George Orwell

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1984 Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on George Orwell's 1984. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of George Orwell

Eric Blair was born and spent his youth in India. He was educated at Eton in England. From 1922-27 he served in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. Through his autobiographical work about poverty in London (Down and Out in Paris and London, 1933), his experiences in colonial Burma (Burmese Days, 1934) and in the Spanish Civil War (Homage to Catalonia, 1938), and the plight of unemployed coal miners in England (The Road to Wigan Pier, 1937), Blair (who wrote under the name George Orwell) exposed and critiqued the human tendency to oppress others politically, economically, and physically. He is best known for his satires of totalitarian rule: Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Both books were widely considered to be indictments of Communism under Joseph Stalin, but Orwell insisted that they were critiques of totalitarian ideas in general, and warned that the nightmarish conditions he depicted could take place anywhere. In 1947 a lung infection contracted in Burma worsened, and in 1950 Orwell succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 46.
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Historical Context of 1984

Orwell was a socialist, the direct result of his service as a militiaman on the Republican side against the Fascist general Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Upon his return to England he joined the British Independent Labour Party and began to write against Stalinism and the Nazi regime. Orwell was also influenced by anarchist critiques of Soviet communism and by the Marxist writings of Leon Trotsky, the exiled communist revolutionary and model for Emmanuel Goldstein in Nineteen Eighty-Four. In 1946 Orwell wrote, "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."

Other Books Related to 1984

In 1516, Sir Thomas More published a book called Utopia. Its title meant, in Greek, either "good place" or "no place," and the book described an ideal society in order to criticize More's own society. Utopia was not the first book to imagine a perfect society; Plato's Republic, for example, does the same thing. But Utopia did give the genre a name, and numerous writers over the years wrote their own Utopian novels. In addition, a number of writers wrote Dystopian novels, in which they imagined the worst possible society, and used it to criticize their current world. Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian novel. The primary literary model for Nineteen Eighty-Four is considered to be H.G. Wells's anti-Utopian satire When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), but Orwell was also influenced by the writings of the 18th century satirist Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels (1726). Prior to writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell wrote and published essays on Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), Jack London's The Iron Heel (1907), and Yevgeny Zamyatin's We (1924), dystopian novels set in an imaginary future, and James Burnham's nonfiction political tract The Managerial Revolution (1941).
Key Facts about 1984
  • Full Title: Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel
  • When Written: 1945-49; outline written 1943
  • Where Written: Jura, Scotland
  • When Published: June 1949
  • Literary Period: Late Modernism
  • Genre: Novel / Satire / Parable
  • Setting: London in the year 1984
  • Climax: Winston is tortured in Room 101
  • Antagonist: O'Brien
  • Point of View: Third-Person Limited

Extra Credit for 1984

Outspoken Anti-Communist. Orwell didn't just write literature that condemned the Communist state of the USSR. He did everything he could, from writing editorials to compiling lists of men he knew were Soviet spies, to combat the willful blindness of many intellectuals in the West to USSR atrocities.

Working Title. Orwell's working title for the novel was The Last Man in Europe.