1984

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Totalitarianism and Communism Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Totalitarianism and Communism Theme Icon
The Individual vs. Collective Identity Theme Icon
Reality Control Theme Icon
Sex, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Class Struggle Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in 1984, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Totalitarianism and Communism Theme Icon

Orwell published Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949, not as a prediction of actual future events, but to warn the world against what he feared would be the fate of humanity if totalitarian regimes were allowed to seize power as they had done recently in Germany under Hitler and in the Soviet Union under Stalin. In the aftermath of World War II, Anglo-American intellectuals were reluctant to criticize the Soviet regime, despite evidence of Stalin's despotism, because Russia had been an ally against Germany and Japan. Orwell, who witnessed firsthand the Soviet-backed Communists' brutal suppression of rival political groups during the Spanish Civil War, returned from the war an outspoken critic of Communism. For the rest of his life he worked tirelessly to expose the evils of totalitarianism and to promote what he called "democratic socialism." To reviewers who wished to see his book as a critique of Soviet Communism, Orwell maintained that he had set the book in Britain in order to show that totalitarianism could succeed anywhere if it were not fought against. In the novel, INGSOC represents the worst features of both the Nazi and Communist regimes. The Party's ultimate ambition is to control the minds as well as the bodies of its citizenry, and thus control reality itself. Totalitarianism was an outgrowth of Socialism, which arose as a response to industrialization, and sought to create more equitable societies by centralizing production and abolishing private property in favor of collective ownership. Emmanuel Goldstein's book, parts of which Winston reads in Book II, outlines the methods by which a totalitarian regime consolidates and extends its power.

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Totalitarianism and Communism Quotes in 1984

Below you will find the important quotes in 1984 related to the theme of Totalitarianism and Communism.
Book 1, Chapter 3 Quotes
The process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound tracks, cartoons, photographs—to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance. Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every predication made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary. In no case would it have been possible, once the deed was done, to prove that any falsification had taken place.
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker)
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Winston describes the tasks he performs at his job at the Ministry of Truth: "rectifying" cultural and historical records so that they don't contradict the Party's current version of truth, which is constantly changing. This role is particularly thankless for a number of reasons. Firstly, because all of the work is done in secret, Winston will never receive any acknowledgment or credit for what he does. Indeed, doing his job well means making it impossible to "prove that any falsification has taken place." Furthermore, he is constantly undoing his own work; every time he changes a record, he knows that perhaps only hours later he will have to change it again.

Finally, because the Party's version of the truth is constantly changing and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future, there is a nightmarish sense of monotony to Winston's work, which will never be complete, but will simply go on and on, its only purpose to strengthen the Party's control over reality. Indeed, this sense of monotony characterizes life in the world of 1984. Orwell shows that existence under a totalitarian regime is endlessly dull and repetitive, as the Party erases all differentiation between people and their experiences. 

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Book 1, Chapter 7 Quotes
It was as though some huge force were pressing down upon you—something that penetrated inside your skull, battering against your brain, frightening you out of your beliefs, persuading you, almost, to deny the evidence of your senses. In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable—what then?
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker)
Related Symbols: Big Brother
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

Winston has been staring at a picture of Big Brother on the cover of a children's book, reflecting on the way that the Party controls his thoughts. He describes the pressure to conform to Party ideology at the expense of his own logic as a kind of physical force, so powerful that it could lead him to believe that 2+2=5. Indeed, this statement accurately foreshadows the moment when O'Brien eventually does convince Winston through torture that 2+2=5 at the end of the novel. 

In this passage, Orwell conveys the idea that reality control is even more horrifying than death. Perhaps because he has little to live for, Winston does not fear death; however, his words suggest that the ability to reason is the most important thing in life, and without that, he might as well be dead. With this in mind, Winston's eventual fate at the end of the novel is even more tragic than if he had been killed. At the same time, this passage shows that Winston knows such a fate is "inevitable." 

