5. The Book Was, Originally, Set In A Different Year And Had A Completely Different Name
George Orwell intended to call the book The Last Man in Europe but a discussion with his editor resulted in the use of the name 1984. The book was originally set in 1980 but the date was changed to 1984 – perhaps in part because it was written in 1948 and the reversal of the final two digits made sense in terms of a prediction for the future world.
4. Room 101 Was Real
In the book Room 101 is the infamous torture chamber in the Ministry of Love (Minilove) where victims are forced to face ‘the worst thing in the world’. This is, of course personal to each individual and in the novel Winston Smith is forced to put his head in a cage full of rats.
The aim of Room 101 is to get the victims to force them to betray all that they hold most dear by confronting them with everything that they hate. Winston Smith, unable to bear the thought of having his face gnawed by rats begs that his lover be tortured in his place. With that one request he betrays his most sacred promises and his will to resist is broken.
Room 101 is based on a room with the same number at the BBC in which Orwell worked during the war. The concept of Room 101 is so powerful that it has entered our cultural consciousness and is commonly used to refer to places where people will undergo difficult experiences.
3. 1984 Is One Of The Most Accurate Fictional Descriptions Of Life In A Totalitarian State And Draws Liberally On Real Life Examples
In 1984 the party seeks power at all costs and socialist ideals are subverted to the concept of power for power’s sake. The novel paints a picture of a miserable society where people are subjected, not only to constant propaganda but also constant surveillance. Love in all forms other than for the ‘party’ is considered to be treason; a loving sexual relationship is considered subversive as is taking a solo walk and loyalty to the state is to be put before loyalty to oneself. This is, in all respects a hauntingly accurate summary of life in a totalitarian dictatorship. So much so that readers from Russia wondered how a man who had never lived there could describe their experience so perfectly.
Orwell used some of the most reprehensible practices of repressive regimes to provide inspiration for 1984. So the Kempetai, the secret police who kept an iron hold over wartime Japan, arresting people on suspicion of having ‘unpatriotic thoughts’ provided the basis for the concept of Thought Crime, the confessions of Bukharin et al at their show trials provided the example for ‘Thought Criminals’ while Stalin’s feared NKVD became the ‘Thought Police’.
When Winston Smith is facing interrogation he is repeatedly tormented with the statement 2+2=5. This is taken directly from a Soviet slogan which was used countrywide to encourage workers in the aim to complete the aims of the 5 year plan in 2 years. The Nazi’s also used this convoluted arithmetic to demonstrate the primacy of the will of the Fuhrer – so powerful he could demand that 2+2=5 and it would be so. The ability of totalitarian regimes to exercise this level of thought control truly terrified Orwell.
Orwell uses other Soviet experiences in his book; residents of Oceania are required to participate in regular hate sessions comprising the ‘two minute hate’ and the ‘hate week’. These bear a striking similarity to the loyalty rallies of Soviet Russia. The achievements of Stakhanovite equivalents are celebrated in the wildly overinflated figures published by Miniplenty (the Ministry of Plenty).
At the start of the book Oceania (the home of Big Brother and Winston Smith) is allied to Eastasia. This allegiance ends suddenly but has little impact on the wider population. We are notified of the change when a Hate Week orator starts his speech demonizing Eurasia and switches to Eastasia part way through. The audience accepts the change without protest. At the start of World War II Stalinist Russia was allied with Nazi Germany, the pact lasted until 1941 when the Nazis betrayed the Soviets and invaded Russia in Operation Barbarossa, almost overnight the USSR found itself on the other side of the war.
The Inner Party (upper class) enjoys access to privileges denied to the Outer Party (middle class) and the proletariat. This closely mirrors the inequalities in Soviet Russia where party officials enjoyed access to rare delicacies from across the USSR and received perks such as bigger and better appointed apartments. Of course during Stalin’s leadership of the Soviet Union senior party members were never sure how long they would remain in favor. When a previous favorite was abandoned all references to them in books or photographs would be removed and this was common practice in other similarly repressive regimes such as Mao’s China and Hitler’s Germany. In the novel Winston Smith’s job is to rewrite history in exactly this way.