Nineteen Eighty-Four

”It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

– George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) is justifyable regarded as one of the classics of 20th Century Literature, not just of Science Fiction, and presents one of the most horrific dystopias in literature.

Orwell is often regarded as a figure: a man of letters with a fascination for proletarian popular culture such as Boys Own adventure stories and saucy post cards; a man of the Left who was nevetheless one of its most vocal critics. This latter is only a contradiction, of course, if you see politics as a simple binary opposition between Left and Right: as soon as you incorporate the Libertarian-Authoritarian axis the contradiction resolves itself: Orwell was a Libertarian Socialist, opposed to both inequality and authoritarianism. 

The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.

– George Orwell, ”Why I Write”

During the Spanish Civil War Orwell had joined the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification or POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista) which was affiliated with the Independent Labour Party (ILP).

Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938)


Nineteen Eighty-Four is by no means the first dystopic novel: many of its themes and imagery had been explored in Yevgeny Zamyatin‘s Russian novel We  (1921), Aldous Huxley‘s Brave New World (1932) and Katharine Burdekin‘s Swastika Night (1937) . Yet Orwell’s dystopia is unequally chilling: few totalitarian worlds are so total. The world of Nineteen Eighty-Four is one in which not only actions, but thoughts are policed.


”Don’t you see the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. Already, in the Eleventh Edition, we’re not far from that point. But the process will be still continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller…The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect. Newspeak is Ingsoc and Ingsoc is Newspeak.”

– George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (p.60-61)

Newspeak clearly has much in common with theory of Linguistic Determinism, or the ‘Sapir-Whorf hypothesis‘, and with the linguitic theories outlined by Valentin Volosinov in Marxism and the Philosophy of Language.

The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism

Nineteen Eighty-Four includes its own embedded text within a text, Emmanuel Goldstein’s The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism.

There were also whispered stories of a terrible book, a compendium of all the heresies, of which Goldstein was the author and which circulated clandestinely here and there. It was a book without a title. People referred to it, if at all, simply as the book…. A heavy black volume, amateurishly bound, with no name or title on the cover. The print also looked slightly irregular. The pages were worn at the edges, and fell apart, easily, as though the book had passed through many hands.

– George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

In ”Metapropaganda: Self-Reading Dystopian Fiction: Burdekin’s Swastika Night and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1994) George McKay follows Michael Wilding‘s Marxist terminology in arguing that this text is in a dialectical relationship with the novel, but I would argue that it is dialogical in the sense of as Mikhail Bakhtin.


  • Atwood, Margaret (1985) The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Bakhtin, M. M. (1986) Speech Genres and Other Late Essays
  • Burdekin, Katharine (1937) Swastika Night
  • Burgess, Anthony (1962) A Clockwork Orange
  • Burgess, Anthony (1978) 1985
  • Burgess, Anthony (1978) ”Clockwork Oranges” in Burgess, A (1978) 1985
  • Chomsky, Noam (1991) Language, Politics, and Composition: Noam Chomsky interviewed by Gary A. Olson and Lester Faigley” in Journal of Advanced Composition, Vol. 11, No. 1
  • Feaver, George (1994) ”Orwell, Woodcock and St. George” Paperdelivered at a Symposium on The Achievement of George Woodcock, Jointly sponsored bythe University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC. Canada, May, 1994
  • Huxley, Aldous (1932) Brave New World
  • McKay, George (1994) ”Metapropaganda: Self-Reading Dystopian Fiction: Burdekin’s Swastika Night and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in Science Fiction studies #64, Volume 21, Part 3, November 1994
  • Newsinger, John (1992) ”Nineteen Eighty-Four since the Collapse of Communism” in Foundation: The Review of Science Fiction #56, Autumn 1992
  • Orwell, George (1934 ) Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)
  • Orwell, George (1934 ) Burmese Days
  • Orwell, George (1935 ) A Clergyman’s Daughter
  • Orwell, George (1936 ) Keep the Aspidistra Flying
  • Orwell, George (1937)  The Road to Wigan Pier
  • Orwell, George (1938) Homage to Catalonia
  • Orwell, George  (1939) Coming Up for Air
  • Orwell, George (1945) Animal Farm
  • Orwell, George (1946) ”Why I Write” in Gangrel, Summer, 1946
  • Orwell, George (1946) ”Politics and the English Language”, reprinted in Orwell, George (1957)
  • Orwell, George (1949) Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • Orwell, George (1957) Sellected Essays
  • Pinker, Steven (1994) The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind
  • Pyncon, Thomas (2003) Introduction to Orwell, G (1949) Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • Richards, Vernon (1998) George Orwell at Home (and Among the Anarchists)
  • Savage, D.S., George Woodcock, Alex Comfort and George Orwell. (1942) Letters published in Partisan Review, September-October 1942.
  • Skinner, B. F. (1948) Walden Two
  • Skinner, B. F. (1948) ”News from Nowhere, 1985” in Skinner, B.F. (1987) Upon Further Reflection
  • Symons, Julian (1963) ”George Orwell: A Reminiscence” in London Magazine, 3, 1963
  • Thoreau, Henry David (1854) Walden; or, a Life in the Wood
  • Volosinov, Valentin (1929) Marxism and the Philosophy of Language
  • Whorf, Benjamin Lee (1956) John B. Carroll (ed.) Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf
  • Wilding, Michael (1980) Political Fictions
  • Woodcock, George (1962) Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements
  • Woodcock, George (1966) The Crystal Spirit: A Study of George Orwell (1984 Edition)
  • Woodcock, George (1984) Orwell’s Message: 1984 & the Present
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1921) We

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s