YMMV / Nineteen Eighty-Four

  • Adaptation Displacement: Despite being credited as the Trope Codifier for dystopian fiction, George Orwell was inspired to write this novel after reading the Russian novel We. He also cited Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon and Jack London's The Iron Heel, among others, as major inspirations.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Given that the Party's doctrine is that of Alternate Reality Interpretation, and that the viewpoint character is repeatedly mind raped in the end, it can be argued that we don't know what really happens post-Room 101. All that can be trusted is what Winston sees with his own eyes up until the cage snaps shut.
    • Also, since he doesn't leave Airstrip One, we have no clue as to the state of the world — is Oceania real? Is it the entire world? Is there a Brotherhood after all? Nothing can be taken for granted, even the Info Dump book that pops up halfway through (especially the book, given that one of the Inner Party members claims credit for its authorship, and hands out copies). In fact, it's a little bit of a stretch but we can't be exactly sure if the Party even controls all of the British Isle. Could be half of it, just England, or hell, maybe only London and its imminent surroundings. Which might explain the whole "running out of resources" thing.
    • A common suggestion is that the 'scholarly' appendix on Newspeak is written in a manner that deliberately subverts this Downer Ending, given that it is written in the past tense... When 1984 was to first be published in America, the publisher wished to remove the appendix, but Orwell refused to have it published without, saying that the book would have to be reworked if such a large chunk was to be cut out. This incident, along with a few hand-picked statements of Orwell around the time the book was written, form the basis for including the appendix into the work.
    • We explicitly never do learn if there's a Brotherhood or not. An alternate, admittedly optimistic interpretation would be that the Brotherhood did exist and that O'Brien was part of it, and that Winston and Julia's capture and death were in fact due to the latter's refusal to give up everything for the Brotherhood. Granted, that'd just make the Brotherhood no better than the Party. Or, alternatively, they just messed up somehow and got caught, and O'Brien couldn't say anything, because Big Brother is watching.
    • Is O'Brien Big Brother, living as a Higher Party member and a Brotherhood leader, giving him the perfect alibi? Or is there no Big Brother at all, no single leader, with a group of mutually-controlled Higher Party members who doublethink the existence of a higher tyrant being the only tangible government?
    • O'Brien lied about having written The Book. He wants Winston to feel completely defeated, that there is no organization out there that opposed the party. And having lied about it, he doublethinked himself into believing that he wrote it. In reality, the Book's denunciation of the Party's workings is too clear to have been written by somebody whose brain is addled by Newspeak. The real writers are still out there.
    • The Ministries may actually be true to their names from a certain point of view, and using The Party's way of thinking. The Ministry of Truth can be justified with doublethink, you may be able to consider the rations you are given by the Ministry of Plenty to be "plenty" from Big Brother's logic, the Ministry of Peace is justified through "WAR IS PEACE" and the Ministry of Love is where you learn to love Big Brother.
      • The Ministry of Truth manufactures truth as defined by the party. The Ministry of Peace makes a state of internal peace in Oceania by depleting resources.
    • O'Brien is a cynical mid-level bureaucrat who doesn't actually know what The Party truly wants in spite of his villainous monologue that the Party is operating on Dystopia Justifies the Means- perhaps he is just a broken pessimist who sees the world through Jade-Colored Glasses and thinks that the only way for Big Brother to make any sense at all is if they are as pure evil as he claims, but in truth he is as much in the dark as everyone else; alternatively, perhaps O'Brien is just a Sadist who either doesn't know or doesn't care what the Party truly wants, he just wants to break Winston by painting the bleakest picture imaginable for him about Big Brother and its supposed intentions. Either way, by the end of the book, we still cannot say that we truly know what Big Brother wants, even if O'Brien seemingly spelt it out for us.
    • The look on Winston's face when the film ends after a flashback of Julia mouthing "I love you", is he regaining his humanity after his time in Room 101?
    • Well, not so much a specific character but more the setting as a whole. As one comment on this video put it, "One interesting thing about 1984 is that it's not entirely clear that Ingsoc actually exists outside of the British Isles. All the claims made about territory, about the endless wars, are the product of Minitruth propaganda. One character even hypothesizes that the bombs being dropped on London during the book are simply part of the effort to keep the Proles scared. For all we know, Airstrip One is just one giant North Korea, cut off and isolated from the rest of the world, the party projecting its illusions of grandeur and power onto a populace too broken and controlled to even know any better." Also, the beam coming from the eye in the picture up top could either be a spotlight to represent Big Brother watching you or a Doom Ray to represent their annihilation of society and those who oppose them.
