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Definition: Nineteen Eighty-Four from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Futuristic novel by George Orwell, published in 1949, which tells of an individual's battle against, and eventual surrender to, a totalitarian state where Big Brother rules. It is a dystopia (the opposite of a utopia) and many of the words and concepts in it have passed into common usage (for example, newspeak, doublethink, thought police).


Stalinism and Nineteen Eighty-Four: Oceania and the Soviet Union

Summary Article: Nineteen Eighty-Four
From The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English

A novel by George Orwell, first published in 1949.

In 1984 Britain has become Airstrip One in the superstate Oceania, which is perpetually at odds with the other superstates Eurasia and Eastasia. It is ruled by the Party, under the aegis of the possibly non-existent Big Brother, whose image is ever present. The Party's agents constantly rewrite history and are redesigning the language, with the aim of controlling people's thoughts absolutely. A minor Party operative, Winston Smith, commits thought-crimes by keeping a secret diary and loving a girl named Julia, but is seduced into self-betrayal by his superior, Brien. His interrogation ultimately leads him to Room 101, where resides every man's ultimate horror. There, his spirit is so utterly broken that he surrenders his identity to the state and learns to love Big Brother.

This brilliant, bitter novel marks the culmination of the loss of faith in mankind which affected British futuristic fiction in the 1930s and was intensified by World War II. It provides a heavily ironic commentary on the state of the world in 1948, exaggerating all its worst traits to a nightmarish extreme. The development of world politics from 1948 to 1984 did nothing to soothe the anxieties with which it plays.

The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, © Cambridge University Press 2000

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