Plot Summary

Through the experiences of one character in particular, 1984 examines the workings of a totalitarian state in an imagined future. In this future reality, the world has largely been divided between three superpowers: Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. Oceania, where the novel takes place, comprises the Americas, the former United Kingdom, and other regions. As the novel begins, it is at war with Eurasia, whose citizens are portrayed as the epitome of evil. It is also at war, internally, with a resistance movement led by Emmanuel Goldstein, an equally reviled Enemy of the People.

Winston Smith is a 39-year-old man living in London who works for one of the main government agencies, the Ministry of Truth. Each agency’s mission is almost the exact opposite of what its name might imply to the contemporary reader. The Ministry of Truth is involved in the creation of lies; the Ministry of Peace is in charge of war; the Ministry of Love runs a police state and has made a science of torture; and the Ministry of Plenty, in charge of the economy, ensures that there are constant shortages of essential consumer goods. These apparent contradictions are reflected in the three slogans of the Party, which has total control of the government and the society: “War Is Peace,” “Freedom Is Slavery,” and “Ignorance Is Strength.”

The Party’s doctrine is called Ingsoc, short for English Socialism (although, unlike socialism as the contemporary reader knows it, there is no pretense of egalitarianism). The Party’s leader is known as Big Brother, and while posters of his face (with the caption “Big Brother Is Watching You”) are everywhere, he is an entirely symbolic figure who may or may not be alive, and may or may not have ever existed at all. Members of the Inner Party constitute a small, elite clique; they live relatively comfortable lives and are most responsible for the Party’s survival. Members of the Outer Party are a much larger group, but are still a minority. They perform a vast range of routine...

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Essays About 1984