Rich Erlich, English 113, (210, 350)

StGd Nineteen Eighty-Four Novel                                                       12 Aug. 1997



Study Guide for Nineteen Eighty-Four as Novel


CITATION (From R. D. Erlich and T. P. Dunn, Clockworks bibliography):


3.602    Orwell, George (pseud. of Eric Blair).  Nineteen Eighty-Four.  London: Secker, 1949.  Rpt. as 1984 New York: NAL, 1961.  "Casebook" edition: Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four: Text, Sources, Criticism.  Irving Howe, ed.  2d edn.  New York: Harcourt, 1982.  (An enlarged version of the 1963 1st edn., adding GO's "The Prevention of Literature," excerpts from GO's correspondence, a critical essay by John Wain, initial reviews of the novel, an essay by Michael Harrington, and some additional apparatus . . . .)  Also: Bernard Crick, ed.  Nineteen Eighty-Four "With a Critical Introduction and Annotations by Bernard Crick."  Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1984. . . .


                               Shows a totalitarian police state run by the oligarchs of the "Inner Party."  Along with Y. Zamiatin's We and A. Huxley's Brave New World, one of the basic dystopias of the first half of the 20th c.  See under Drama, 1984. 


Edition for Our Class:

Orwell, George.  Nineteen Eighty-Four.  1949.  New York:

     Signet-Penguin, 1981. 


Citation Method: I'll give page number to Signet edn.; "book" number.section number.  So the first citation below is to p. 7 of the Signet edition, which is in book One, section I in any edn. of 1984. 



I.  Setting: "London, chief city of Airstrip One, itself the third most populous province of Oceania" (7; I.1).  I.e., the narrative is set in London, in what we call England, which is now a province of Oceania, in which the United Kingdom is just the forward airstrip in the confrontation with Europe (as some Englishfolk felt Yanks saw England during World War II). 

         According to THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF OLIGARCHAL COLLECTIVISM (either by Emmanuel Goldstein, traitor to the Party, or by members of the Inner Party itself), Oceania = USA + UK + British Empire.  Oceania is oppossed by, and in alternating alliances with, Eurasia and Eastasia.  Eurasia = Russian Empire + Western Europe (i.e., Oceania vs. Eurasia is, arguably, the setup after World War II, and what some suspect was the implicit deal between Franklin Delanor Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin).  Eastasia = Japan + China + Indochina—with other areas in dispute (153; II.9).


         Major characters:

                  Winston Smith: An average member of the Outer Party, working as a minor bureaucrat at the Ministry of Truth; the protagonist, (anti)hero, and point-of-view character in 1984, eventually lover and betrayer of Julia. 

                  Julia: A worker at Minitrue, eventually lover and betrayer of Winston Smith. 

                  O'Brien: Member of the Inner Party and a major bureaucrat at the Ministry of Truth; the third leg of a triangle with Smith at the apex. 


         Narration: Third-person, from the p-o-v of Smith, with insights into Smith's mind (called, in something of an oxymoron, "limited omniscience").  QUESTION: Is the "omniscience" strictly limited to Smith, or do we occasionally get into other people's heads? 


         Time: Close to 1984 if not exactly 1984; Winston can't be sure. 


         Mode: Satiric, with some comedy.  Insofar as we identify with Winston Smith and his destruction, rather tragic. 


         Genre: Usually seen a one of the classic dystopias of the first half of the 20th century—i.e., a work about a bad place (dys-topia).  If you see it as an attack on the whole idea of utopia, on the possibility of humans building a eutopia, a really good place, relevantly here, via socialism, then 1984 is an antiutopia.  If you think readers are interested primarily in the story of Winston Smith, Julia, and O'Brien (et al.), then 1984 is a dystopian novel. 


         Plot: Winston Smith starts a diary and admits hatred for Big Brother; he and Julia have an affair and find small spaces of apparent privacy and freedom; they contact O'Brien to join the resistance against Ingsoc ("English Socialism"), the Party, and the Oceanian State; Winston at least reads most of THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF OLIGARCHICAL COLLECTIVISM; Winston Smith and Julia are arrested by the Thought Police and taken to the Ministry of Love; O'Brien reveals himself as the loyal Party member in charge of Winston Smith's conversion; O'Brien et al. torture Winston and bring him back to the Party; Winston betrays Julia; Winston will die, loving Big Brother. 



II.  Satiric Butts (i.e., targets of attack): Obviously attacked,

                  • All theories of the all-powerful, all-competent, unlimited, totalitarian state and party, more specifically those of Stalin and Hitler et al. (see 169; II.9). 

                  • Intellectuals who warp language and thought in the service of totalitarianism. 

                  • Anti-empiricist theories that deny that there is an objective world, insisting instead that the world, nature, and the laws of nature are literally constructed, that "Nothing exists except through human consciousness, through a kind of "collective solipsism" (218-19; III.3).

                  • Theories celebrating power and (to use the title of a famous Nazi film) The Triumph of the Will (217-20; III.3) and contemning "liberal ideas" (169; II.9) such as human rights, privacy, laws and due process. 

                  • Oligarchy and hierarchy: the pyramid society of Inner Party (High), Outer Party (Middle), and Proles (Low), with a semi-divine, optionally existing Leader, and gradations as convenient for the rulers; the perpetuation of a ruling group that chose their successors (162, 173; II.9). 

                  • A war-based economy and what has come to be called «the national-security state».

                  • Any newfangled theory of socialism that abandoned "the aim of establishing liberty and equality" (167; II.9). 

                  • The use of technology for warfare, surveillance, terror, and keeping those in power in power, rather than for greater wealth and an end to inequality (168; II.9). 

                  • Orthodoxy, and the "doublethink" necessary to remain totally orthodox to any system (174-75; II.3). 


Beyond those, however—and you can add a few more—matters get controversial.  In what has been characterized as an unseemly struggle for the corpse of George Orwell, neoConservatives wish to recruit him into the ranks not just of antiCommunists of the antiStalinist variety but to the attack on socialism as an alternative to capitalism—period.  Leftists, on the other hand, want to keep Orwell as an antiStalinist, antiAuthoritarian, pro-equality socialist: the man who fought on the side of the anarchists against the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War, the critic of imperialism, privilege, and the class system. 


