Sample Questions

1. The date 1984 has now past. There has been no Third World War, no Western Revolution, and totalitarian systems are not more but less common than fifty years ago. Given this, to what extent is Nineteen Eighty- Four still valid as a piece of satire and allegory?

It is inevitable that this question could become just a discussion of contemporary politics and society rather than of the literature of the novel itself. Try and look for constant themes of human experience within Nineteen Eighty-Four: Winston's struggle with the nature of reality and perception; the power of torture on the human mind; the nature of love against oppression; the yearning after a Golden Country.

Try to avoid too much of the application of the ideas within the book to a conspiracy theory reading of the modern world. Nothing can change the fact that it was written when it was, and without the benefit of clairvoyance. With this caveat in mind, there are certain aspects of the modern world that Orwell's satire can still throw light on:

Traditional totalitarianism regimes still do exist, even if they are becoming the exception rather than the rules, and Orwell's perceptions apply to any regime which seeks to confine individual liberty on any level.

Nineteen Eighty-Four was written from within a capitalist system that Orwell also criticised throughout his life. Advanced capitalism holds within itself elements of totalitarianism: the pervasive collusion of nations in the colonisation, exploitation and inculcation of its capitalist norms onto traditional ways of life. For all the defeat of totalitarianism, socialism has still yet to be achieved in any meaningful sense. We are constantly bombarded by slogans and startling new 'facts' about how the world is, with little or no access to the sources of the truth. CCTV is widespread, and our own 'telescreens' pump a stream of propaganda at us. Whilst it may not be uniform or from one Party, it still works to shape our perception of reality. History is still manipulated by the victor, the status quo is still maintained through a cultivation of fear of the 'heretic'.

Examine Goldstein's 'Theory of Oligarchical Collectivism' (The Book). How much still seems relevant to the distribution of power and money in today's society? Do we live in a democracy or an oligarchy? Think in particular about Goldstein's exploration of a non-inherited system of power: 'The essence of oligarchical rule is not father-to-son inheritance, but the persistence of a certain world-view... Who wields power is not important, provided that the hierarchical structure remains always the same.' Think also about the interchange of the High, Middle, and Lower strata of society as outlined by Goldstein. Now we are told that we are all 'middle- class', and the middle class strive for personal gain, who is left to strive for equality?

In the Appendix to the novel, Orwell himself gives examples of Newspeak-style words: Comintern, Nazi, Gestapo, Agitprop. Think how language continues to be used to obscure access to the truth. What are 'real terms'? Why are trains 're-timed' rather than just 'late'?

Just as Orwell identified, Doublethink is still a key feature of any ideology, particularly an extreme one. Consider sources of doublethink - political rhetoric, religion, commercial advertising, journalism.

2. 'If there is hope it lies in the proles.' Is there hope?

This question is best approached with more direct relevance to the text, rather than too much discussion of the class structure in the real world.

At 85 percent of the population, sheer number would seem to be on their side, as is their freedom from many of the restrictions imposed on Party members. 'The proles, if only they could somehow become conscious of their own strength, would have no need to conspire. They needed only to rise up and shake themselves like a horse shaking off flies. If they chose to they could blow the Party to pieces tomorrow morning.'

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