    • Parsons in the Ministry of Love. Was he thrown in the same cell as Winston by coincidence? We don't know if he actually spoke out against the Party in his sleep. Was he then arrested purely to demoralize Winston? And seeing how people tend to not be who they look like at first, was he secretly working with the Though Police?
    • We see all the other characters from Winston's perspective. He frequently informs us that various characters are stupid, but it's not hard to imagine that many of them are just better than him at keeping their heads down. His view of the proles as "distracted" by trivial matters falls somewhat flat when you remember that (by the standards of his society) Winston is a single, childless, middle-class man looking down on people who are struggling to feed their families.
  • Awesome Music: Fascist, yes, but stirring.
  • Broken Base: The appendix. Does it imply a future where Big Brother eventually falls with its use of past tense, or is it just an out-of-universe quip that simply exists to explain to people on the other side of the fourth wall how Newspeak works?
  • Counterpart Comparison: The book's themes has been compared to Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophies and Also Sprach Zarathustra, read here for a detailed essay.
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: Entirely deliberate on Orwell's part to point how the methods of one's own "good" nation are Not So Different from "evil" nations.
  • Ear Worm: Oceania Tis of Thee from the 1984 film.
  • Fandom Berserk Button: Lots of people think this book depicts a society where you're under surveillance all the time. You aren't, not all of the time. You just don't know when you're being watched and when you aren't.
    • There's also the misconception that everyone is watched and under the government's heel. Only government officials are watched; the 80% of the population that is the Proles are essentially "free" (hence the slogan "Proles and animals are free.")
    • Though the latter misconception about Proles being spied on is not completely unfounded as it is stated that the Party finds the brightest and most troublesome Proles and eliminates them.
    • Mistaking the book as a Take That! to either Those Wacky Nazis or Dirty Communists will attract criticism.
  • Fan Wank: Much has been made of the Newspeak appendix being written in the past tense. Many think it points to the eventual fall of The Party (Thomas Pynchon even supports this interpretation in an introduction included with some editions), but Orwell never confirmed nor denied it.
  • Friendly Fandoms: There's a lot of overlap between readers of this and readers of Fahrenheit 451, due to both books being about then-future dystopias and elimination of free thought.
  • Funny Moments: You probably wouldn't expect this, but there are a few moments.
    • The idea of a "holiday" called Hate Week.
    • During the Two Minute Hate, Julia goes so berserk with rage, throwing her shoe at the screen, O'Brien stares at her in incredulity. Knowing what we learn later in the story, it's downright hilarious.
    • Winston tries to have a smoke after returning home, only for the tobacco to fall out from the shoddy cigarette in the beginning of the 1984 adaptation.
    Winston: Bugger!
    • The 1954 BBC adaptation has a notable one where O'Brien reads a sample of a porn novel in the Pornosec.
    • The way the Thought Police taunts Winston and Julia over the speaker when they get caught sounds outright cartoonish.
    Thought Police: While we're on the subject, here comes a candle to light up your bed, here comes a chopper to chop off your head!
  • Genius Bonus: In the final scene when Winston is playing chess in the Chestnut Tree Café, he picks up a White knight from the board and contemplates a move. The arrangement of the pieces on the chess board suggests that he is considering the tactic of going around and hitting the opposing Black army from behind. Only minutes later, the telescreen announcer reports that the Oceanian forces had just defeated the Eurasian enemy in Africa by using the same tactic.
    • Also, Winston's ulcerated ankle is a metaphor for repressed sexual energy.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: By 2007, Britain was home to more than 4.2 million CCTV cameras monitored by government or civil authorities. 32 of them are within 200 yards of Orwell's London flat, and at least four have a direct line-of-sight to his property, including direct views through the house's rear windows. These numbers have certainly increased since then.
    • The totalitarian society the book describes has been more or less realized by North Korea, which managed to create a state similar to the condition of Oceania a few years after the book was published.
    • One of the 3 super states in the book is the superstate of Eurasia, which practices the ideology of "Neo-Bolshevism" which, as per the themes of the book, is a totalitarian ideology disguising itself as a populist one. As of now, there is an ACTUAL movement in Russia called National Bolshevism which not only sounds similar, but seeks to create a Eurasian super state led by Russia while maintaining a pseudo Communist government. They've been disowned by Marxists and Nationalists alike.
    • Also, O'Brien's speech to Winston and Julia in his apartment.
