FBI and conflating the Pentagon with the ‘Ministry of Peace’ from the book. Later Soviet critics attributed the book’s criticisms of totalitarian communism as a treatise against fascism and compared the cult of personality for Big Brother to Chairman Mao not Stalin.
6. 1984 Draws Heavily On The Influence Of Other Dystopian Fiction
1984 is heavily influenced by the dystopian book We by Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin. We describes a future humanity governed by a ‘benefactor’ and reduced to a series of numbers in place of names. All daily activities are monitored by the government and even sexual relations are rationed. Orwell was certainly aware of the book as he reviewed it in1946 and considered it to be an influence for Huxley’s Brave New World.
There are, however, key differences. 1984 was set only a few decades, not centuries in the future, and Orwell is a much superior wordsmith capable of formulating his ideas into a credible, if frightening, vision of the future. We attracted very little attention, other than from the censors. Perhaps because it was published in a free country Orwell’s book had an immediate, powerful and worldwide cultural impact as a primer of all the worst possible ideas for the governance of humanity.