SECTION ON 1984  (using a now outdated citation system), FROM: Richard D. Erlich


Session on 1984 and Other Dystopias, Fourteenth Annual Convention of the Popular Culture Association, Toronto, 29 March-1 April 1984



Coming of Age in Dystopia:

Consciousness and Barriers to Consciousness

in Some Twentieth-Century Anti-Utopias—and Other SF


* * *

         Since [Yevgeny Zamyatin's 1920 highly Leftist, antiLeninist] We is one of the sources for Nineteen Eighty-Four, it comes as no surprise that there are many similarities between the two books, including similar states of consciousness in the protagonists at the works' conclusions.  Zamyatin's protagonist, D-503, has been fantasectomized, and, imagination removed, has been reduced to a good citizen of the One State.  He has been cured of the sickness of having a soul and is now so empty of head and heart that he "cannot help smiling": he is in, he thinks "the normal state of a normal man."  So he happily and smilingly watches the torture of his former lover, I-330, and looks forward confidentally to the ultimate crushing of the novel's climactic rebellion—"Because reason must prevail" (Entry 40, pp. 231-2).  And, of course, the end of Nineteen Eighty-Four finds Winston Smith both convinced and feeling that ". . . everything was all right, the struggle was finished.  He had won the victory over himself.  He loved Big Brother" (III.6, p. 245).  Both characters have lost free consciousness and about the most optimistic thing in both dystopias is that the State (unlike Billy Pilgrim's American) had to go to such trouble to render them effectively unconscious.

          The lack of consciousness at the ends of these two works is depressing and downright obscene, but it's not at all mysterious or even very interesting: it's the product of the "Great Operation" in We and of sophisticated torture and brainwashing in Nineteen Eighty-Four.  For my purposes, the interesting questions are how much consciousness D-503 or Winston Smith attained before they were reduced to good citizens and what worked for or against that attainment of consciousness.

         Early in the novels, both D-503 and Winston Smith understand their worlds quite well.  After Smith has read the "War Is Peace" section of "Goldstein's" book, he feels, the narrator tells us, "reassured":


In a sense . . . [The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism] told him nothing new, but that was part of the attraction.  It said what he would have said, if it had been possible for him to set his scattered thoughts in order.  It was the product of a mind similar to his own, but enormously more powerful, more systematic, less fear-ridden.  The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.  (II.9, p. 165).


Smith tells us early in the novel that he understands how his society works but not why it works that way (I.7, p. 68), and both the narrator and O'Brien agree with him (II.9, p. 179; III.3, p. 215).  When he goes beyond "the mechanics of . . . society" to its "underlying motives," Smith learns from O'Brien only that "The object of power is power" (p. 216), a revelation that in context, doesn't do much for Smith's consciousness.  In Room 101, there is a dual revelation.  First Smith learns the identity of the "something terrible on the other side of the wall" in his dreams: "It was the rats that were on the other side of the wall" (III.5, pp. 233-4).  The second revelation is that there is nothing, at least for Smith, beyond the power of the State to corrupt: rather than be killed by the rats, he betrays Julia (pp. 235-6).

         D-503 also understands his world quite well.  In his Seventh Entry he notes that Frederick W. Taylor "was unquestionably the greatest genius of the ancients" and makes clear that central to "the mechanics" of his society is extending Taylor's "method"—the system of "scientific management"—"to the twenty-four hours of every day" (p. 33): a reductio ad finem17 pushing to the end and reducing to the absurd tendencies of twentieth-century society (20th Entry, p. 115).18  D-503's problem, from our point of view, isn't his lack of knowledge of history and sociology but his attitude: for most of the novel he strongly approves of his society.

         In the "Grand Inquisitor" scene in We, when D-503 first meets the Benefactor, his "Big Brother" ruler, D-503 really learns nothing new until the end of the colloquy.  The Benefactor starts out just giving him the Grand Inquisitor argument Orwell's O'Brien rejects: that the why of their society is the achievment of human happiness by undoing the Fall in Eden and reducing humankind again to the paradise of unfreedom, inside a paradoxically walled Garden in which all the plants and other organic stuff are outside, beyond the Green Wall.  D-503 knows this.  The revelation in the scene comes with the Benefactor's  final suggestion on the why of the revolutionaries' recruiting him, most importantly I-330's motivation in becoming D-503's lover: "Has it really never entered your head," the Benefactor says, "that they . . . needed you only as the builder of the Integral?  Only . . . to use you . . ." —D-503 interrupts with "Don't!  Don't!" (36th Entry, p. 214).  D-503 stumbles away from the Benefactor, finds I-330, and copulates with her one last time, seeing before they begin pink coupons on the floor, indicating I-330's sexual hours with other men.  Then D-503 goes to the Guardians (the secret police) and tries to betray I-330 and the revolution (38th-39th Entries).

         D-503's attempt at betrayal is unsuccessful only because the Guardian he sees—"his" Guardian—is with the revolution.19  And when D-503 is captured and has his imagination excised, he goes directly to the Benefactor and tells "him everything . . . about the enemies of happiness," the revolutionaries, and watches unmoved as I-330 is tortured and then led off to await execution (39th-40th Entries, p. 227-9, 231-2).

         If the political upshot of We is more optimistic than that of Nineteen Eighty-Four (revolution is at least possible in We), the personal upshot is more pessimistic: even before he's worked on by the authorities, D-503 betrays I-330 and any hope for change.  Whatever consciousness D-503 has attained is insufficient to stand up to the Benefactor's cynical suggestion and his own jealousy.  His love for I-330 and his introduction to real passion has led to D-503's expansion of consciousness, and the insufficiency of his love and the negative passion of jealousy lead to his betrayal of consciousness and, indirectly, to his undergoing the Great Operation excising imagination—the end, for him, of significant consciousness.

