Nineteen Eighty-Four (Literature)

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"If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- forever."

This is the book. One of the most horrifying and depressing codifiers for the Dystopian genre, ever.

After reading Yevgeny Zamyatin's dystopian thriller We, George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four as a Pragmatic Adaptation of the novel for non-Russian audiences. It became one of the most iconic stories in the English language, and introduced the phrases "Big Brother Is Watching You", "Thoughtcrime," "Thought Police," and "doublethink" into the English lexicon (but not "doublespeak").

In spite of it suffering from a bad case of Twenty Minutes Into the Future, as the title alone testifies, Nineteen Eighty-Four remains one of the best and most horrific dystopian works ever.

The BBC adapted the book for television in 1954 with Peter Cushing as Winston Smith. Questions were asked in the House of Commons when it was alleged that one viewer had actually died of shock while watching.

Two film versions were made, in 1956 and (appropriately) 1984. The 1956 version changed the ending, completely ignoring Orwell's point, (on purpose, it turns out), although to some extent proving it. The brilliant and depressing 1984 version of Nineteen Eighty-Four, starring John Hurt as Winston and Richard Burton in his final role as O'Brien, is far more true to the original novel, but is often compared unfavorably to Terry Gilliam's surreal dystopian movie Brazil (which came out one year later, in 1985), which takes a much more subversive and blackly humorous view of Orwell's themes.

Also, this book is frequently compared to Brave New World as a way of showing the perspectives of the dystopia-esque society. Note that Nineteen Eighty-Four shows that what we fear controls us, while Brave New World shows that what we love controls us.

Compare also with Jennifer Government, another Dystopian novel in which it's not the state or a single party, but corporations who control everything.


NOTE: Do not identify this book as being anti-communist or anti-fascist anywhere on this wiki. It's anti-totalitarianism. Orwell was personally a socialist, but thought that both extremes were bad and would inevitably lead to the same thing. The original political leaning of the Party is deliberately vague.


Nineteen Eighty-Four (Literature) is the Trope Namer for:

Tropes used in Nineteen Eighty-Four (Literature) include:
  • Adjusting Your Glasses: O'Brien constantly does this. The narrator remarks about the "curious, disarming friendliness that he always managed to put into the gesture".
  • Affably Evil: O'Brien is the most nightmarish version of this trope imaginable.
  • After the End: The Party has permanently stalled all human progress, and even history itself:

He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.

  • And I Must Scream/Fate Worse Than Death: The entire world. History and progress has been paralyzed, and the inhabitants are dehumanized into mindless drones while being constantly tortured by the warmongering regime and being watched by Big Brother, having no private life whatsoever, spending every day as a form of Mind Rape. And you are fully aware of all of it.
    • It's worth noting that Doublethink is in itself a mental version of And I Must Scream, with Doublethink being essentially self-hypocrisy and the Doublethink practitioners being unconscious drones who sublimate themselves and do whatever Big Brother says as truth, while being fully conscious of the entire process and all the heresies and lies the Party imposes on the citizens. Even more chilling is that some people enjoy it.
  • Arc Words: "Big Brother is watching you", and on a different level:

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

"You know the Party slogan 'Freedom is Slavery." Has it ever occurred to you that it is reversible? Slavery is freedom. Alone – free – the human being is always defeated. It must be so, because every human being is doomed to die, which is the greatest of all failures. But if he can make complete, utter submission, if he can escape from his identity, if he can merge himself in the Party so that he is the Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal."

  • Author Tract: Orwell was never the slightest bit shy in admitting that he wrote primarily in defense of democratic socialism and against totalitarianism.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: The whole point of this book is that moral and/or ethical standards are irrelevant to Realpolitik, and thus the good guys never will remake the world in their image. Ever.
  • Big Beautiful Women: Winston finds the prole woman who sings the "Love Song" outside his apartment to be beautiful in her own way.

Julia: She's a meter across the hips, easily.
Winston: That is her style of beauty.

