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Barron's Booknotes-1984 by George Orwell-Free Book Notes
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THEMES

Orwell's stated purpose dictates the major theme. He wants to warn people what can happen when governments are given too much power. He wants to show us how such governments can develop, and what methods they use to keep the people they are governing in their power. As you read THE CHARACTERS and THE STORY, a section-by-section discussion of 1984, you'll find this major theme discussed at length, along with several other themes the author has developed.

1. AS WARNING AGAINST TOTALITARIAN

GOVERNMENTS

You'll find the Party in Orwell's novel is all-powerful because it's run by a group whose major purpose is to gain and keep power. Their methods are harsh and efficient. They crush anybody who tries to commit an independent act (this includes keeping a diary or having an affair). Orwell describes the political history and psychological underpinnings in Goldstein's book, extracted at length in Part Two, IX.

2. AS DESCRIPTION OF TOTALITARIAN

METHODS

We see how this works as we follow the story of Winston Smith-how the Party keeps watch over everybody and what methods it uses to keep individuals in line.


3. AS DESCRIPTION OF ONE MAN'S

LONELINESS

Winston's memories of a happier past, his dreams and his hopes, lead him to fight the system. He seeks out O'Brien because he is lonely for somebody to talk to; this is spelled out in Part Three. In Part Two he has an affair with Julia, because he:

a. Is lonely and wants somebody to love.

b. Wants to fight the system through all illegal affair.

c. Is both lonely and wants to fight the system. (As you read Part Two, you can form arguments to support all these themes.)

4. AS DESCRIPTION OF WHAT HAPPENS TO

ANYBODY WHO FAILS TO OBEY A TOTALITARIAN GOVERNMENT

In Part Three especially, this is spelled out as Winston is tortured and brainwashed. He is being punished for asking questions and for daring to have independent thoughts.

5. AS THE STORY OF ONE MAN BRINGING ON

HIS OWN DOOM

Starting in Part One, when Winston begins the diary, reading through Part Two, in which he begins his affair and tries to contact the secret Brotherhood that opposes the Party, you'll find strong indications that Winston brings his capture and brainwashing on himself through defiant acts. Given the fact that his story has to end badly to emphasize Orwell's message of warning, you may believe Winston is being a brave rebel who would rather die than live under Party rule. It's also perfectly respectable to believe that Winston, in his loneliness, may be committing a form of suicide. A third way of looking at this is that Winston brings on his own capture, brainwashing, and conversion because in his heart he wants to be just like everybody else.

Remember that very few novels can be reduced to answers by- the-numbers. Good fictional characters like Winston, are as well-rounded as real human beings, which means their moods and their motives are complicated and changeable. Your own personal responses and opinions are going to be important as you respond to George Orwell's novel.

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Barron's Booknotes-1984 by George Orwell-Free Book Notes
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