1984 Discussion Questions 1. How does Orwell depict the relationship between the three classes in the society of Oceania: the Inner Party, the Outer Party, and the Proles? For what reasons, for example, are the proles allowed relative freedom in this society which is totalitarian in nature? (See especially Part One, Chapter 8.) 2. O’Brien tells Winston, in the Ministry of Love, that the Party wants power solely for its own sake. No society so far in history has sought this goal. If Oceania is an extension of tendencies in societies presently in existence, what features of these contemporary societies is Orwell warning us against? (See, as a start, O’Brien’s comments during Winston’s retraining, in Part 3.) 3. The Party wages continual war on sexual desires. Why? According to official dogma, why are normal sexual urges opposed to the Party’s goals, and to what use can sex be put to accomplish the Party’s purpose? 4. One of the basic ideas in Ingsoc is doublethink. Explain this idea by analyzing O’Brien’s demonstration of it to Winston in the matter of the photograph and Winston’s attempts to master it before he is taken to Room 101. 5. Another basic idea of Ingsoc is “the mutability of the past.” An interesting instance of this occurs during one of Winston’s working days. Analyze the history Winston fabricates in the case of Comrade Withers. What does this reveal about the Party’s use of the past? 6. Analyze one of the Party slogans: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, or Ignorance is Strength. What does it mean in the life of an individual citizen like Winston Smith? What does it mean to the Inner Party, to someone like O’Brien? 7. Analyze the use of three or four Newspeak words to show how this official language of Oceania serves a political purpose. Relate your discussion to the idea of doublethink and to the Party’s notion of reality. 8. What is meant by doublethink? Analyze it as the ultimate goal of the creation of Newspeak. (See, for instance, the scene in the canteen, Part One, Chapter 5.) 9. Compare the ways in which the figures of Big Brother and Emmanuel Goldstein affect life in Oceania. For instance, how are they used by the Party to manipulate opinion? 10. Suppose the novel were told from the point of view of O’Brien. In what ways would this change affect the picture given of life in Oceania? (See “The psychology of fanaticism” article.) 11. The name Winston very likely comes from Winston Churchill. Why would Orwell have given his main character such a name? 12. What kind of memories of the past does Winston have? What do they mean to him? How do they, for instance, contribute to his sense of the unreality of life in Oceania? 13. Develop a character sketch of Winston’s wife Katherine as he remembers her. In what ways is she typical of women in Oceania? 14. Analyze the different ways in which Winston and Julia rebel against life in Oceania. What does each find unsatisfactory in that life? What does each want that Oceania and the Party cannot supply? 15. Why can the life Winston and Julia lead together in the room above Mr. Charrington’s shop be called domestic or marital? In what ways do they act as husband and wife? 16. What qualities in O’Brien does Winston admire both before and during the time in the Ministry of Love? For example, are there aspects of O’Brien’s personality or intelligence Winston wishes were his own? 17. What indications, if any, does Orwell give of the way by which O’Brien lives with himself as a member of the Inner Party? Since the story is told through Winston, we wee O’Brien only as he does. For instance, how would O’Brien personally life with the idea that reality is what the Party makes it? 18. Analyze the scenes in which Winston first meets O’Brien and Julia. How does the actual meeting, in each case, relate to Winston’s expectations of what the individual represents to him? By what dramatic means does Orwell present the scenes? 19. Justify the idea that the arrest of Winston and Julia at the end of Part Two is the major climax or turning point of the story. Does the arrest, for example, lead inevitably to what happens in Part Three? 20. Analyze the significance of Winston’s dream of the “Golden Country.” What does it symbolize to him? And what is the significance of the fact that Winston finds the Golden County in reality with Julia? 21. The glass paperweight Winston buys from Mr. Charrington is an important symbol in the novel. Why does Winston want it, and what does it represent to him? Why is it inevitable that the Thought Police smash it when Winston and Julia are arrested? 22. What is the purpose of the verses from songs Orwell uses in several places in the novel? Of what significance are they to Winston himself? What part do they play in the setting of the novel? 23. Select a narrative or descriptive passage from the novel (not a scene in which conversation is used). Try to characterize Orwell’s style in it. What kinds of details does he use, for example? Is his choice of language appropriate to what he wants to say? Is he able to make you see and feel the world he is depicting? 24. Why does Orwell include such long passages from Goldstein’s book? What purpose do these excerpts serve in the novel? 25. Why does Orwell represent the society of 1984 as being in a state of perpetual war, yet with no decisive victory? (See “Perpetual War” articles.) 26. What is the significance of Winston’s dreams? 27. Is 1984 a satire on Communism? Explain your answer. (See introductory essay by Thomas Pyhchon.) 28. Why is the headquarters of the Thought Police and the repressive apparatus of the Party appropriately called the “Ministry of Love?” 29. From the evidence of the novel itself, defend one of these two ideas: Orwell intended 1984 as a prophecy; or he intended 1984 as a criticism of contemporary societies. (See “The Truthteller” article”.) 30. Contrast the form of revolt against Big Brother of Julia and Winston.
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