         Between the beginning and end of We, though, Zamyatin allows D-503, and his readers, to learn enough to put the One State into a larger context: the universal struggle between entropy and energy, between social stasis and revolution—and between a number of other dialetical antitheses that can never reach permanent synthesis.20

         For D-503, all of the characteristics associated with energy and change can only be viewed as madness, and the high point of D-503's consciousness is, paradoxically, a brief speech in praise of madness.  Outside in the wilderness, beyond the Green Wall, among the savage descendents of the country folk and the antiChristian, demonic MEPHI, D-503 shouts, "Yes, yes, madness!  And everyone must lose his mind, everyone must!  The sooner the better!  It is essential—I know it" (27th entry, p. 158).

         Winston Smith's insights are lower-key, and he has less of a high point of consciousness than a high plateau: the time from his "vast, luminous dream" of the world inside the paperweight to his view with Julia of the singing prole woman, just before his and Julia's arrest (II.7-II.10).  This period is punctuated with the meeting with O'Brien, the reading of portions of "Goldstein's" book—and with much heavy irony.

         The events in the dream beginning this sequence "had all occurred inside the glass paperweight, but the surface of the glass was the dome of the sky"; and the paperweight was vast enough for Smith's "whole life . . . to stretch out before him" within it "like a vast landscape."21  "The dream had also been comprehended by . . . a gesture of the arm made by his mother, and made again thirty years later by the Jewish woman he had seen on the news film, trying to shelter the small boy from the bullets before the helicopters blew them both to pieces."  And a memory is "connected" with the dream, one associated with Smith's belief that he had murdered his mother (II.7, pp. 132-3).

         The dream remains vivid in Smith's mind, "especially the enveloping, protecting gesture of the arm in which its whole meaning seems to be contained," and leads to a memory of Smith's mother, which in turn leads to the memory of another dream, in which he sees his mother drown.  Smith tells Julia about his mother's disappearance, and Julia drifts off to sleep (p 135).  And sitting there, thinking to himself in the apparently safe containment of the room above the shop, Smith comes to a great realization.

The terrible thing that the Party had done was to persuade you that mere impulses, mere feelings, were of no account, while at the same time robbing you of all power over the material world. . . .  And yet to the people of only two generations ago, this would not have seemed all-important because they were not attempting to alter history.  They were governed by private loyalties which they did not question.  What mattered were individual relationships, and a completely helpless gesture, an embrace, a tear, a word spoken to a dying man, could have value in itself.  The proles, it suddenly occurred to him, had remained in this condition. . . . they were loyal to one another.  For the first time in his life he did not despise the proles or think of them merely as an inert force which would one day spring to life and regenerate the world.  The proles had stayed human. . . .  They had held onto the primitive emotions which he himself had to relearn by conscious effort.

          . . . "The proles are human beings," he said aloud.  "We are not human."

Julia will not accept her and Winston's inhumanity, and, with what turns out to be wild optimism, pushes Winston to a realization of a large part of the positive norm of the novel: ". . . the object was not to stay alive but to stay human . . ." (II.7, pp. 137-8).

         Two other insights from the brief time in the room above Mr. Charrington's shop.  Just after reading "Goldstein" on "Ignorance Is Strength," and just after the narrator tells us in his own voice that Winston knew the how but not the why of his society, Winston falls asleep "murmuring 'Sanity is not statistical,' with the feeling that this remark contained in it a profound wisdom" (II.9, p. 179).  And just before they are captured, Winston and Julia look down at the prole woman and Winston thinks that

Where there is equality there can be sanity.  Sooner or later it would happen: strength would change into consciousness. . . . In the end their awakening would come. 

* * *  Out of those mighty loins a race of conscious beings must one day come.  You were the dead; theirs was the future.  But you could share in that future if you kept alive the mind as they kept alive the body, and passed on the secret doctrine that two plus two make four.  (II.10, pp. 181-2)

         The next line of the novel is Winston's "We are the dead," which takes us into their arrest and capture (with the smashing of the paperweight) and torture and mutual betrayal in the Ministry of Love.  But two plus two still make four, for all the Party's work on Winston Smith, and his insights still have their force.  Through dream and memory, Winston has connected with the past, a past whose more painful events "he must have deliberately pushed out of his consciousness over many years" (II.7, p. 133).  He comes to connect that past with personal relations in general and with his present love for Julia.  And he connects past, present, and future when he comes to recognize the humanity of the proles and the hope in them as human beings, and not mere abstractions.

         The glass paperweight is easily smached by a thug from the Thought Police, and the apparently safe containment over Mr. Charrington's shop wwas a trap (II.10, pp. 183 and 182-85).  Still, even a false safety behind these walls allowed Smith to reach as much of a recognition as he was going to get.  Given the upbringing of one Eric Blair, and what Blair had to overcome to become George Orwell, the recognition of the humanity of proles is an important raising of consciousness.  Given the achievements and limitations of the protagonists in the other works we've looked at—especially given the insensitivity of Mitch Courtenay and the militant apathy of Billy Pilgrim—Winston Smith's fleeting achievement of consciousness appears clearly what it is: a common man's very high heroism.




         17.  For reductio ad finem, see Ginsburg's Introd. to We, pp. xiii-xiv.  For Taylorism, see Gorman Beauchamp, "Man as Robot: The Taylor System in We," Ch. 5 of Clockwork Worlds: Mechanized Environments in SF, ed. Richard D. Erlich and Thomas P. Dunn (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983); and Carolyn Rhodes, "Frederick Winslow Taylor's System of Scientific Management inZamiatin's We," Journal of General Education, 28 (Spring 1976), 31-42.

         18.  D-503 also understands how his society descended from city-dwellers and Christians and how it is based on reason, Euclid, the building of walls, the limitation of nature, the taming of infinity, and the destruction of freedom.

         19.  After the Grand Inquisitor scene and his attempt at betrayal (36th and 39th Entries) but before the Great Operation (recalled in the 40th Entry), D-503 still has enough of his soul (and wits) about him to encounter a man who argues that ". . . there is no infinity" and ask him, rather desperately, ". . . out there, where your finite universe ends!  What is out there, beyond it?"  Students of the Heroic Journey should note that this bit of serious comic dialog occurs after D-503's last Descent: he somehow gets himself "downstairs" and into "one of the public toilets in an underground station" (39th Entry, pp. 229-30).

