George Orwell
Contributed by Roseanne Meinecke
Themes are described as ideas that dominate a particular piece of literature. In almost all cases, pieces of literature will be centered a theme or a number of them.
The dangers of Totalitarianism

1984 is a book whose primary intention was to warn the western world about the adverse effects of totalitarianism. Orwell witnessed the extent to which the totalitarian governments in Russia and Spain would go in order to achieve their goals, including the destruction of property. Orwell used this book in an attempt to make the leaders and the citizens of the West stand firm and reject any ideas that would promote totalitarianism. In 1949 when the book was published, the Cold War had just started, and its effects had not become visible. A significant number of American intellectuals supported the ideologies of Communism. The relationship between Communist nations and Democratic states would deteriorate, and the stark differences would soon come to light. Orwell’s primary concern was the enormous cruelties and high-level oppression that was exhibited by Communist regimes. Orwell is also critical about the impact of technology in orchestrating the oppressive tendencies of the state.  In the discussion of the methods that the state uses to oppress the people, Orwell focuses on technology, physical manipulation, control over information and psychological control.


Oceania has an incredibly effective and powerful propaganda machine that it uses to control the country. Winston works in the Ministry of Truth whose goal is responsible for the dissemination of all of the party mandated information and publications. The department is charged with twisting information with the aim of influencing the thought processes of the people. The Party, dictates everything that comes from the Ministry of Truth including data and figures. It is the responsibility of the party to determine what is reality and what is not. In this way, the party has total control over the thought systems of the people. Examples of propaganda that the party employees include the Two Minutes Hate, Hate Week and the pervasive images of the Big Brother. The constant appearance of Big Brother on the telescreens is another form of intimidation against the people. The Party has also successfully managed to create foreign enemies and the people have developed an immense hatred towards these fictious enemies that the state has created.


Love is a theme that appears prominently in the book. However, the party works hard to discourage any physical relationship between men and women. The party supports the relationship only when it is directly beneficial to Oceania and for the sole purpose of procreation. Certain quarters within the party also have more extreme opinions, advocating for total abstinence among the citizens and that artificial insemination should be used for the purpose of procreation. These tough regulations destroy Winston's relationship with Katharine, and even when he finally finds Julia, he finds himself constrained since he is not free to show his love and affection for her.


Through the various forms of psychological manipulation and activities of the party, the people of Oceania have lost their independence and identity. The people wear the same clothes, eat similar foods and live in almost identical dilapidated houses. The uniformity and similarity of the lives of the people have denied them the freedom and opportunity to express themselves. No one stands out, and no one is capable of being unique. It borders on criminality for a person to express independent thought. People are only permitted to think in line with the opinions of the state. The danger of independent thought, it is presumed, is that it can easily lead to rebellion.


In Oceania, loyalty is the foundation of everything. For anybody to hold a position, loyalty is the yardstick. The party desires all of its citizens to demonstrate a level of loyalty that is beyond reproach. In the eyes of the party, this means accepting orders and demands without asking questions or hesitation. Winston accepts to do everything that the party requires without any element of reluctance, indeed it is also noteworthy that Winston even swears loyalty to the Brotherhood without asking questions. However, unlike other people, Winston has split loyalties in the sense that he is also loyal to Julia, promising not to separate from her. That goes against the principles of the party, which require individuals to be loyal only to the party, Big Brother and Oceania. Thus, when Winston pledges his loyalty to Julia, it appears as an insult against the party and Oceania as a whole.

Poverty versus Wealth

There is a clear dichotomy in the living conditions in Oceania. While there are those who live in extreme poverty, others are living with an abundance of wealth all around. The members of the Inner party live in opulent surrounding, characterized by the presence of lush, well-furnished apartments. On the other end of society, the party members live in single rooms and have small amounts of tasteless food. The Prole section of society, to which Winston belongs, suffers with the worst conditions of all. Theirs is an absolute level of poverty. The difference between the wealthy and the poor in the society is striking. When the Party creates economic policies, instead of coming up with policies that will advance the interests of all members of society, the Party has always been interested in the development of strategies that promote the economic interests of the Inner Party. Orwell has left no doubt about his disdain for Totalitarian leadership because of the fact that it leads to the promotion of accumulation of wealth among the ruling regime while the members of the other classes languish in abject conditions. While these governments pretend to be creating an economic environment that treats everyone the same, there is evidence to suggest that these governments always make policies that favor the wealthy and elite members of the societies.

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