Nineteen Eighty-Four (Literature)/Setting

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The year is 1984... maybe. All that's definitively understood is that we are on what used to be the British Isles, now known as Airstrip One, a few decades after a Revolution that took place during the global nuclear wars following World War II and left the world in the hands of three superpowers called Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia, or so everyone seems to remember; in reality, only four years ago Oceania was at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia... but in this world, reality is a very malleable concept.

As everyone in Oceania knows, there is only one Party and only one leader, the omnipresent godlike Big Brother. Oceania's rigid society is divided into the Inner Party, the ruling elite; the Outer Party, the lower government officials and bureaucrats, the closest thing there is to a middle class; and the 'proles', the poor and uneducated lower classes who make up the vast majority of the population, monitored for signs of unrest but otherwise left contemptuously alone ("proles and animals are free", runs the relevant Party slogan). Everyone is conditioned through a carefully manipulated mixture of fear and gratitude to love their leader, Big Brother, as their only protector against total chaos.

Opposition to the Party is discouraged by keeping everyone outside the Inner Party constantly on the brink of starvation and exhaustion. Any resultant discontent is easily answered since "there's a war on, after all." The proles are kept sedated with mindless entertainment and cheap booze, and the Outer Party members survive on a principle called 'doublethink' - a defense mechanism that consciously suppresses the idea that there might be any differences between the Party line and reality. There are no longer any laws, but everyone in the Party is hyper-aware that the faintest glimmer of discontent or even individualism, known as "thoughtcrime," might lead to becoming an "Unperson", which is not only to be destroyed but to have one's life rewritten out of existence.

The Party's ideology, called IngSoc, or English Socialism, has moved beyond the social experiments of past totalitarian regimes, and aims to completely reshape people's ability to perceive the world around them. History is continually rewritten - often outright made up - by the Party so that Big Brother is always right, has always made the right predictions, and always implemented the right policies, for which the citizenry are always appropriately grateful. No evidence to the contrary, in any media, is allowed to remain. As part of this effort, a new language, Newspeak, is being constructed, with the express intent of removing all "superfluous" shades of meaning, especially concepts related to political freedom. The ultimate goal is the elimination of the ability even to think about an anti-authority concept, let alone express it in words.

