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 (though, 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. Yet another possibility is that their affirmative responses to questions about whether they'd do things like deliberately infect people with STDs or throw acid at children marked them as the kind of recruits the Brotherhood didn't want. Or perhaps the Brotherhood is real and O'Brien is simply not a member, but elsewhere there are real Brotherhood recruiters setting up a real plot to overthrow the Party.
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. Alternately, the Ministry of Truth manufactures truth as defined by the party, and 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-Coloured 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.
Based on O'Brien's line "they caught me a long time ago", is he lying or was he a rebel until being caught and brainwashed? Is that why he's so good in catching rebels? Is he also a dead man waiting?
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.
Is Julia in love with Winston and a fellow rebel or is she actually an agent of the Party (perhaps even the Thought Police)? After all, the Party needs enemies to justify its existence and using her as a Honey Pot to root out dissidents is a perfectly likely act from them and not even unlike the RL Soviet Union.
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 Thought 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.
The old man whom Winston talks to in the prole pub about life before the Revolution: genuinely senile and drunk or Obfuscating Insanity because he fears what Winston, a Party member, may do to him for telling him the truth?
Alternatively, he might not have been afraid of Winston, but of who else might have been listening. While this may seem like a slight variation, his actions could be taken as a hint that Winston should REALLY learn when to keep his mouth shut. If he'd truly believed Winston was simply Thought Police he most likely would have simply recited some Party talking points and insisted they were all true.
Was Syme really purged, as Winston believes? Or was he just moved elsewhere and given a new identity for some other purpose?
The book does actually not have the ultimate Downer Ending as most people would think. There's an often overlooked appendix talking about the history of Newspeak referring to it in the past tense written in Standard English, implying that the Party did, in fact, eventually fall. While the final message is left open to interpretation, many people are completely unaware of the appendix's existence, which can be considered relevant to the story. There's at least somewhat of a "Ray of Hope" Ending.
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. However, one could argue this creates the illusion that you are being watched all the time out of paranoia. Effectively, it is all in your head.
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 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.
Discredited Meme: Comparisons of real world current events to this book in general, especially without referring to a specific concept. "Literally 1984" is more often used ironically than not, and captioning a gif of Big Brother from the Apple commercial with common sense advise has itself become a meme.
Making poor real life comparions to the setting or themes in the book will also cause this.
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.
There's a lot of overlap between readers of this and readers of Fahrenheit 451, due to both books being about then-futuredystopias and elimination of free thought. Not to mention with both books often being required reading in schools, many are likely to read both.
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.
Winston's ulcerated ankle is a metaphor for repressed sexual energy.
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.
China has created an even more thorough system of government surveillance, the Social Credit System, that allows the government to spy on its citizens and manipulate them by punishing and rewarding unfavorable behavior.
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. Christopher Hitchens used to joke that Kim Il-Sung got a hold of a Korean translation of the novel and said to himself "Well, I don't know if we can make it work, but we can always give it the old college try!"
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 known person to ever escape from a North Korean labour camp (having been born there because of 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.
Amazon once slipped some users' Kindle copies of the novel down the memory hole (they deleted them and refunded the customers the money) after a copyright dispute. This similarity to the events in the novel was not lost on a lot of commentators.
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 Brotherhimself 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.
In the 1984 film, Parsons marvels at the fake meat in the stew. Modern products like Beyond Meat that mimic the taste of actual meat have become popular, and some people (such as vegetarians) would very much prefer it over actual meat.
At one point it's mentioned that The Party has computers that automatically write novels for the Proles to read. Now we today have deep learning algorithms that can do exactly that if fed a sufficient quantity of reference material, but let's just say that it would completely ruin the tone of the book if Winston were to actually read us one.
Heartwarming in Hindsight: When Orwell published the book, half of Europe was under the heel of a totalitarian empire and he feared the rest of the world would become totalitarian by the end of the 20th century. By the 1990s, this empire crumbled relatively peacefully, and much of Europe became democratic. Granted, post-communist Europe hasn't lived up to all of its promises, and places like Belarus and Russia have become authoritarian, but even Putin's Russia hasn't reached the level of totalitarianism Soviet Russia did.
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.
This is the work that informs modern life, with "Big Brother" and "Big Brother Is Watching You," "Double Think," "Unperson," "Thought Crime," "thought police," "2+2=5," and "Room101". 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!"Explanation A common reaction to whenever a group is acting overly censoring.