Book 2, Chapter 3 Quotes
There was a direct, intimate connection between chastity and political orthodoxy. For how could the fear, the hatred, and the lunatic credulity which the Party needed in its members be kept at the right pitch, except by bottling down some powerful instinct and using it as a driving force? The sex impulse was dangerous to the Party, and the Party had turned it to account.
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker)
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

Julia has explained to Winston how the Party utilizes sexual repression as a way of creating and harnessing frustrated energy that can then be directed toward the Party's own political ends. Winston agrees, and muses that if left uncontrolled, sexuality would be a direct threat to the Party. Once again, Orwell shows that characters in the world of 1984 are not able to understand their own thoughts and feelings except in relation to the Party: every act, thought, and emotion is instantly categorized as either orthodox or subversive. This passage is also significant because of its wider implications beyond the issue of totalitarianism. Although the sexual repression depicted in 1984 is extreme, Orwell's point about the ways in which sexual repression can be used to create political obedience is not necessarily limited to totalitarian regimes. 

Book 2, Chapter 7 Quotes
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. When once you were in the grip of the Party, what you felt or did not feel, what you did or refrained from doing, made literally no difference. Whatever happened you vanished, and neither you nor your actions were ever heard of again.
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker)
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

Winston has told Julia that he has spent his entire life feeling guilty for his mother's death, an emotional revelation that was only made possible through the time he and Julia have spent alone in the rented room. Having made this confession, Winston feels resentful of the way that the Party has made his emotions insignificant, while also robbing him of any structural power within the Party itself. The statement "what you did or refrained from doing, made no difference. Whatever happened you vanished" emphasizes the fact that individual identity is completely dissolved in the world of 1984. It is impossible to have any individual autonomy, as the only possible modes of behavior––obedience or rebellion––both ultimately result in being subsumed back into the Party. 

Book 2, Chapter 9 Quotes
The primary aim of modern warfare (in accordance with the principles of doublethink, this aim is simultaneously recognized and not recognized by the directing brains of the Inner Party) is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living.
Related Characters: Emmanuel Goldstein (speaker)
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:

O'Brien has given Winston a copy of Emmanuel Goldstein's (banned) book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchal Collectivism, which Winston reads once he is in private in the rented room. In Chapter 3, "War Is Peace," Goldstein describes how the perpetual state of war is achieved and why. Although the war is partly a territorial conflict over colonized regions containing resources and people used as slave labor, the main reason for war is to use up goods in order to prevent a rise in the standard of living. The population is kept in poverty, as it is thought that the accumulation of resources would lead to better education and political resistance. The logic of war also gives a veneer of purpose to the Party's control of the population and to policies such as rationing; however, this purpose is undermined by the fact that the war is designed to be perpetual. Once again, 1984 depicts a world in which time no longer unfolds with any kind of direction or purpose, but is rather directionless and monotonous.

The two aims of the Party are to conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought. There are therefore two great problems which the Party is concerned to solve. One is how to discover, against his will, what another human being is thinking, and the other is how to kill several hundred million people in a few seconds without giving warning beforehand.
Related Characters: Emmanuel Goldstein (speaker)
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Emmanuel Goldstein details the two obstacles preventing the Party from achieving its aim of global domination. This passage implies that once these two problems are solved, there will be nothing to stop the Party from seizing and maintaining power over the entire world. The two problems are 1) the ability to know what a person is thinking and 2) the ability to kill hundreds of millions of people without warning.

In the main narrative, each of the problems is presented as being partially solved. The constant surveillance of the telescreen means that any subversive behavior, however minor, can be detected by the Party. There are also several points when it is shown to be possible to tell when someone is thinking unpatriotic thoughts just by looking at their face. Meanwhile, remember that 1984 is set in a post-nuclear world; nuclear weapons can kill hundreds of thousands of people at a time, although in the novel the three states have signed a nuclear truce. The fact that the Party has already begun to overcome these obstacles ominously suggests that it will soon be able to achieve its aim of total world domination. 