  • Bigger Bad: Big Brother is never seen in the plot, and it's ambiguous whether he even exists, or is just an icon of the Party.
  • Break the Cutie: The rats finally break Winston. Break the Cutie is pretty much the philosophy of Ingsoc in a nutshell -- it allows Wide Eyed Idealists to exist so that the Party will have the sadistic pleasure of torturing them For the Evulz.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: Winston against the Party's dictatorship. He doesn't even make a dent.
  • Card-Carrying Villain/For the Evulz/Despotism Justifies the Means/Dystopia Justifies the Means: In discussions with Winston during his "re-education", O'Brien drops all pretense that the Party is out for anything other than pure, unrestrained Power. See the page quote for a sampler.
    • There are few purer examples of For the Evulz in literature. In material terms, Inner Party members live not much better than the Outer Party and Proles. O'Brien states plainly that what they want is not luxury or long life or happiness, but only power. "How does one man prove his power over another?" he asks. Winston, after a moment's thought, answers, "By making him suffer." Exactly. The Mind Rape that Winston is put through is not merely a necessary measure to preserve the state, it is the whole point of the system -- that the Party shall have the sadistic pleasure of breaking down resistant minds and reshaping them.
    • O'Brien explicitly states that "Goldstein and his heresies will live forever. Every day, at every moment, they will be defeated, discredited, ridiculed, spat upon- and yet they will always survive". The Party creates its own enemies just so it can have the Evulz of defeating them.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Winston's freakout when a rat shows up in the hiding place.
  • The Chessmaster: O'Brien.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: Everyone in the end.
  • Conveniently Interrupted Document: Winston is reading Goldstein's book, and is just about to learn why the Party is so brutal and totalitarian - upon which he falls asleep, preventing both him and the reader from learning the reason (until later).
  • Despair Event Horizon: The entire world, although Winston doesn't realize this until Room 101.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The hell Winston is put through is astonishing, considering that his rebellious acts -- keeping a diary, having an affair and enjoying it -- are so trivial and furtive that he would pose no threat to the Party at all if he were only left alone. Very likely he would not agitate, or publish samizdat tracts, or even whisper thoughtcrime to his acquaintances. He would just go on and on, writing lies for the Ministry of Truth and meeting up with Julia and wondering wistfully if there is a Brotherhood, until his natural death. But for the Party, mere obedience is not enough.
    • O'Brien seems to imply that what they make Winston go through is not retribution, but rather a twisted sort of intervention. Winston is not actually being punished for a crime; he is being tortured so that he does not grow to commit an actual crime.
      • And as O'Brien explains, they also put him through his ordeal because they can.
      • An even more terrifying possibility: Winston's rebellion started when he saw a picture that directly contradicted established party dogma (even more so than what he usually saw), that appeared to have been passed to him by accident. It's strongly implied that the party intentionally arranged for him to get this. One interpretation is that the Party felt that its existence required opposition to exist, so they intentionally conditioned some people to rebel, just so they could crush them.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Cruelly, relentlessly, absolutely subverted. The Ministry of Love's methodology is specifically crafted to prevent it.
  • Downer Ending:
    • For the protagonists, at least; besides the aforementioned appendix, there just may be a single spot of hope left for the world as indicated subtly by the fact that the proletarian woman's symbolic recurring love song outlasts the popularity of the Hate Song. The Party might fall after all, eventually.