    • Plenty of people have commented on how the constant monitoring and citizens spying on each other makes Oceania look a lot like North Korea, but Winston's backstory also bears some disturbing similarities to the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, the only person to ever be born in a North Korean labor camp (for either the crimes of his parents or grandparents, he isn't sure which) and escape. Shin claims to have turned in his mother and brother for execution when they tried to escape. He did this because he saw them as competitors for food, and was hoping the guards would let him eat a full meal for the first time in his life (to this day he says he doesn't know what "love" means, and his entire concept of "freedom" is based around being able to eat as much as he wants.)
    • With a dose of Reality Subtext thrown in, Richard Burton was dying as the film was being made and his health was so bad that he had to wear support braces during rehearsals. It makes O'Brien's speech to Winston about the frailty of the flesh and the strength of the Party much sadder in the case of Burton and more terrifying in the case of O'Brien.
    • The revelations in the 21st Century that Orwell himself composed a list of suspected subversives for an anti-communist organization around the same time he finished 1984 has left many people noting that Orwell himself came to love Big Brother and approved some measure of surveillance on targeted citizens, such as "anti-white" Paul Robeson, Charlie Chaplin and others who are potentially "jewish". Later revelations have likewise exposed that for all of Orwell's criticism of language creating propaganda and hiding the truth in 1984, he himself has a huge history of exaggerating and outright lying about some of the events he covered. As they say, Write What You Know......
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: It's briefly discussed that the Minitrue has a section dedicated to producing porn, which Julia works for. The porn is barely considered sexual or erotic, and is more So Bad, It's Good than anything else. Then the internet happened.
    • So what does the future feel like, according to O'Brien? A boot to the head.
    • In the 1984 film adaptation, John Hurt plays Winston, a man oppressed by a totalitarian government. 22 years later he plays Adam Sutler, the head of a totalitarian government in the film adaptation of V for Vendetta.
      • And then, he played the role of Big Brother himself in a 2009 stage adaptation of this novel.
      • Come 2013 in Doctor Who, he regenerates into Christopher Eccleston. In the same year, Eccleston provided the voice of Winston Smith in a BBC radio adaptation of the book.
      • Later in Snowpiercer, Hurt plays an elderly man in the lowest social class who later incites a revolution. Then, his character was revealed to be cooperating with the antagonist the whole time, to ensure the planned Staged Populist Uprising among the lowest social class.
    • The rat torture in the climax is reminiscent of a noticeably less scary scene from the extended cut of The Wicker Man (2006), involving poorly CGI'd bees and Nicolas Cage hamming it up.
  • Ho Yay: Winston is pretty obsessed with O'Brien.
    • To be fair, Winston was fairly certain O'Brien could get him out of Hell on Earth.
    • The feeling can be seen as mutual, particularly after it's implied that O'Brien has been working on Smith as his "pet project" for seven years.
      • In the 1984 adaptation, Winston looked genuinely heartbroken after the reveal of O'Brien's role as The Mole. He later hallucinates about O'Brien, saying I love you to O'Brien, before he turns into Julia.
  • It Was His Sled: O'Brien is a government agent who tricks Winston and Julia into trusting him. Since he's the one who delivers the Party's messages to the readers, his betrayal is freely discussed as part of the greater debate on the themes of the story. Many modern introductions that display the characters freely spoil that he's the Big Bad.
  • Magnificent Bastard: O'Brien. He's an Affably Evil Genius Bruiser Chessmaster Manipulative Bastard who comes off as very charismatic even while he's torturing Winston and ensures the Party's endless victories against all would-be rebels.
  • Mary Suetopia: A Straw Dystopia, where one of the members of State Sec even thinks that The Party will last forever, despite that in reality, there obviously would be corruption, revolts, sabotage, and failures in surveillance system, inefficiency and crises of economics, lack of professionals and social lifts which will lead to failures in the work of state... The list can go on.
  • Memetic Mutation: This is the work that informs modern life, with "Big Brother" and "Big Brother Is Watching You," "doublethink," "Unperson," "thought crime," "thought police," "2+2=5," and "Room 101". While we're at it, there's the the war with Eastasia Eastasia is our ally. We were always at war with Eurasia. Really, the government in the novel communicates to the public almost entirely through memes.
    • Artifacts of the pre-Party times survive as memes too: "Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement's..."
    • "1984 was not an instruction manual!" is a common reaction to whenever a group is acting overly censoring.
