Symbolism in “1984” by Orwell: Social and Political Issues


The novel Nineteen Eighty-Four written by George Orwell is one of the most famous political satires. In the novel, the author mocks the totalitarian government which exists in the place called Oceania, where people’s thoughts, emotions and actions are controlled by the ruler, Brother. The people are physically tortured if they become disloyal to the Party. Orwell raises social and political issues through the work in order to warn the readers that the future generations are in trouble if this kind of a government continues. His symbolisms, strong imagination, vivid descriptions, and powerful messages and warnings make the novel a thought-provoking one.

Social And Political Issues In 1984

George Orwell is a very famous English writer, known for his political satires in the form of novels and essays. Born in India and brought up in England, he ridiculed the English class systems. Eric Arthur Blair, whose pen name was George Orwell, is equally famous for his literary and cultural criticisms. “V.S. Pritchett called him “the wintry conscience of a generation” Both the Left and Right have utilized Orwell’s works in ideological debate.” (George Orwell (1903-1950): pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair 2008). ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ are his most acclaimed political satires, of which the novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and the social and political issues raised by it is going to be discussed in this paper. The novel is a work of the dystopian character, and Orwell, through it, expresses his fears such totalitarian rule bring in future. Though the name of the book is a year, it was written ages before that in 1949. Through this novel, Orwell coined certain new words, which later on came to be famous.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is the story of a young man named Winston Smith, who works for the Party. The novel takes place in a dystopian society, Oceania and he holds a low-rank in the Party. Big Brother, who is the omniscient leader of the Party watches all his actions with the help of telescreens. The people suffer due to his rule, because their lives are totally controlled by the Party. It introduced a new language known as Newspeak, which forces every citizen to avoid political rebellion when they speak and even think. Winston, condemns this kind of a rule and he starts writing his thoughts in a diary. Soon, Winston falls in love with a woman called Julia, who supports him about his rebellious thoughts. By loving Julia, he wanted to rebel the Party’s laws which prohibited even free sex. One day, O’Brien, one of the main leaders of the Party takes them to his house telling that he too stood against the present rule in the country and that he had started a new secret party to oppose the Party, which is named as Brotherhood. Winston believes him, but O’Brien cheats. He tortures him and puts rats on his face, knowing very well that rats frightened him the most. At last, Winston pleads to do it to Julia and not to him. O’Brien leaves him, because his intention was to remove his love for Julia. As he comes out, he sees Julia, but feels numb in his mind about her.

The novel deals with social and political issues in the city of Oceania, where people do not have the right to free thinking, writing, speaking and living in general. “Nineteen Eighty-Four eerily reflects the rise of a technocratic elite, the omnipresence of mass media, and the dangers of postmodernism’s trashing of the concept of historical truth.” (Annette 2007). To the people in that society, freedom means blindly following the Party and Big Brother. The novel speaks about a future society, but many of his references are to the present conditions in many countries. He uses a lot of symbolisms in the novel to show the condition in many Western countries at that time. He fears what would be the future of such societies where the citizens cannot have any emotion of their own. He ridicules the changes that were brought about as a result of the Second World War and so he uses the novel to put his thoughts onto the paper, like he has done in other works. The book brings out the problems that would arise in the society and its people as a result of such totalitarian government. The author’s aim is to warn people about the consequences of Communism.

Although the story takes place in Oceania, which is in London, his references are to America, which at that time began to accept communism. The cruelties inflicted on the public in Communist countries, made Orwell sad. He wanted to warn any further spread of Communism which creates societies without any emotion or liberty. The society in the book is the result of Orwell’s imagination, though some people accuse it of exaggeration in the depiction of the society. “Though exaggerated, Orwell’s insights into rhetoric are fantastic as he discusses how the Party seeks to control human thought by reducing the ability to express thought under the guise of reducing linguistic baggage.” (Orwell 2009). He visualizes hot the society would be in 1984, when Communism establishes itself in the societies. The main social issues raised in the novel are the loss of freedom to think and act, the technology which watches the people, the two minute hate sessions, and the torture on people who oppose the Party.

