There are plenty of examples of irony in 1984 by George Orwell. The novel itself, on the surface a satire on negative Utopian novels, contains enough truth to frighten even the most diligent head-in-the-sand citizen. The novel's hero is a middle-aged, out-of-shape, not-so-attractive, varicose ulcer possessing, pencil-necked geek and the novel's heroine is a promiscuous, concerned only about the present, rebel from the waist down (Winston Smith's words) trollop in her mid-twenties.
The controlling party's name Ingsoc, a derivative from the English socialists party, possesses no resemblance to actual socialism in its treatment of the working class. The party's idealized hero is called Big Brother, yet the party has managed to eliminate familial love. The Ministry of Truth fabricates lies; the Ministry of Love specializes in torture; the Ministry of Plenty causes shortages; and the Ministry of Peace wages war.
The party maintains control with the ironic use of doublethink: the ability to think two completely contradictory thoughts at the same time, believing both to be true. The irony in 1984 by George Orwell is embodied in the party's slogan: War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength.
Quote: War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength (26).
Analysis: In addition to being ironic, the party's slogan is an oxymoron, a statement which on the surface is contradictory, but in reality contains truth. The party slogan holds different meanings, depending on who's reading it, making it an intelligent example of verbal irony: for the inner party it means as long as Oceania is at war, the masses are able to direct their anger at an enemy and not at the party; the inner party enjoys its freedom insomuch as it enslaves the masses, be it outer party members, proletariats, or workers in the war zone; as long as the masses remain ignorant to the truth, the party remains strong.
Those not understanding the machinations of the inner party believe peace can only be achieved by conquering the world and eliminating the enemies of the party and of Oceania. They believe that to act freely would lessen Oceania's strength and lead it to possible doom. They believe that any deviation from the party weakens the nation, preferring to remain ignorant.
Quote: The emblem of the Junior Anti-Sex League was wound several times around the waist of her overalls, just tightly enough to bring out the shapeliness of her hips (12).
Irony: An obvious example of situational irony as Winston secretly lusts and despises Julia. Ironically, it's on Junior Anti-Sex League hikes that Julia discovers hiding places to take her paramours.
Quote: One did not know what happened inside the Ministry of Love, but it was possible to guess: torture, drugs, delicate instruments that registered your nervous reactions, gradual wearing down by sleeplessness and solitude and persistent questioning. (138)
Analysis: The inner party has managed to turn love into something sinister, although the delicate instruments sound provocative.
Quote: It is a warfare of limited aims between combatants who are unable to destroy one another, have no material cause for fighting, and are not divided by any genuine ideological difference (153).
Analysis: Continual warfare exists as an end in itself. All three nations at war have no reason to fight other than fighting keeps the ruling party in power; hence the saying "War is Peace."
Quote: They can be granted intellectual liberty because they have no intellect (173).
Analysis: O'Brien speaks of the Proles and the impossibility that they will ever rise up in rebellion, having no capacity for intelligence. It's like that loser kid in school who is allowed to sleep in class.
This post is part of the series: 1984 Study Guide
- Irony in 1984 by George Orwell
- Chapter Summaries of 1984 by George Orwell
- Quotes From "1984" by George Orwell
- 1984 Character Analysis
- 1984 Discussion Questions and Answers