         20.  For energy vs. entropy, see 28th Entry, p. 165 and 30th Entry, pp. 174-75; see also Ginsburg Introd. to We, pp. v and x; and "On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and Other Matters" (1923), in A Soviet Heretic: Essays by Yevgeny Zamyatin, ed. and trans. Mirra Ginsburg (Chicago & London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1970).

         21.  Given the possible echo of 1984 in Billy Pilgrim's "Everything is all right" (Slaughterhouse-Five, Ch. 9, p. 198), it may not be totally weird to suggest that we should compare and contrast Winston under the "dome of the sky" of the paperweight—in the room with Julia—and Bill's and Montana's being under the literal (if also possibly dreamed up) dome on Tralfamadore.  For the Trafalmadorian dome, see SH-5, Ch. 5, pp. 112 and 132-33 and Ch. 9, p. 207.  I don't recall seeing or hearing this suggestion before, and I would appreciate reader comment on whether that means that in this suggestion I'm usefully original, ignorant, or just a little crazier than most literary critics.

Richard D. Erlich                                   PUBLICATION TEXT: 24/I/84

English Department

Miami University

Oxford, Ohio  45056



Academic Panel No. 2 (10:30 a.m. to noon, 20 Jan. 1984), Orwell's Novel:

Nightmare or Reality?  At On the Way to 2019, the 1984 George Orwell Conference on Political Futures; Akron, Ohio. (Sponsored by the Institute for Futures Studies and Research, U. of Akron) 



Orwell's Nightmare: Terror and Technology 



. . . is not our modern history, my

brothers, the story of brave malenky

selves fighting these big machines?


                  —Alex in Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange 



      The question before this panel is, "Is George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four nightmare or reality," and my answer (and that of most literary critics) is: it's neither, actually—or both; it's a dystopian political satire.  That is, Nineteen Eighty-Four shows us a politically rotten world other than our own, and Orwell shows us this dystopia to attack trends in our world that Orwell didn't like.  Nineteen Eighty-Four is a kind of fable, and, like most fables, a large part of the Moral is De te fabula: "This little story, dear reader, is about you," very definitely about "you" if you happen to be an admirer of Hitler or Stalin.  I'm going to talk to you about Nineteen Eighty-Four in its context of other major political dystopias and show that Orwell's rotten world of 1984 differs from most of them most obviously in its level of technology, and in its level of terror.  If you know the other works I'm talking about, that's good; we can argue.  If not—well, I've supplied a list of References, and for now you'll have to take my word about them.1

     To begin, I shall ask you to "Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee . . . ." So the narrator instructs us at the very beginning of E. M. Forster's 1909 story, "The Machine Stops." "An arm-chair is in the centre [of the room] . . . .  And in the arm-chair there sits a swaddled lump of flesh—a woman, about five feet high, with a face as white as a fungus." The narrator goes on to tell us that the room is inside and part of the Machine (capital "M"), a machine in which live all of civilized humanity in Forster's far-future world.  The Machine is within the Earth, whose surface is mostly desolate and, the civilized people think, totally uninhabited.  Actually, there are people on the surface of the Earth: relatively primitive folk, close to nature, people who cannot have and neither need nor desire the total service of the Machine.

     "The Machine Stops" is the prototype of "mechanical hive" stories: stories combining what Orwell called, in The Road to Wigan Pier, "machine-civilisation" and the "beehive state."2  "The Machine Stops" brings together and presents in very short space motifs that were to dominate much dystopian—"bad place"—literature (and some rather eutopian—"good place"—literature) for the rest of the 20th century.

     Again: a human being (a physically degenerate one in this case) in an armchair in a room; the room is within a machine, and the

machine is within the Earth—in what was once the womb of the Earthmother, what was once the domain of "Chaos and Old Night."  Within the machine is civilized humanity, outside of it only (relative) savages.  Within the machine is comfortable degeneration and dehumanization in what Orwell characterized as "an ordered world, an efficient world"—a safe, rational, "foolproof world" of "mechanical efficiency."  It was, moreover, a world Orwell thought pretty much achieved by 1938: "The machine-civilisation is here"—and the "beehive State" as well—"and all of us are inside it" (RWP, Ch. XII, pp. 222, 226-27; Ch. XIII, p. 250).

     "Machine civilisation"—and the more complex pattern I have described—are both clear in Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, "downunder" in Harlan Ellison's "A Boy and His Dog" (1969) and L. Q. Jones's film of that story (1975), in George Lucas' THX-1138 (1969/1971); with variations, it is the pattern we usually think of with dystopia.  It is a pattern George Orwell was well aware of, and it is a pattern he chose not to use.3  Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Fouris nearly alone among the major 20th-century political dystopias in showing a world that is mostly less technologically advanced than our own.  And yet (and here I'm sneaking further into my thesis)—and yet the upshot of the satire of Nineteen Eighty-Four is essentially the same as that of Zamyatin's We and Huxley's Brave New World and numerous other dystopias.  The target, as Eric Fromm has said, is not just fascists or fanatics but any "centralized managerial industrial society, of an essentially bureaucratic nature" (Afterword to Signet Nineteen Eighty-Four).

     In the typical 20th-century mechanized dystopia, the machines are literal machines—but they are also symbols.  The standard image in such dystopias is that of a human being within a machine, sometimes being "lobotomized" or simply tortured.4  There are similar images in Nineteen Eighty-Four, and I shall discuss them when I get to Winston Smith's "conversion" at the Ministry of Love.  Still, the controlling images in Nineteen Eighty-Four are different, and I shall get around to them a bit sooner.  First, though, I want to discuss the clockwork worlds of "mechanical efficiency."