The people in Oceania do not have the freedom to think and speak anything that is against the rules of the Party. The people are forced to thoughts in support of the Party, and they are prohibited from using any kind rebellious words. For this purpose, a new language is introduced known as Newspeak following which the people must speak. By avoiding words of political rebellion, the chance of its people rebelling against the party becomes dim, because they will have no way to express their rebellion. Thus, the party can easily make all the people follow its rules and believe in it alone. Telescreens watched the people’s actions and checked any kind of rebellious act. People were warned that they and their deeds were watched by Big brother. Even romance and free sex were not allowed, which is the reason for Winston’s and Julia’s physical relation as they wanted to rebel the Party. No truth existed in the society. The people are psychologically mistreated by the Party and Big Brother. Children were by force made to join ‘Junior Spies’ and asked to carefully observe the actions of their parents, which is horrible. It shows that the Party did not leave even children out of politics. Children, who are not of age even to understand everything about the Party are made to join Junior Spies. By making them spy on their parents, any kind of emotional attachment that they have for their families are lost. This is exactly what the Party wants. The totalitarian government views sex as a mere action for creating more members for the Party.

The Party follows a policy of torturing anyone who defies Big Brother or the rules of the Party. The brutalities were done on the people even for minor reasons of disloyalty from their size. It is for this purpose that the telescreens are fixed. The government make its people do ‘Physical Jerks’ which are morning-exercises. The methods adopted by the government to punish disloyal people included giving them tedious jobs which required a lot of physical exertion and made them weak and tired. As Winston begins to write his diary, he is sure he will be caught someday for his disloyalty. Added to that crime, his physical relationship with Julia made the Party think that it is time to control his actions. Winston too, is punished at the end of the story for his rebellious acts. O’Brien puts rats on Winston’s face knowing very well that he feared rats the most. The rats begin to eat away his face, and he cries out pleading with O’Brien to put rats on Julia’s face instead on his. This is what O’Brien was waiting for. He realizes at this instant that Winston no more loves Julia and leaves him. Winston, who tried to rebel against the government, learns that physical injuries hurt more than any other emotional or psychological injuries. Winston understand that it is better to follow the Party than suffer physical pains. All the emotions are removed from his mind with this torture. His mind is turned numb, and he has only as much emotions as a stone for Julia.

Besides, the Party decides the way news and history are shaped. News can only be written in their desired ways. History is shaped according to them and the people are made to believe that even if they know it is not true. Photographs and records kept at homes are taken away, because the public has no liberty to maintain proofs of history. The aim of the Party is to justify its actions, by manipulating everything that happened in the past according to their policies. The technology improvement that would work against its people is shown in the novel. Orwell says that the telescreens watched the people’s actions. What use is technology if it does not help the public and instead troubles them? The Party introduces machines and tools to torture people by various methods. Also, the novel speaks about many other technologies, used by the Party for various purposes. It must be noted that the book was written at a time when computers did not exist or technological advancements and developments were limited. Orwell’s imagination is evident from this. The decay of the city is evident in the novel. Orwell describes the poor and pitiable conditions of the buildings, including his home. The facilities like elevators, electricity, and water are pathetic. The London which will disintegrate with the Party’s rule is the author’s thought. The Party is unsuccessful in properly managing the society, thereby which its people suffer in all ways.

The political symbolisms and references, though indirect, are clear enough from the novel. Orwell’s main motif is to warn the future generations from the negative consequences of bringing Communism into the societies. A totalitarian government like the Party controls every aspect of human life and makes people mere machines or puppets who live according to the rules of the Party. The author makes use of various terms and themes like Big Brother, Glass Paperweight, Red-Armed Prole Woman, Thought-Police and Two minute-hate sessions, to convey his political message. The novel is a political satire mocking at the condition in many other countries at this period, through which he describes the society of Oceania.

Orwell witnessed the brutalities done by Adolf Hitler in Spain, when he went to report about the Spanish Civil War. He also ridiculed Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union. The hatred which he developed for both Hitler and Stalin, and their totalitarian political authority is expressed through the book. “It is widely thought that Orwell simply switched round the year in which he wrote it (1948), however it is also possibly an allusion to the centennary of the Fabian Society, a Socialist organisation founded in 1884, or alternatively it may refer to Jack London’s novel The Iron Heel, in which the power of a political movement reaches its height in 1984.” (Nineteen eighty- four 2009).

The idea of Big Brother arose from Hitler and Stalin and he is almost like a caricature. Big Brother is a character who is feared by everyone in the society. He is omniscient, He watches everybody’s movements through his telescreens. This name has become world-famous ever since the publishing of this novel. Big Brother is a heartless ruler. He does not care for the people. He does not show mercy even on the children in the society. He is responsible for inflicting torture and injuries on the public, which is Orwell’s way of showing how the fasctist political regimes did cruelties to the innocent people.