GroupThinkExplanation The Newspeak vocabulary gave rise to the term GroupThink to denote the process whereby a group of people will settle into a course of action that some or even most of them wouldn't have considered wise individually due to peer pressure. Whilst the word itself never appeared in the book or the Newspeak appendix its inspiration is clear.
"Wow, this is just like 1984!"/"Literally 1984"Explanation Mockery of Misaimed Fandom comparing the novel to any attempt at censorship or calling out political incorrectness, regardless of context, reached new heights when Donald Trump Jr. referenced the novel in the context of his father's Twitter suspension. This led to a surge of ironic memes comparing any mild inconvenience to the book's dystopian setting.
"This is just like Animal Crossing by George Orwell!"Explanation A further corruption of the "Literally 1984" meme, where the person making the comparison is so ignorant that they not only mix up 1984 with George Orwell's other famous book, Animal Farm, but then proceed to mix THAT up with Nintendo's Animal Crossing games.
"If you want a vision of the future, imagine a(n) [insert something here] - forever"
This scene featuring a crowd of people while juxtaposed to a large static image of Big Brother have been used as an exploitable Image Macro in which the context will involve orders forbidding acts that are considered stupid, pointless and/or downright dangerous.
A comedic version: Margaret Atwood, creator of another famous dystopian fiction, is of course familiar with 1984 and said in an article about Orwell that, in her family, Do it to Julia! had become the standard phrase people used whenever they were told it was their turn to do the washing-up, take out the trash, etc.
If you think Orwell was solely attacking Dirty Communists (or, worse, liberals), you've missed the point. Totalitarian regimes can sprout from other types of governments and movements, such as fascism and religious fundamentalism. Of course, the reverse is true as well.
There are those who believe the novel is an attack on socialism in general, ignoring the fact that Orwell himself had socialist leanings.
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 Stalinist regime and whose ideology he famously advocated against.
People often compare their least favourite political figure to Big Brother, no matter what their political persuasion.
The book is unfortunately popular among some real life totalitarians, with Stasi chief Erich Mielke even naming his office Room 101. The Bad Guy Wins, after all.
Believe it or not 1984 was not the first Dystopian novel of its kind. That honour goes to the book Paris in the Twentieth Century by none other than Jules Verne. He had written it towards the middle of his life, but the book was shelved until the 1990s when it was rediscovered and published.
The nursery rhyme "Oranges and Lemons" has existed since the 18th century, but given its Arc Words prominence some think that it originated from this novel.
One-Scene Wonder: Syme is a fascinating character who while clearly intelligent is devoted to Big Brother due to the interest he has in his job. The one chapter he appeared in, he brought up many interesting ideas that english classes love to analyze.
Paranoia Fuel: Almost certainly, the worst part of 1984 is that it's plausible.
Realism-Induced Horror: The scary thing about the Oceanian Superstate is that its evil isn't anything out of the ordinary: regimes that censor language, torture dissidents, and spy on citizens have existed throughout history.
Many literature professors and some science-fiction writers as Isaac Asimov 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.
"Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: The book is one of the most referenced pieces of literature in the world, and one of the Trope Codifiers of the dystopia genre. So perhaps it's not surprising that compared to a lot of its more modern contemporaries, 1984 not only doesn't do a lot that's different, but arguably has less to say about society beyond the concept of Newspeak and a basic, milquetoast "authoritarianism is bad" message.
Sliding Scale of Social Satisfaction: Solidly placed in the "Controlled But Well-Fed" category. The average person will not starve but has no commodities and must toe the line, else nasty punishments await. All in all, there's no freedom or safety.
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.
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 with friendly leanings 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 off 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 Nazi apologists and possibly even Holocaust deniers today.
Indeed, Orwell in one of his letters, believed that Britain after World War II would either end in fascist 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 the Party's most fanatical followers are women, and how even Julia's appearance is so often emphasized as very important, the "a-political" cog in the wheel of the system does reflect some of Orwell's gender biases. In one particularly disturbing moment before Winston and Julia start hooking up, Winston worries that she'll never fall for him, and his bitterness over that curdles into fantasies about torturing, raping, and killing her! However, some have defended this as being an examination of how some people's attitudes towards relationships and the opposite sex have been warped by the IngSoc regime.
The idea of Newspeak, 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 against.
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 decades 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.
This extends to the actual visual effects of the movie itself, as all of them were practical effects. This includes the explosion, which was an actual explosion, and scenes of Winston and O'Brien walking in the corridor where the door leads to the Golden Country, that was actually shot on location as well, with the corridor actually being built on location.
The Woobie: Winston and Julia, especially in the movie.