  • Metaphorically True:
    • The names of the Ministries (Ministry of Truth, Ministry of Love, Ministry of Plenty, Ministry of Peace) can be perfectly true from The Party's point of view, rather than ironic. Minitrue doesn't falsify or lie, it corrects the past to show the new truth, which having been corrected has now always been the truth; Minipax maintains internal peace by continually waging external war; the goal of Miniluv is for everyone to love Big Brother and The Party; and Miniplenty is in control of Oceania's economy, which appears to actually be very strong but is directed almost solely towards creating weapons and large public gestures which do not actually improve the lives of the population but keep their minds occupied.
  • Misaimed Fandom:
    • If you think Orwell was solely attacking Dirty Communists (or, worse, liberals), you've missed the point. Fascist totalitarian regimes and religious theocracies can grow from other movements as well. The reverse is true as well.
    • There are those who believe the novel is an attack on socialism, ignoring the fact that Orwell was a committed socialist.
    • Some people consider the character of Emmanuel Goldstein to be a symbol of rebellion against tyranny because of his status in the book as a boogeyman for the Party. However, it's likely Goldstein was based on Leon Trotsky, whom Orwell considered not much better than the Communists he rebelled against.
  • Misaimed Marketing: Ridley Scott's extremely famous 1984 Super Bowl Ad for Apple Computers.
  • Music to Invade Poland To: Oceania, 'Tis of Thee from the 1984 film.
  • Nightmare Fuel: Being one of the codifiers of the Totalitarian Dystopia, it should be no surprise that it has its own page.
  • Older Than They Think: Many of the themes from Nineteen Eighty-Four appear earlier in Orwell's work. The idea of "the truth" being whatever the ruling elite says (including the specific example of '2+2 = 5')? Chapter Four of Looking Back on the Spanish War. Political jargon constricting thought? Politics and the English Language, and before that, his As I Please column for March 17, 1944. The world being divided between a small number of super-states? He cribbed it from James Burnham. History being an endless cycle of the "Middle" deceiving the "Low" in order to depose the "High?" Ditto. Doublethink, 'the power of holding simultaneously two beliefs which cancel out'? In Front of Your Nose. The aversion of Evil Will Fail? Chapter Four of Looking Back on the Spanish War, again. The working class (Proles) as the only hope against a totalitarian government, but also very stupid and shallow? Chapter Five of Looking Back on the Spanish War. The metaphor of a totalitarian government as a boot stamping on the face of humanity? From Jack London's The Iron Heel.
  • Paranoia Fuel: Almost certainly, the worst part of 1984 is that it's plausible.
  • Periphery Demographic: The novel is highly popular among LGBT groups who see the novel's portrayal of constant surveillance, thoughtcrime, and enforcement of ideology as a metaphor for how heteronormativ social values forced LGBT peoples to remain in the closet, and find love in secret and in hiding, with Winston and Julia's admittedly straight but forbidden romance, a reflection of how they had to find love and their brutal "reeducation" disturbingly similar to the attempts at Cure Your Gays by heterosexual peoples. Indeed, David Bowie planned a musical adaptation of the novel (which eventually got worked into Diamond Dogs) that would have focused on this aspect of the book. With that in mind, it can be quite a shock to learn that Orwell was himself a lifelong and dedicated Heteronormative Crusader and that at Eton he, as a Prefect, would rat out students he suspected of being gay.
  • Praising Shows You Don't Watch: Ironically, especially given how often just about any development in how the government works will be met with comparisons to Nineteen Eighty-Four, according to a British survey it's also the book most people lie about having read.
  • Sci Fi Ghetto:
    • Many literature professors will get very angry if you call this "Science Fiction", even though it's set in the future, with a level of surveillance impossible at the book's writing central to the plot and tone and the climax clearly relying on some sort of ultra-sophisticated psychological profiling.
    • The otherworldly pyramid architecture of the Ministry buildings. While not necessarily containing an outright sci-fi element, their description evokes a futuristic, utopian feel.
  • Society Marches On: In general, totalitarian regimes are still feared today, as well they should be, but since Orwell's death, and the downfall of some of the states Orwell was inspired by, we've gotten much more insight into the inner-workings (or lack thereof) of such governments, and the idea that such a state in such a position or condition, will last forever is Dated History.