Orwell sees the atrocities in Spain and Soviet Union being done with the support of technologies, which is why he says that Big Brother uses telescreens to observe the people and their actions. This is why he refers to machines for torturing people who are disloyal to the Party. The novel describes what happens to people who refuse to follow all its rules. They are tortured brutally by the members of the Party and some of them are even killed. This is exactly what happened in the Nascist regimes when people opposed or questioned the rules. The conditions were similar in the Communist countries and the US where McCarthyism existed. Patriotism becomes a requirement in these places where the people are forced to love the ruler and his policies. The people in Oceania are told about an imaginary enemy, and asked to hate them through daily two minute-hate sessions. War is given much importance in the novel by the Party. The continuous Oceania has with its neighbours serve as examples for this situation. Big Brother and his Party also followed a policy of switching its enemies frequently. An existing enemy one day becomes Oceania’s ally and another place, which was an ally suddenly becomes enemy. This can be seen in the novel. Oceania kept changing its friends and enemies frequently and with great speed.

The party altogether controls every aspect of human lives, making survival difficult for the people. The people are forced to forget their past or the city’s history and the Party creates another history which favours their policies and rules. The people are asked to put away photographs or any king records which remind them of the past. Winston, in the novel tries to remember his past when he sees the glass paper-weight and for this purpose he buys it from the antique shop. His efforts to make limks with his past are seen through this action. The Party and its policies are so unpopular that Winston tries to rebel them in all ways. The social destruction by totalitarian government is a very strong message and it is effectively conveyed through the novel.

While utopian works depict an ideal and perfect society and people, dystopian works create a society which is a nightmare to its citizens. Utopian and dystopian fictions are different from the conventional genres of literature. However, both the styles are important in conveying social and political messages to the readers in a more effective way. Such fiction in books and films act as examples or warnings to the readers and audience. Utopian fiction exemplifies an ideal society in which the there is no corruption, and the social and political interests of its people are taken care of by the government. It encourages people to think along the lines of justice and truth. Dystopian fiction creates fear in the minds of the readers and audience. The author conveys the message that it is dangerous to live in such a society where there is political and social terror. It warns the people about the bad consequences, thereby influencing their thoughts about the existing political systems.

For example, in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell describes what the dangers of the totalitarian government is and warns the readers about the future consequences of living in such a society. Orwell wishes to influence his readers; thoughts by turning them against totalitarian rule and the widespread of Communism in many countries at that time. “Orwell has said that the book was written “to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society they should strive after.”” (George Orwell (1903-1950): pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair 2008). Fear of something makes people decide against it and this human behaviour is utilized in dystopian fiction. While the conventional genres of literature leads readers to a world of fantasy and imagination, utopian and dystopian fiction is careful enough to depict probable and natural consequences of dangerous politics. Though it is different from the conventional genres, it is equally important in influencing and thus changing the people’s notions and beliefs about certain things in the society. Literature is not just a world of dreams and fantasy, it is also a way of giving strong political and social messages to the readers and in this utopian and dystopian fiction is of primary importance.

Besides books, films which are the best form of medium to convey messages must be utilized to the maximum to give the right political and social messages. Even children are influenced by films and this characteristic of human beings must be taken advantage of by film makers.

George Orwell, through his novel gives strong political and social messages to the readers. He fears that the future generations would become mere puppets if such a totalitarian government controls the people’s thoughts and actions. His writing is powerful enough to provoke the readers’ thoughts about the issues raised in it. Orwell describes technologies which were not even dreamt of at the time this novel was written. The most important message is given at the end of the novel when he passes Julia without any emotion in his mind. The author emphasizes that if such rule continues the ending will not be at all happy. Soon, there will arise a situation when the society and its people cannot be saved. However, Winston maintains a hope that the future would be better, when he hears the song of Red-armed prole woman. He hopes that the miseries of the people would be seen by the proles and they would come to help the people fight and rebel against the Party.

Orwell’s imagination about society in 1984 did not come true. Democracy was decided over Communism. However, the work is considered as one of the best political satires, because of the terror described in the novel. The author warns against wars, which lead the rulers to take away people’s liberties and against totalitarian government and communism. Orwell has effectively conveyed the real mood of the story, through the characters, setting and plot. This futuristic novel is effective in making its readers think deep about all the issues dealt with in it.


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George Orwell (1903-1950): pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair 2008, Books and Writers. Web.

Nineteen eighty- four 2009, Economic Web.

Orwell, George 2009, George Orwell’s nineteen eighty- four: and this great bit of play, The Mookse and the Gripes. Web.