"What it's all about," a Man in the Street said in a TV interview ca. 1970, "is, Who is in Charge?"  In the high-tech dystopias, it is possible that, in a profound sense, Nobody is in charge.  In her book On Violence Hannah Arendt is explicit about such rule by Nobody:


In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom

one can argue, to whom one can present grievances, on whom the pressures of power can be exerted.  Bureaucracy is the form of government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom, of the power to act; for the rule by Nobody is not no-rule, and where all are equally powerless we have a tyranny without a tyrant . . . .  [T]he huge party machines have succeeded everywhere in over- ruling the voice of the citizens . . . .  (p. 81)


     Life in large, complex societies is becoming more and more bureaucratized. With every new triumph of bureaucracy, "political space" is being reduced, so more and more of us feel "trapped" in the "administrative apparatus."

     I speak figuratively here, as Arendt and a large number of other political theorists do when they talk of "huge party machines" or "the apparatus of the State."5  Authors of SF, however, are free to literalize such metaphors, and, in part, such literalization is the significance of a great number of enveloping machines in SF stories and films; they help symbolize the helplessness of individuals in "centralized managerial industrial society of an essentially bureaucratic nature." These enveloping machines help develop the theme of the diminution of humanity through the diminution of political space: the diminution of the human ability to create power by combining with others—the diminutuion of our power to act.

     In Forster's "Machine Stops," there is no political action.  There is no political power.  By the very condition of human life:  the literal isolation of each person within the Machine precludes politics.  In the civilized world of "The Machine Stops," people cannot "connect" politically when the machine is functioning.  Only as "The Machine Stops" and all the civilized humans die, and then only mystically, do we have even personal connection, as the rebellious hero Kuno and Vashti, his mother, meet "in the spirit" and "touch" (p. 182). In "The Machine Stops," we get quite literal rule by Nobody.  We hear about "the Committee of the Machine"—a Central Committee of humans—but to attribute rule to them, the narrator tells us, "is to take a very narrow view of civilisation" (p. 177).

     There is also no possibility for political action in Huxley's Brave New World, as John, the Savage, learns when he tries to throw away the soma ration for the Delta menial laborers (Ch. 15, pp. 141, 144, 145).  In Brave New World, however, we do see a ruler, the World Controller Mustapha Mond.  And in Brave New Worldpeople are not literally isolated; on the contrary, they "never are alone" (Ch. 17, p. 160).  But even world controllers are controlled.  An Epsilon is "foredoomed" to happiness doing Epsilon work because "Even after decanting, he's still inside a bottle—an invisible bottle of infantile and embryonic fixations.  Each of us, of course,' the Controller [Mond] mediatively continued, 'goes through life inside a bottle.'"  The bottles of Alphas are "relatively speaking enormous," but they are there: the bottles of World Controllers are larger still, but they, too, are there (Ch. 16, p. 151).  Even if Mustapha Mund has the freedom to act—and he does—he uses that freedom only to maintain the status quo.

     In Zamyatin's We, "the operation of the great State Machine" has also reached a high level of efficiency, but less than that of the World State of Brave New World.  The One State of We can still be "disturbed," and the protagonist-narrator sadly admits in his journal that " . . . there are still some steps to be ascended before we reach the ideal.  The ideal (clearly) is the condition where nothing happens anymore" (Sixth Entry, p. 24).  Not only do things still happen in We, But people make them happen: there is a real political conspiracy in We and a rebellion at the end of the story—a rebellion that has some slight hope for success.  Political action is still possible in We, not because there is a live ruler running things—the system could operate without him—but because the One State has not perfected the methods of isolating people totally. Their mechanism of repression is not sufficiently efficient to prevent all human connection, to prevent every possibility for politics.  If the rebellion at the end of the novel fails, however, the One State has a good chance to use its technology to succeed in reducing human beings to less than human and putting an end to the infinite series of revolutions that Zamyatin says is the destiny of real human beings.

     Working backward in fictive time toward Nineteen Eighty-Four, we see that the far-future world of "The Machine Stops" shows us complete mechanization: a world in which politics is almost impossible and, as a practical matter, nonexistent. In Brave New World and We, the machinery of the State is monopolized by very small groups of men who use it to eliminate politics and attempt to bring happiness to the world by ensuring the total elimination of freedom (We, Eleventh Entry, Thirty-sixth Entry; BNW, Chs. 17 and 17).  In Brave New World, the success of the oligarchs is complete.  In We, the control of the State is not yet complete, and primitive human nature can still find expression, including expressions of our desire to act.

     Orwell takes up long before We, beginning where Jack London leaves off in the dystopian main story London's The Iron Heal: with a totalitarian Oligarchy firmly in power in 1984, a key year in the rule of the Iron heel.6  Orwell is also similar to London in using an idea we might summarize in the slogan, "Ivan Karamazov was an optimist!"—and add nowadays that Forster, Zamyatin, and Huxley were also optimists.7  That is, London's villainous Capitalist, Mr. Wickston, can deny even the excuse of Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor and admit that the goal of his class is not human happiness but the exercise of raw "Power" (capital "P").  And Orwell could see the totalitarian state as brutally fascist, not hedonistic as in Forster and Huxley.  Indeed, next to Nineteen Eighty-Four even We is optimistic in the assumption that a great (if perverse) scientific breakthrough is necessary to allow the totalitarian state truly total power.

     Orwell's greater pessimism than even that of other makers of dystopias leads to artistic differences.  Most obviously, the controlling symbol in Nineteen Eighty-Fouris not the Machine but the pyramid: the metaphorical pyramid of the hierarchical, sealed-world society of Oceania and the very literal great pyramids of the Ministries, especially the Ministry of Truth, where Winston Smith works, and the windowless Ministry of Love.

     Opposed to the pyramid is, in Orwellian theory, the machine: the wealthproducing power of industrial society that has removed the necessity for civilized people "to live at different social or economic levels" (p. 168).  That potential opposition, however, is merely theory; the powers that be in Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia engage in constant warfare and impede almost all technological development, guaranteeing that the world's hierarchical structures remain in place.