Tropes comprising the setting of Nineteen Eighty-Four include:
  • Airstrip One: The British Isles have been renamed to this in order to cut any ties to their former political identity.
  • Apathetic Citizens: The Proles.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: A key component of doublethink is to "tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them".
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Trope Namer.
  • Blatant Lies: The whole purpose of the Ministry of Truth and the scary thing is no one questions them.
  • Bread and Circuses: The Proles. The Ministry of Truth has a section that produces crappy entertainment for them: newspapers that only contain crime, sports and horoscopes, sensationalistic novels, films "oozing with sex", sentimental songs made by machines and porn.
  • Crapsack World: Living in the world of 1984 is worse than living in a Cosmic Horror Story. At least most Cosmic Horror Stories have an apathetic universe where you still have privacy and can think whatever you want.
  • Dieselpunk: The tech level of Oceania at least is permanently stuck here.
  • Dystopia: Trope Codifier.
  • The Empire: Oceania, and how!
    • Though Winston does at one point wonder if the Empire really exists and perhaps Airstrip One is all there is to Oceania. It's kept ambiguous.
  • Equal Opportunity Evil: Goldstein's book tells that the Party accepts Jews, blacks and Indios in their ranks, if only to avoid that some people feel oppressed by other races / cultures / nationalities.
  • Fictional Political Party: 'The Party'. Simply 'The Party' since they've long since gotten rid of the competition, forming a totalitarian regime. Judging from what little history we can discern, they were originally a far left/communist party which formed in Britain or Europe, eventually succeeding in revolution. Of course, their communist beliefs about social equality were all just a sham, or have long since become one - the only thing The Party wants is power.
    • Bear in mind that even this little snippet comes from a document that is very probably a fabrication by the party themselves. It is heavily implied that the original "Party" was simply a clique of amoral intellectuals who took power via a coup d'etat.
  • Fictionary: The Newspeak dictionary.
  • Foe Yay: Invoked. The purpose of the Two Minutes' Hate is to channel the citizens' sexual impulses into their hatred for the state's enemies.
  • Forever War: causes a totalitarian Hell.
  • Huge Holographic Head: The face of Big Brother is displayed on huge screens to comfort the citizens after the Two Minutes' Hate is over.
  • Industrialized Evil: While the party has very specifically created tortures for dissidents, the entire apparatus is one huge example of human degradation for its own sake.
  • I Reject Your Reality: On a society-wide scale.
  • Ironic Nickname:
    • All of the Ministries bear such names.
      • The Ministry of Truth rewrites the past.
      • The Ministry of Peace is in charge of the armed forces.
      • The Ministry of Plenty rations to maintain Perpetual Poverty.
      • Worst of all (on a personal basis), The Ministry of Love is responsible for the torture and brainwashing of dissidents.
    • Fridge Brilliance: They may be ironic names, but all of them are truthful from a certain point of view (that's what doublethink is for, after all):
      • The Ministry of Truth publishes the truth according to the Party and the Big Brother.
      • The Ministry of Peace makes sure that there is no peace.
      • The Ministry of Plenty makes sure that there is never plenty of anything.
      • The Ministry of Love makes sure everybody loves Big Brother more than anything else.
    • Big Brother himself; the friendly, protective family member stereotype is so completely subsumed by the bullying one that, due to the novel's term being a pervasive Ascended Meme in its own right, the term on its own has no meaning: you can't tell whether someone's using it affectionately or making a reference to 1984 without context.
  • Just the First Citizen: Big Brother, according to the Party's faux-egalitarian ideology. It's unclear whether he exists at all, but if he did, he would be near-omnipotent.
  • Language Equals Thought: The entire purpose of Newspeak is to reconfigure the way people think by controlling the language in which they express their thoughts; the intended logical conclusion of this is that thoughtcrime will eventually be impossible, because there will no longer be any words in which to express it.
  • Lie Back and Think of England: Party women are encouraged to do this when they have sex. "Goodthinkful" women are taught to call it "our duty to the Party."
    • Men aren't really encouraged to enjoy it either. The Party wants sex to be seen as a dirty but necessary act, like vomiting or getting an enema.
    • At one point, O'Brien claims the Party plans to abolish the orgasm, making sex a purely reproductive act devoid of pleasure for anyone.
  • The Metric System Is Here to Stay: Some focus is given to everybody having to use the metric system. Orwell was against the complete scrapping of Imperial units, though he supported the use of the metric system in scientific work.
    • The prole's diatribe against the half-litre is meant to highlight the proles' small-mindedness and lack of vision. The prole in the pub is overworked, underfed, and completely without hope of a better life, yet his main complaint about Ingsoc is the difference between the half-litre and the pint. This is reinforced by the fact that there's almost no difference between the two. A half-litre is 0.9 Imperial pints, or 1.05 American pints.
  • Neologism: Invented terms like "Big Brother," "Thought Police," and "doublethink" and popularized "Unperson." Just look at all the tropes this book has named...
  • Newspeak: Trope Namer.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Aside from Big Brother being a clear Expy of Josef Stalin, Emmanuel Goldstein is pretty clearly based on Lev Trotsky. He even has a Jewish surname.