The heirs of the French, English, and American revolutions had partly believed in their own phrases about the rights of man, freedom of speech, equality before the law, and the like, and have even allowed their conduct to be influenced by them to some extent. But by the fourth decade of the twentieth century all the main currents of political thought were authoritarian. The earthly paradise had been discredited at exactly the moment when it became realizable. Every new political theory, by whatever name it called itself, led back to hierarchy and regimentation. And in the general hardening of outlook that set in round about 1930, practices which had been long abandoned, in some cases for hundreds of years--imprisonment without trial, the use of war prisoners as slaves, public executions, torture to extract confessions, the use of hostages, and the deportation of whole populations--not only became common again, but were tolerated and even defended by people who considered themselves enlightened and progressive.
Related Characters: Emmanuel Goldstein (speaker)
Page Number: 204-205
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Orwell gives an interpretation of the actual history of the world up until the 1940s through the voice of the imagined revolutionary Emmanuel Goldstein. This narrative presents a somewhat cynical view of the French, English, and American revolutions, suggesting that the leaders of these events only partly believed in the egalitarian political ideals on which they were supposedly based. The passage features an even bleaker view of the 1930s and '40s, suggesting that although political theories such as communism, socialism, and fascism may have seemed ideologically different, they all ultimately led to abuse of power and crimes against humanity. 

Although this passage is part of Emmanuel Goldstein's book-within-the-book, there is a strong sense of Orwell's voice coming through here. The pessimistic outlook reflects the climate in which 1984 was written. In 1948, the events of the first and second World Wars and the continued power of totalitarian regimes (such as Franco's fascist government in Spain and Stalinism in the USSR) made it difficult to trust that political theories would lead to positive outcomes, or that leaders would not end up corrupted by power. Both in this passage and throughout the book, Orwell suggests that political theories themselves are somewhat meaningless, because they seem to inevitably lead to authoritarianism and oppression. Although the Party in 1984 claims to be pursuing its aims in the name of equality, peace, love, and freedom, in reality of course the opposite is true. 

The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy; they are deliberate exercises in doublethink. For it is only by reconciling contradictions that power can be retained indefinitely. In no other way could the ancient cycle be broken. If human equality is to be for ever averted—if the High, as we have called them, are to keep their places permanently—then the prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity.
Related Characters: Emmanuel Goldstein (speaker)
Page Number: 216
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage Emmanuel Goldstein makes an important distinction between doublethink and lying or hypocrisy. Recall that doublethink is not saying one thing and believing another, but rather holding that two contradictory things are true at once. Again, the important thing to note here is that logic is a threat to the Party's power, and thus doublethink is necessary because it is a way of perceiving the world that is by definition illogical––it is completely incompatible with logic and thus, in Goldstein's words, can be considered a form of "controlled insanity."

It is also important to note Goldstein's statement that the aim of the Party is for "human equality... to be for ever averted." Of course this in itself represents doublethink, as the Party simultaneously tells citizens that the regime's purpose is to ensure equality. This reflects the hypocrisy of Stalinism, where communist ideals of a fair, egalitarian society were distorted in such a way that preserved the high status and rewards of government officials while huge sections of the population were starved, imprisoned, or worked to death. 

Book 3, Chapter 3 Quotes
". . . The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power."
Related Characters: O'Brien (speaker)
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:

Winston, who has succumbed to torture in the Ministry of Love and is doing everything he can to get O'Brien to ease the pain, has told O'Brien that he believes the Party seeks absolute power because this is ultimately the best for the majority of the population. However, O'Brien's gives a surprising response to this; he explains to Winston that the Party seeks power for no other reason than to have it. This shift in ideology shows that, now that Winston has been tortured into accepting doublethink, brainwashing and lies are no longer necessary.

Note O'Brien's distinction between this aspect of Party ideology and the legacies of Nazism and Stalinism. O'Brien suggests that these regimes fell short of the ultimate form of totalitarianism symbolized by the Party, because they maintained that there was a reason for their authoritarian power (such as increasing equality or efficiency, or conquering other nations) other than the goal of achieving power itself. The Party thus symbolizes the logical conclusion of totalitarianism, where leaders are not corrupted by power, but instead justify everything through the aim of having power over others. 