     In the actual world of the novel, the symbolic oppositions to the pyramid are the paperweight and that which is associated with it: Winston Smith's and Julia's room above Mr. Charrington's shop, with its apparently safe enclosure and the bed upon which Winston and Julia make love; the gesture of a mother embracing a child—the world of the past, of private loyalties, of dreams, of joyous sexuality and simple decency.8

     The paperweight, we are told is "a little chunk of history . . . .  a message from a hundred years ago" (p. 121).  Lying in the bed in the room Winston gazes into the paperweight and thinks that "The paperweight was the room he was in, and the coral was Julia's life and his own, fixed in a sort of eternity at the heart of the crystal" (p. 122).  Lying in the bed in the room on another occasion, Winston thinks that the dream he has just had "occurred inside the glass paperweight. . . .  The dream had . . . in some sense . . . consisted in [sic]—a gesture of the arm made by his mother, and made again thirty years later by the Jewish woman he had seen on the news film [recorded at the beginning of his diary], trying to shelter the small boy from the bullets, before the helicopters blew them both to pieces" (p. 132).

     The pyramids and the paperweight, then, are what T. S. Eliot called "objective correlatives": objects decorously correlating with Winston's and Julia's enthusiastic fornication, with apparently eternal, apparently safe enclosure, with the world of the past.  Essentially, the paperweight correlates with a past in which there could be people who "were governed by private loyalties" and who valued "individual relationships," a world where ". . . a completely helpless gesture, an embrace . . . could have value in itself." The extent of Winston's and Julia's powerlessness, the helplessness of their gesture is symbolized in their capture, when one of the thugs of the Thought Police "picked up the glass paperwight . . . and smashed it to pieces on the hearthstone" (p. 183).  The scene of their arrest ends Part Two of Nineteen Eighty-Four; when next we see Winston Smith, he is on his way to the windowless pyramid of the Ministry of Love.

     Oceania in general in Nineteen Eighty-Four is technologically primitive because Orwell presents in his novel the idea that machines could grant human society the great gift of equality and the end of the class system.  The technological regression of Oceania denies to Orwell, for the first two parts of the story, the great image of a human being trapped in a machine.  Orwell's stress upon Oceania as a closed society among but isolated from two other nearly identical societies denies Orwell a secondary, more "natural" world to contrast with his "beehive state."

     And yet, to repeat the second part of my thesis, and yet Orwell gets across the crucial political points of the clockwork-world dystopias and, perhaps, gets them across more effectively by being less subtle and, perhaps, more politically sophisticated and cynical.

     Corresponding to the alternative, more natural worlds in "The Machine Stops," We, Brave New World and all, we have Winston and Julia and their sex life and Winston's attachment to a somewhat idealized past in which personal relations and futile gestures mattered.  Corresponding to the literal and/or symbolic isolation of people in the earlier works, we have in Nineteen Eighty-Four the absolutely literal political isolation of people through constant surveillance, mutual suspicion, and terror.  As Orwell was well aware, such a system of totalitarian control could be improved with high technology but does not require science fictionish devices to work very, very effectively.  The key to such totalitarian control is not technology but terror, and the necessary fanaticism to use constant, unrelenting terror.

     Aside from the telescreens, the memorable machines we see in Nineteen Eighty-Four are the torture devices in the Ministry of Love and the apparatus there that allows Winston to see, momentarily, that 2+2 can equal 5.  In the small room over Mr. Charrington's shop, Winston and Julia make love and commit other thought crimes upon a bed.  In the rooms in the Ministry of Love, Winston is tied down upon a "bed" (Orwell's word) and converted through the efforts of the one other person with whom he has a bond: O'Brien.  The climax of that conversion occurs in Room 101, when, with O'Brien's help, Winston betrays Julia.  The most memorable bit of technology we see in Nineteen Eighty-Four is the rat cage strapped to Smith's face: an ancient torture device that contains for Winston "the worst thing in the world," the thing that will inspire in him the most terror (p. 233).

     Outside of the Ministry of Love, the technology of Oceania in 1984 is generally on a low level, and literal machinery in Nineteen Eighty-Fouris used significantly only in its third part.  Winston trapped in machines in the Ministry of Love both shows and symbolizes the process identified by Fromm of how a "completely bureaucratized society" turns humans into "soulless automatons" (Afterword, pp. 266, 267, 257).  Yet again, though, the main "objective correlative" in Nineteen Eighty-Four is the pyramid shape of the London Ministries, corresponding to the form of the State of Oceania: a vast hierarchy, as Emmanuel Goldstein's (?) book tells us, running from Big Brother down through the Inner Party and thence to the Outer Party and to the politically powerless proles and slaves.  That much is clear, but let us return to the question of that Man in the Street: Who is in charge?  Who rules Oceania?  Big Brother, obviously, at "the apex of the pyramid" (II.9, p. 171).  But "Does Big Brother exist?" In one sense, "of course he exists.  The Party exists.  Big Brother is the embodiment of the Party" (III.2, p. 214).  But Big Brother, even if a currently living human being, is going to die someday, so who will rule Oceania "forever"?  Answer, the Party.  There is no power in Oceania outside of the Party, and there could not be since the Party knows the key secret of total control: terror for anyone who might organize resistance.9  There is no hope in Oceania of people's organizing power outside of the apparatus of the Party: no hope unless Winston Smith, Syme, O'Brien—and quite possibly George Orwell—vastly understimate the proles.10 More, with terror backing it up, the Party can enforce a rigid orthodoxy.  As Syme tells Winston Smith, "Orthodoxy means not thinking . . . .  Orthodoxy is unconsciousness" (I.5, p. 47).  And as Ursula K. Le Guin's true Odonians recognize in The Dispossessed, " . . . revolution begins in the thinking mind."11 So: no thinking, no revolution.

     The Party, then, has monopolized power in Ocenaia and has taken very effective steps to ensure that the Party retains power.  Terror and orthodoxy are the Party's means to ensure their monopoly on power, and the end—the goal—of their power is the retention of power: power in the sense of the ability to enforce terror and orthodoxy (III.3, pp. 216-22).  As explained by O'Brien, the Party's motivation is almost esthetic.  Winston Smith is obviously powerless and helpless, but still the Party must not only kill him but convert him (III.3, p. 222; III.2, p. 210).  The ultimate goal of the Party is a perfect pattern: terror enforcing orthodoxy, both keeping the Party in power for the sake of enforcing terror.  It is a grotesquely busy world that is finally static: a successful attempt "to arrest the course of history" (II.9, p. 177).