      • And also within the 'Oranges and Lemons' motif. When O'Brien continues Winston's recitation of the rhyme a couple of lines beyond Winston's recollection of it, he exclaims 'You knew the last line!', and O'Brien agrees. But the rhyme as normally told continues a little more ("I'm sure I don't know, said the great bell of Bow", -- that is, interestingly, Bow Bells, the Cockney Londoner's central point.) suggesting that the Inner Party is not as omniscient as it believes.
      • The Michael Radford movie ended with a subtler bleak ending, forgoing the bullet to the brain ending, and instead has Winston looking at the image of Big Brother, then thinking, "I love you! I love you!" Meanwhile, the CIA-funded version of 1984 had Winston and Julia rebelling in a hail of gunfire. Not surprisingly, the Orwell family and everyone else pretended it never existed. Talk about irony.
        • Actually, the book ends as the movie ends; the trial, walk down the hallway, and bullet to the brain only occur in Winston's imagination, and represent his complete demolition. The events of the book (and 1984 movie version) end with him in the Chestnut Tree Cafe, realizing he 'loves' Big Brother.
        • The Brotherhood is this. Although O'Brien implies that it's a myth, it must be borne in mind that O'Brien is lying - the party is not known for its truthfulness. Also possible is a resistance movement that the party does not control (although O'Brien rejects this notion as impractical).
        • The following passage (which, incidentally, comes from the narration): "It was curious to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same--everywhere, all over the world, hundreds or thousands of millions of people just like this, people ignorant of one another's existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same--people who had never learned to think but were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world."
  • Dystopia Is Hard: Interestingly, though, there are shades of this in the book as well (which makes the book an example of using an Unbuilt Trope, since that didn't become popular until 1984 had affected the zeitgeist). Nothing is efficient in Oceania except for the Thought Police, and the few Hope Spots in the book come from the Proles, whom the Party can't really control (or even understand, for that matter). And during Winston's interrogation, O'Brien does - briefly - voice an opinion that the endless war with the other superpowers can't be maintained in perpetuity, and when the breaking point comes, it'll be bad news for the Party.
    • It should be noted that part of this is intentional on the party's part since they want the lower ranked party members to be exhausted and unable to rebel
  • The Eighties: Subverted. Orwell was writing in the 1940s, with the book being published in 1948, and using the year 1984 as a Twenty Minutes Into the Future setting.
    • As revealed in the book Why Not Catch-21?, Orwell really didn't set the story in 1984, nor did he have any particular attachment to the date in question, as one of the titles he was considering for the book up to the publishing date was The Last Man in Britain. He even told foreign publishers that if they wanted to change the title to something other than 1984, he didn't really care.
    • In the book Winston himself isn't entirely sure what year it is, because Minitrue has screwed with history so much. Why the Party would keep a dating system based upon the birth date of Jesus Christ (someone the Party would like very much for people to forget) as opposed to resetting the calendar completely, is another issue, especially since they've gone out of their way to alter everything else about life in former Britain (including the language itself).
  • Electric Torture: And pretty much every other kind of torture you can think of.
  • Empty Shell: The Ministry of Love mass manufactures these out of dissenters.