Book 3, Chapter 4 Quotes
To die hating them, that was freedom.
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker)
Related Symbols: Big Brother
Page Number: 281
Explanation and Analysis:

After months of torture, Winston has accepted the Party's control over reality and over his own mind. However, he still dreams of the past, of his mother, and of Julia, and has awoken realizing that despite the fact that he has accepted doublethink, he still loves Julia and thus his emotions are still free from the Party's control. He realizes that he wants to die hating the Party and Big Brother, because even if the Party controls every other aspect of his life, this hatred will prove that he died a person with at least a tiny modicum of dignity and agency.

This sentence tragically foreshadows the remainder of the narrative, where Winston loses his emotional freedom, including his love of Julia and hatred of the Party. This is reflected in the final sentence of the novel, which is "He loved Big Brother." 

Book 3, Chapter 6 Quotes
"They can't get inside you," she had said. But they could get inside you. "What happens to you here is forever," O'Brien had said. That was a true word. There were things, your own acts, from which you could never recover. Something was killed in your breast; burnt out, cauterized out.
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker), Julia/The Dark-Haired Girl (speaker), O'Brien (speaker)
Page Number: 290
Explanation and Analysis:

Winston has been released from the Ministry of Love, having successfully been tortured into accepting and obeying the Party. He is now an alcoholic and is drinking gin in the Chestnut Tree Cafe, recalling a moment when Julia had told him that no matter what the Party did, "they can't get inside you." Of course, Winston's time being tortured in the Ministry of Love disproves this fact, something he now understands. The horror of Room 101 lies in the fact that, when faced with their greatest fear, a person will betray everything that is meaningful to them, thereby losing their sense of self. Winston knows he will never be able to "recover" from the moment when he betrayed Julia, and because of this will never have enough agency to be able to resist the Party again. 

"Sometimes," she said, "they threaten you with something—something you can't stand up to, can't even think about. And then you say, ‘Don't do it to me, do it to somebody else, do it to so-and-so.' And perhaps you might pretend, afterwards, that it was only a trick and that you just said it to make them stop and didn't really mean it. But that isn't true. At the time when it happens you do mean it. You think there's no other way of saving yourself, and you're quite ready to save yourself that way. You want it to happen to the other person. You don't give a damn what they suffer. All you care about is yourself."
"All you care about is yourself," he echoed.
"And after that, you don't feel the same towards the other person any longer." — "No," he said, "you don't feel the same."
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker), Julia/The Dark-Haired Girl (speaker)
Page Number: 292
Explanation and Analysis:

Winston has run into Julia, and they have both confessed that they betrayed each other while being tortured in Room 101. Julia admits that this moment of betrayal represents a total loss of one's sense of self, reflecting Winston's earlier thoughts in the Chestnut Tree Cafe.

Even though this betrayal is induced by the worst form of torture, it is not possible for either Julia or Winston to forgive themselves. They are haunted by the memory of their own selfishness in the face of torture, a selfishness that then results in total obedience to the Party. This highlights a paradox within the consequences of torture; the moment when "all you care about is yourself" becomes the moment when you lose your sense of self forever. Orwell thus implies that what gives people a sense of personal identity is in fact the ability to care about other things (such as people and principles) more than themselves. 

He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker)
Related Symbols: Big Brother
Page Number: 298
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final paragraph of the main narrative, Winston is drunk from gin at the Chestnut Tree Cafe and gazes lovingly at a picture of Big Brother. He regrets all the time he spent struggling against the Party, and feels relieved that he now accepts the Party and loves Big Brother. The two exclamations beginning with "O" use over-the-top poetic language to convey Winston's drunkenness, and this impression, along with his total surrender to the Party, highlight the fact that he is not the same person as he was at the beginning of the novel. His ability to think and feel autonomously has totally disappeared, and he is now simply a vehicle of obedience to the Party.