     But who rules the Party?  Nobody.  In the world of 1984, the question "Who rules the Party?" is meaningless.  Goldstein's The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivismm tells us that "The essence of oligarchical rule is not father-to-son inheritance, but the persistence of a certain world-view and a certain way of life, imposed by the dead upon the living. . . .  Who wields power is not important, provided that the hierarchical structure remains always the same" (II. 9, p. 173).  More important, O'Brien—possibly one of the authors of "Goldstein's" book—tells us that "Slavery is freedom.  Alone—free—the the human being is always defeated. . . .  But if he can make complete, utter submission . . . [and] merge himself in the Party so that he is the Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal" (III.3, p. 218).  O'Brien himself, the highest-ranking Oligarch we see, has obviously made such a submission.  As a servant of the party, he is "all-powerful," but in himself he is nothing.  He does not rule, and neither does anyone else.

     What is hinted at, symbolically suggested—handled more "literarily," actually—in We, Brave New World, and the "The Machine Stops" is made quite explicit in Nineteen Eighty-Four.  In Oceania (and the same rule holds for Eurasia and Eastasia as well), the Party is not only a pyramid but a perpetual motion machine.  It is a literal anti-political party and a metaphorical machine; both ways it is under the rule of Nobody, and both ways it crushes and destroys its enemies and potential enemies—all who might be capable of political action.

     Literal machines run down; even in Forster's nightmare vision, "The Machine Stops."  Orwell shows us an oligarchic, bureaucratic, metaphorical, human machine, one run by fanatics.  The nightmare comes when we realize that such a human machine can dehumanize us as effectively as Forster's deified world-machine— and, in human terms, can go on forever.  The nightmare comes in realizing that all the parts for such a machine—oligarchy, bureaucracy, fanaticism, militarism, terror—already exist in our reality.  De te fabula.  This dystopian satire is, potentially, about us.






     1 See this list of References (following my notes) for complete citations where they are not given in my text and notes. * * *

         For another study of Nineteen Eighty-Four in terms of its literary context, see Dennis Livingston's "Science Fiction Models of Future World Order Systems," listed below under References.  Livingston dicusses 1984 along with seven other works from the latter part of the 20th c.

         This essay is based on my earlier presentation on 1984, "Oligarchy, Orthodoxy, and Technology in 1984: Orwell's Prescient Nightmare," at the session on As We Approach 1984 Are We Approaching 1984? at the 12th Annual Convention of the Popular Culture Association, Louisville, April 1982. 


     2 The Road to Wigan Pier, which I'll abb. RWP (London: Victor Gollancz, 1937—commissioned by the Left Book Club; rpt. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1958), Part II, Ch. XII, p. 240. 


     3 For an assertion that ". . .  Orwell must have read 'The Machine Stops' . . ." and a discussion of the relationships among "Machine Stops," We, 1984, and Brave New World, see Mark R. Hillegas, The Future as Nightmare, Chs. V and VI; p. 83 for the quotation.  Christopher Small, in The Road to Miniluv (p. 174) and Matthew Hodgart in "From Animal Farm to Nineteen Eighty-Four" (in The World of George Orwell, pp. 139-40) list The Iron Heel as a source, along with We, for Nineteen Eighty-Four.  (See References.)

         Orwell was completely familiar with the dystopian tradition and with all the dystopias I list below, with the exception of Skinner's Walden Two, which itself appeared in 1948, too late to have influenced Nineteen Eighty-Four.  I list the "eutopian" Walden Two for its implicit (and unquestionably unintended) criticism of O'Brien's idea of the essence of power.  Skinner's Frazier has a more profound understanding of ultimate power than that of O'Brien—or even that in Goldstein's book.  Real power consists in setting up a system that will control human behavior without people's really being aware that they are caught in and controlled by the system (Chs. 29-33).  I list Trotsky's The Revolution Betrayed because Trotsky is the model for Orwell's Emmanuel Goldstein and Revolution Betrayed is source or analog for much of Goldstein's (?) The Theory and Practice of Oligrachical Collectivism. 


     4 E.g., note the physically degenerate woman (Vashti) at the beginning of "The Machine Stops," the babies in the bottles on the conveyor belt in Brave New World, the heroine being tortured under the great glass bell in We—and the hero of We (and others) tied down under the X-ray machine that destroys imagination, in a kind of lobotomy.  Note also the sequence in which THX 1138 is tortured by robot cops under the control of computer operators, and the "marriage" sequence when Vic is tied down and tapped for sperm in the film (only) A Boy and His Dog.

         See Thomas P. Dunn and Richard D. Erlich, "A Vision of Dystopia: Beehives and Mechanization," Journal of General Education, 33 (Spring 1981), 45-58; see also Richard D. Erlich, "'Trapped in the Bureaucratic Pinball Machine': A Vision of Dystopia in the Twentieth Century," in Selected Proceedings of the Science Fiction Research Assoc. 1978 Convention, ed. Thomas J. Remington (Cedar Falls: University of Iowa Press, 1979), pp. 30-44. 


     5 See Giuseppa Saccaro-Battisti, "Changing Metaphors of Political Structures," Journal of the History of Ideas, 44 (January-March 1983), 31-54. 


     6 In The Iron Heel, 1984 is the year of the completion of Asgard, perhaps the greatest city built by the Oligarchs (London, Ch. XXI, p. 303 n.). 


     7 For Orwell's pessimism in his handling of the "Grand Inquisitor" scenes, see Philip Rahv, "the Unfuture of Utopia," Partisan Review, 16, No. 7 (July 1949); rpt. Irving Howe, ed., 1984:TSC (see last item under Howe in second part of References). 


     8 For the importance of (mere) decency in Orwell's thought, see Christopher Small's "Clean and Neat," Ch. V of The Road to Miniluv; Isaac Rosenfeld's "Decency and Death" in his Age of Enormity (New York: World, 1962)—rpt. Howe, ed., 1984: TSC; and Roderic L. Owen, "Orwell, Decency, and the Individual Ethic," paper presented at On the Way to 2019 . . . conference, Akron, Jan. 1984. 