  • No Sex Allowed: All intercourse within the Outer Party is strictly regulated only for the development of children. There's a lecture in a part of the book talking about trying to remove the orgasm to prevent any pleasure being derived from sex.
  • Not So Different: The rival countries. Oceania may be bad, but the implication is that the two other superstates, Eurasia and Eastasia, are almost exactly identical to it. The three states are always at war with each other, with nobody ever winning. If you live in one of the areas the three states are always fighting over, you are a slave in both body and mind to whoever has power over the area at the current time.
    • It is heavily implied that an unspoken gentleman's agreement exists between the three states that they will never make a serious effort to destroy the others - this is the reason no state ever uses mass conscription or WMDs - because the war is part of the Evil Plan for the three of them to keep the standard of living down and mobilize the hatred of the population. Goldstein's book even mentions that Oceania could probably conquer all of Europe up to the Polish frontier, or that Eastasia could likely seize Australia, but that neither state does so for fear of upsetting the Balance of Power.
    • Of course, we don't actually know anything of the other two powers, or indeed how finely balanced the Balance of Power actually is.
  • Peace and Love Incorporated: Minitrue, Miniluv, and Minipax.
  • Schizo-Tech: The Party has a machine that writes trashy novels (to keep the proles happy) but farms are still worked by using horse plows.
    • Justified in that working the farms keeps the proles busy and poor and writing trashy novels the old fashioned way would potentially lead to dangerous thoughts in the writers.
  • Screens Are Cameras: The telescreens.
  • Secret Police: The Thought Police.
  • Sex Is Evil: The Party wants to suppress the sex drive. O'Brien states that the Party neurologists are working on the abolition of the orgasm. One of The Party's prominent youth movements is the Junior Anti-Sex League, who want all reproduction done by artificial insemination.
  • Shadow Dictator: Big Brother.
  • Sinister Surveillance: Surveillance cameras, hidden microphones and two-way "telescreens" exist in every home and in every street, spying on citizens, monitoring their every move and showering them with propaganda slogans. The Proles are lucky in that they have no telescreens, and only members of the Inner Party are able to (temporarily) turn their telescreens off.
  • Space-Filling Empire: The whole world has been split into three superpowers: Oceania (North and South America, Great Britain, South Africa and Australia), Eurasia (the Soviet Union, mainland Europe and North Africa), and Eastasia (China and surrounding Asian nations, down to India and the Pacific Islands).
  • Strange Syntax Speaker: Newspeak, though it isn't used often in the novel.
  • Strawman Political: The entire point of the book. Big Brother is the Strawman Totalitarian. He's also a Strawman Communist or a Strawman Fascist depending on what aspects of IngSoc you focus more on.
    • There's a sort of Lampshade Hanging on this when O'Brien explains that, unlike previous totalitarian regimes in history, the Party is knowingly out for power for itself without any delusions of Utopia Justifies the Means.
  • Super Fun Happy Thing of Doom: Played very un-comedically with the Ministries. The Ministry of Plenty's business is to maintain shortages; the Ministry of Truth concerns itself with censorship and propaganda; the Ministry of Peace maintains perpetual war; and the Ministry of Love is... housed in a windowless building with swaths of barbed wire all around it and is a secret prison with torture chambers.
  • Twenty Minutes Into the Future: Although apparently this was a case of Executive Meddling, Supposedly Orwell wanted to set the book in 1948, but was told he couldn't, so he just switched the last two digits around to arrive at the new date/title. The fact that Winston himself isn't sure what year it is is remarked on several times.
  • We Will Use Wiki Words in the Future: One of the main purposes of Newspeak; condensing words makes it easier to utter them automatically without much thought, and to make communicating against the party impossible.
    • Being an Anglophile, this was one of Orwell's biggest fears.
  • Working Class People Are Morons: The proles are completely useless and indeed, according to Goldstein's book, the poor lower classes always have been.
    • Despite his left-wing views, Orwell was often criticized for his negative views of the English working-class, in particular the idea that they would just naturally degrade into ignorance and filth. Chalk it up to that Eton College education...
    • The fact that Winston sees them as the best hope for the future says something.
  • Wretched Hive: The prole neighborhoods, in sharp contrast to the mechanistically controlled Party neighborhoods.
  • Zeerust: Inter-office communication is sent on paper in glass tubes (no computers).
    • The Ministry of Truth uses 'novel-writing machines' to keep churning out low-grade literature to keep the proles busy. You can tell who works in the Fiction Department by the oil-stains on their overalls.
    • This makes sense in the context of the story though: the Party doesn't encourage the development of labor-saving technology (except for surveillance/law-enforcement purposes and some plans for new weapons of war which really aren't likely to produce anything) because half their time is spent intentionally trying to burn resources to make the war seem more real.
    • Also a case of Truth in Television. Pneumatic Tube Transport (the system described in the novel) was used in many offices from the early twentieth century right up to the late nineties. It's still used in many banks and supermarkets to transport cash. E-mail has supplanted it completely for the transfer of documents, though.
    • When Julia and Winston meet in the woods, they know that they're safe from listening devices because the trees are too small to hide a microphone. By the actual year 1984, microphones were sufficiently miniaturized that they could be hidden even in small trees.