"You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves."

  • Enfant Terrible: Parson's kids. They're little hellians whom Winston believes will kill their own mother one way or another within a couple of years. And that's before they turn their father over to the Thought Police.
  • The Everyman: Winston Smith. See Meaningful Name.
  • Evil Will Fail: This book is an infamous aversion of this trope: the evil Big Brother governments of the world have things so completely under control and so tightly locked into their plans, that the book ends with the "resistance" depicted as a myth and the protagonist of the story successfully brainwashed into obedience.
  • The Evils of Free Will: This seems to be one of the few things that O'Brien and the Party actually believe in, besides their utterly cynical For the Evulz motivation.
  • False Friend: O'Brien.
  • Fan Service: In the film. Julia is quite clearly naked in some scenes.
  • Fat Bastard: Subverted with Parsons, who seems to be pretty affable.
  • Faux Affably Evil: O'Brien talks to Winston in a calm, sometimes cordial tone throughout his torture in the Ministry of Love.
  • Female Misogynist: Julia says that she hates women.
  • Foreshadowing: Julia, albeit unintentionally. "I bet that picture's got bugs behind it."
    • Under the spreading chestnut tree, I sold you and you sold me...
      • Made even better by Winston spending all his time at the Chestnut Tree Cafe at the end.
    • O'Brien telling Winston and Julia about how they will be captured, tortured, etc. after joining The Brotherhood.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: O'Brien.
  • Freud Was Right: Invoked. Julia theorizes that the Party keeps people in a state of warlike hysteria and power hunger though subjecting them to sexual deprivation. She even calls it "sex gone sour."
  • Genius Bruiser: O'Brien.
  • Genre Blind: Winston.
  • Good Bad Girl: Julia.
  • Heel Face Mole: O'Brien.
  • Hope Spot: Pretty much the entire second part.
    • In the third part there is one caused by a typo: after Winston is released, he at one point subconsciously writes "2 + 2 = ", hinting that he may not have been completely conditioned. According to the foreword of one of Penguin Books recent editions of the book, this is actually a typo that has spread to several translated editions. What he wrote was "2 + 2 = 5". Talk about a downer.
  • Info Dump: Goldstein's book.
  • Internal Reformist: Julia, who works for the Party to survive but does things considered illegal when she is not being monitored. Winston tries to be this, but fails.
  • Internal Retcon: Winston's job is to receive reports of new articles that do not match the current party line, and to fix the mistakes or to write a new article as a replacement of the Unperson. He also notices the same being applied to announcements on telescreens, where some rations are cut back but still shown to be greater than last year.
    • At one point during a rally, the Party, having always been at war with Eurasia, suddenly has always been at war with Eastasia. As in mid-speech (the speaker is handed a note with the change). And -- as Winston notes with horror -- his audience instantly goes along with it, because Big Brother is watching them and Big Brother is always right.
      • The rally in question took tons of preparation, which involved creating banners damning Eurasia, among other propaganda. Once Eastasia has been named as the enemy, the crowd becomes aghast that their banners now falsely name Eurasia and believe Goldstein's heretical group is to blame for them being wrong.
  • Ironic Echo: "We shall meet again in the place where there is no darkness." It's a brightly-lit prison cell.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: "Here comes a candle to light you to bed, here comes a chopper to chop off your head!"
    • Similarly "Under the spreading chestnut tree/I sold you and you sold me."
  • Jail Bake: Winston, after being imprisoned, thinks that the Brotherhood might send him a razor blade hidden in his food, not to escape but to kill himself with. It doesn't happen.
  • Karma Houdini: See The Bad Guy Wins. The Party, O'Brien, and Big Brother all go off scot-free due to the way the system is set up. At least, until the Newspeak Appendix implied the Party's fall...
  • Kick the Dog
  • Kicked Upstairs: After getting arrested, tortured and brainwashed, unorthodox Party members are allowed to hang around for several years, and are allowed to spend as much time drinking in the Chestnut Tree Cafe as they can while given jobs which sound important but are really sinecures.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Winston, in his youth. During a flashback he remembers how he was driving his family (mother and little sister) out of house and home and was generally a greedy brat.
    • The children of Oceania are brought up to mistrust and spy on their own parents. Family values and loyalty are discouraged in favor of sadistically ratting out the other members of one's family.
  • Knight Templar: Subverted. The party claims that they have the people's best interests at heart, but in reality, they pursue power for its own sake.
  • La Résistance: The Brotherhood, which may or may not actually exist, led by Emmanuel Goldstein, the supposed author of "the book" who also may or may not actually exist.
  • Light Is Not Good: "The place where there is no darkness" is not a place you ever want to end up. Ever.
  • Malevolent Mugshot
  • Manipulative Bastard: O'Brien, and by extensive the entire Party.
  • Meaningful Name: Winston Smith, from "Winston Churchill" and "Smith", The Everyman. Julia from Romeo and Juliet. Emmanuel Goldstein from "Bronstein" (Trotsky's given surname) and anarchist Emma Goldman, who was prominent in Orwell's time.
  • Mind Rape: The last third of the novel may be the the most disturbing and prolonged Mind Rape ever put to paper.
    • The Party is subjecting the entire Oceanian population to a form of Mind Rape, with the goal of making them mindless and obedient like cattle.
  • More Than Mind Control
  • My Girl Is a Slut: Winston to Julia.

"The more men you've had, the more I love you."

  • Necessarily Evil: If O'Brien is correct, the Brotherhood has no choice but to commit the most heinous of acts to defeat The Party.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: O'Brien, who by doublethink, is also the Determinator of the story. Obviously, Ingsoc's motive (Will to Power) and worldview (Despair Event Horizon) reeks of extreme Nietzschean nihilism.
    • Ironic, since Nietzsche's ideas about the self would be just about the most subversive thing possible in the eyes of this regime.
  • No Name Given: Julia's last name and O'Brien's first name are not revealed.
  • Oh Crap: Winston and Julia's reaction to the fact that there was a telescreen in their hiding place the whole time.
  • Only Sane Man

Winston: Sanity is not statistical.