     9 Arendt holds that "power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert.  Power is never the property of an individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together" (On Violence, p. 44).

       For Arendt on terror, see On Violence, p. 55, and "Ideology and Terror: A Novel Form of Government," Ch. 13 of The Origins of Totalitarianis, 2nd edn. (Cleveland and New York: World, 1958); rpt. in 1984:TSC.

       Livingston comments correctly that the ". . . total lack of contact between individuals from the three states [in 1984: Oceania, Eurasia, Eastasia] perfectly mirrors the internal nature of their societies" (p. 259 of "Science Fiction Models").  By definition, such lack of contact within the three states precludes political power for the subjects of those states. 


     10 For various characters on the proles, see 1984, I.5, p. 47; I.7-I.8; I.10, esp. pp. 181-82; and III.3, pp. 215-16. 


     11 The Dispossessed (1974; rpt. NY: Avon, 1975), Ch. 10, p. 267.   





Twentieth-Century Dystopias (by Date of Publication)

[Plus other items of interest] 


[1899.  Wells, H. G.  When the Sleeper Wakes.  London and New York: Harper & Brothers.] 

1907.  London, Jack.  The Iron Heel.  New York: Macmillan.  Rpt. New York: The    Review of Reviews Company, 1917. 

1909.  Forster, E. M.  "The Machine Stops."  Oxford and Cambridge Review, 8 (Michaelmas term 1909), 83-122.  Frequently rpt.; rpt. used in this paper, Science Fiction: The Future.  Ed. Dick Allen.  New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971.  (Also in the 2nd edn. of SF:F, 1983.) 

1924.  Zamyatin, Yevgeny (variously translated and transliterated).  We.  Trans. used for this paper: Mirra Ginsburg.  New York: Bantam, 1972. 

1932.  Huxley, Aldous.  Brave New World.  Garden City: Doubleday; rpt. New York: NAL (Signet), 1961. 

[1936.  Trotsky, Leon (born Lev Davidovich Bornstein).  The Revolution Betrayed: What is the Soviet Union and Where is it Going?  No trans. listed.  London: New Park Publication, 1973.] 

[1948.  Skinner, B. F.  Walden Two.  New York: Macmillan.] 

1949.  Orwell, George (Eric Arthur Blair).  Nineteen Eighty-Four.  London: Secker & Warburg; rpt. New York: NAL (Signet), 1961, 1983.







1912-1932 (+ 300 years of the Oligarchy + 400 years of the Brotherhood of Man)—Jack London, The Iron Heel. 

1984.  Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four. 

ca. 2824 (Aldridge in Clockwork Worlds; see below.)  26th c. (Orwell, "Freedom and Happiness" essay; see below)—Zamyatin, We

[I have placed We earlier than Brave New World primarily on the basis of the technological development in each book, strongly emphasizing the bio-technology in BNW.  Note Orwell's opinion and the convenience of this earlier date for my argument.] 

26thc. (After Ford 632)—Aldous Huxley, Brave New World. 

Far Future—E. M. Forster, "The Machine Stops"

[Far enough into the future that there has been time for genetic change among humans.  Also note the apocalyptic ending of the story.]




Selected List of Critical and Background Works

Cited and/or Consulted



Arendt, Hannah.  On Violence.  New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970. 

Clockwork Worlds: Mechanized Environments in SF.  Ed. Richard D. Erlich and Thomas P. Dunn.  Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983. 

Deutscher, Isaac.  "1984—The Mysticism of Cruelty."  In I.D.'s Russian Transition (1957); rpt. Howe, ed., 1984: Text, Sources, Criticism (q.v. below, last item under Howe). 

Fromm, Erich.  "Afterword" to Nineteen Eighty-Four.  New York: NAL (Signet), 1961,  pp. 257-67.  (Also rpt. by Howe in 1984: Text, Sources, Criticism.) 

Hillegas, Mark R.  The Future as Nightmare: H. G. Wells and the Antiutopians.  NY: Oxford U. Press, 1967; rpt. Carbondale and Edwardsville: SIU Press and London and Amsterdam: Feffer & Simons (Arcturus), 1974. 

Howe, Irving.  "The Fiction of Anti-Utopia."  The New Republic, 23 April 1962; rpt. Howe, ed., 1984: Text, Sources, Criticism. 

Howe, Irving.  "Orwell: History as Nightmare."  American Scholar, 25 (Spring 1956), 193-207; coll. in Howe's Politics and the Novel; rpt. as "1984: History as Nightmare," in Howe, ed., 1984: Text, Sources, Criticism. 

Howe, Irving, ed.  Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four:Text, Sources, Criticism.  New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1963.  Abbreviated in Notes and References  as 1984: TSC. (2nd edn. 1982) 

Kern, Gary.  "We (My)."  In Survey of Science Fiction Literature.  Vol. 5.  Ed. Frank N. Magill.  Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1979. 

Livingston, Dennis.  "Science Fiction Models of Future World Order Systems."  International Organization, 25 (Spring 1971), 254-70. 

Lowenthal, Richard.  "Our Peculiar Hell."  Dissent, Fall 1957; rpt. Howe, ed., 1984:TSC. 

Michels, Robert. Political Parties: A Sociopolitical Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy.  1911; 1st English trans.: 1915 (?).  Trans. Eden and Cedar Paul.  New York and London: Free Press/Collier-Macmillan, 1962.  Introd. Seymour Martin Lipset. 

Mouzelis, Nicos P.  "Bureaucracy."  Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th Edn. (1974), Vol. 3 of Macropaedia. 

Mouzelis, Nicos P.  .  Organisation and Bureaucracy: An Analysis of Modern Theories.  London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967. 

Orwell, George (Eric Arthur Blair).  "Freedom and Happiness."  (London) Tribune, 4 Jan. 1946; rpt. Howe, ed., 1984: Text, Sources, Criticism. 

Small, Christopher.  The Road to Miniluv: George Orwell, the State, and God.  London: Gollancz, 1975; rpt. U. of Pittsburgh Press, 1976. 

The World of George Orwell.  Ed. Miriam Groll.  London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1971.