    • The Party's predilection towards corruption and Chronic Back Stabbing Disorder is Handwaved by O'Brien stating that Inner Party Members function by Double Think. Psychology-inspired historical studies has discovered that such people at the top of such regimes would not be like O'Brien — a ruthless, cunning, sadistic, yet loyal and sophisticated man, but rather the paranoia and fear of a climate constant purges and flip-flopping shifts in loyalties would determine that such people were more likely to put on a Mask of Sanity as a dull, incompetent bureaucrat who only makes rent by taking bribes and falls Beneath Suspicion, or a total psychopath who gives good speeches, but would rather just torture you right away than explain the Party's philosophy, and wouldn't Double Think diddley-squat if it meant living in squalor and fear of other such people.
    • The idea that people under torture would break and really love big brother was inspired by the spectacle of the Moscow Show Trials whereby Old Bolsheviks were forced to confess to absurd crimes and betrayals in front of news cameras. The truth, as post-Cold War history has revealed, was that most of them were tortured and their families and friends were threatened if they didn't confess, and none of them really did believe their accusations, nor were many of the inmates and victims who were sent to The Gulag.
    • The idea that a perpetual war, especially one that was constantly and literally hitting close to home, was a good way to maintain public support should've been discredited after World War I, and is even more laughable in the U.S. due to The Vietnam War and Iraq. It makes sense in Orwell's model where the people of the Soviet Union backed Stalin and his regime as a bulwark against Nazism, as did the Western Communists who Orwell saw as his real target, but of course in that situation Stalin didn't have to make up any fake war, since the Nazis really did invade the USSR and with unspeakable horrifying brutality moreover.
    • Most important is Orwell's portrayal of totalitarianism and its propaganda-based mass-media society as an aspect of ideological conditioning and something that can happen in Britain. Historians studying the USSR after the Cold War see the Stalin regime as backsliding to the Tsarist era, and that USSR party bureaucracy and Stalin's famous nomenklatura wasn't based on ideology but client-patron relations, something which is present in Tsarist society and other traditional societies, and even in Ancient Rome. Real-life Big Brothers and O'Brien operate closer to Don Corleone or the Goodfellas. So the idea that a big-brother style system is a modern phenomenon driven by ideology and Double Think as Orwell notes is a very elegant satire on say "party discipline" in the British Communist Party and other Bourgeois Bohemian fellow-traveler circles, the only model Orwell really knew about, but it's probably not a good model for understanding why authoritarian regimes and dictatorships flourished in the past and the present.
  • True Art Is Angsty: The book is considered one of the greatest ever written, and it's one of the most depressing ones you'll ever read.
  • Values Dissonance:
    • The Party's arbitrary changing of their enemies and allies in the possibly-fictional war makes sense both in-universe and out, as a display of their power, and refers to how the USSR went from being stridently anti-Nazi to neutral during the M-R Pact to being fiercely anti-Nazi again (which to be really fair, is something they only did once, briefly, and that after many years of anti-Nazi coalitions formed with the West fell on deaf years). However, even vaguely insinuating that in a wartime context based of WWII, that all sides are the same and the war crimes of one state are merely propaganda would probably, and ironically, get Orwell compared to Holocaust Deniers today.
    • Indeed, Orwell in one of his letters, believed that Britain after World War II would either end in fascism or socialist dictatorship, which considering how British resolve during the war where they defied Nazism before the USSR and USA got involved, is rightly seen as its Glory Days, is a rather weird judgment on the events and needless to say.
    • Despite its strong female lead, the novel has been accused of misogyny in how Winston notes that all the party's fanatic followers are women, and how even Julia's appearance is so often emphasized as very important, and likewise the portrayal of Julia as a strong rebel who ultimately breaks down in torture and submits to the party and as such no different morally and figuratively from Winston, the "a-political" cog in the wheel of the system does reflect some of Orwell's gender biases.
    • The idea of New Speak, and how some languages or dialects are inherently superior to others, is Science Marches On at best, and elitist/imperialistic at worst. Much of which was inspired by Orwell propagandizing Beige Prose in his essays and this attitude would be criticized, then and later, by writers like Julian Barnes, Will Self, Salman Rushdie among others, for its Schoolmarm-like recommendation of linguistic purity and discipline, of the kind that Orwell was supposedly railing itself.
  • Values Resonance: The rise and spread of mass media politics, consumerist advertising, PR-Based Politics that emphasize image over content, and the new technologies that rose during The War on Terror such as government-enforced surveillance makes Orwell's overly paranoid satire relevant and applicable even after the USSR and Fascist states that Orwell was targeting had fallen. The fact that the novel is a best-seller in The New '10s vindicates its strength.
  • The Woobie: Winston and Julia, especially in the movie.

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