    • O'Brien later convinces Winston that he is more like the "Only Insane Man".
  • Post-Mortem Conversion: Winston (who works for a propaganda office) pulls out a name and photo of a random dead guy and makes him a great war hero and party loyalist.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Since the movie obviously cannot devote itself to lengthy info breaks like the novel does, it spends more time cultivating atmosphere and showing just how miserable life is in Airstrip One. Also, many of Winston's thought processes are lost, making him more of an Audience Surrogate - the fact that he's magnificently played by John Hurt (who even looks like George Orwell) is an added bonus.
    • The ending is subtly different, changing the meaning but not the outcome. Winston writes 2 + 2 = (as opposed to "2 + 2 = 5," which was Orwell's intent), and thinks "I love you!" after Julia leaves (rather than realizing that he loves Big Brother). Whilst the film doesn't depict his brainwashing as absolute, it shows him in an enforced state of doublethink - he subconsciously remembers that 2 + 2 isn't 5 and that he was in love with Julia, but has been broken into unconsciously repressing both memories. Downer Ending indeed.
  • Rage Within the Machine
  • Room 101: The Trope Namer, where Winston and Julia are faced with their worst fears and made to betray each other.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: Winston's duckspeaking colleague.
  • Staged Populist Uprising: The "resistance's" book claims that all revolutions are just the middle class using the lower class as a tool to supplant the upper class. IngSoc is designed to prevent this with the meritocratic Inner Party selection process and intense surveillance of the Outer and Inner Parties.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: The Party imposes this on its members, including Winston, in the end.
  • To the Pain: O'Brien's explanation in the Ministry of Love of exactly what is going to happen to Winston is pretty discomfiting.
  • Torture Technician: O'Brien.
  • The Treachery of Images
  • Two Plus Torture Makes Five: Though George Orwell used it before in essays, this is the book it's most remembered from.
  • Unnamed Parent: Winston's mother.
  • Unperson: Trope Codifier; Josef Stalin used the term long before this book was written.
  • Unreliable Expositor: Do Eurasia and Eastasia actually exist, or are they made up by the Party, which actually controls the whole world? Alternatively, does Oceania even exist, and does the Party actually control less than it says does? The whole point is that the information given out by the Party is unreliable, and seeing how the only information the reader receives comes from the Party, nobody knows for sure any details about "the world" of 1984. The Party may not control any territory outside the British Isles. It may not even control the whole of the UK. Seeing as Winston never leaves London, we'll never know.
  • The Un-Reveal: Whether or not a resistance movement actually exists is left completely ambiguous.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Inverted. Winston believes that despite the horrible atrocities the Party has done, its mission is this, but what the Party actually wants is only power.
  • Wham! Line: "It's behind the picture." It Makes Sense in Context.
    • "I love you."
    • "They got me a long time ago."
    • "You are the dead."
    • "Do it to Julia!"
    • "You do not exist."
    • The book ends with a rather chilling one: "He loved Big Brother."
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Winston is terrified of rats which is used against him in the most horrible way possible in Room 101.
  • Wicked Cultured: O'Brien.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Poor Winston. Apparently even falling in love is considered wide-eyed idealism in and on itself.
  • Wine Is Classy: Not only do the members of the Inner Party (the political elite of the totalitarian state) get assigned much better dwellings, clothes, food, coffee, chocolate and tobacco than the members of the Outer Party (i.e. the mere White Collar Workers), but also while the members of the Outer Party drink gin (and the blue-collar proles drink beer!), the members of the Inner Party drink... wine, what else?
  • With Us or Against Us: Why "War is Peace" literally works.
  • A World Half Full: The index that Orwell insisted be added to all versions of the novel - the one containing the article explaining Newspeak. This confused a lot of people...until they realized...hey, it's written in the past tense...
  • Wrench Wench: Julia, who is a mechanic that works on the automatic writing machines that churn out prolefeed.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Goldstein's Brotherhood seems to be set up by the Party itself in order to identify possible dissidents; either people reject Goldstein and are loyal Party members, or they try to join Goldstein, alerting the Party to their treason. This also has precedent in real life, as the Cheka, forerunner of the KGB, did the same thing in the '20s when the party was cementing its power over everyday life.
  • You Are Worth Hell: This is Winston's attitude about Julia until it's brutally subverted by what happens to him in Room 101.
  • You Cannot Kill an Idea: Subverted. The Party can and does.
  • You Keep Using That Word: Orwell preferred to use precise language when talking politics and didn't really like the (over)use of metaphors because they lost all their meaning and became just another way that thought was restricted. It's doubtful that he'd like the way his name gets thrown around by people today.
    • See also: Politics and the English Language.
    • For any proposed change in government policy, the opposing side will call it "Big Brother" or Orwellian, especially if it has anything to do with collecting information or regulating industry. An explanation is unlikely, a citation of the book even less so.

We shall meet again in the place where there is no darkness.