1984 Orwell Study Guide: Understanding Character Motivation and the Symbolism

1984 Orwell Study Guide: Understanding Character Motivation and the Symbolism
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A Negative Utopian Fiction Novel

The term negative utopia describes a terrible society, the opposite of a perfect utopia. This book was written in England, published in 1949, and is told in the third person. The protagonist or hero is named Winston Smith. The antagonist, or villain, is “The Party”, also called “Big Brother.” It is set in the future; remember the author George Orwell wrote it in 1949. It is written from Smith’s perspective.

1984 is a pessimistic book based on the fear of a totalitarian, all-controlling government and how language impacts the way people think and act. Orwell uses the concept of “doublethink,” believing two contradictory thoughts at the same time, to explain how people can have ridiculous thoughts and be easily led.

Study Questions

You should be able to answer the following questions after reading this 1984 Orwell study guide.


What is doublethink? Is it important to the plot of 1984, and if so, how?

Doublethink is having two contradictory thoughts in your mind at the same time. Traditional logic would tell us that this is unacceptable and that we should search for which of those two concepts is right. In doublethink this does not occur. Two thoughts that contradict one another sit side by side with no alarm or desire to understand which is correct.

Doublethink allows the government to change historical documents and forge new documents for a population that can’t accepts government thought as correct, regardless of contradictions.

What are some of the images that Orwell uses in 1984 and why are they important?

The picture of St. Clement’s Church is used to mask Big Brother’s observation of Winston and therefore represents secrecy and hidden agendas.

The Prole Woman symbolizes the possibility of overthrowing Big Brother and the oppressive, totalitarian government.

The paperweight symbolizes a brief moment of sanity in which Winston can float within its glass walls.

Do Julia and Winston have a different perception of the government? Does their age affect how they view the government?

Yes, Julia and Winston have different perceptions of the government; and, yes, their ages effect how they view the government. Winston is 39 and Julia is 26. Winston has seen the new government come to power. Julia was only a child when the government was new. Things that really bother Winston don’t seem to have any effect on Julia.

Summary 1984 Orwell Study Guide

George Orwell wrote 1984, a negative utopian novel, in which “The Party” controls the masses very effectively with doublethink and propaganda. The Prole woman, the picture of St. Clement’s Church, and the paperweight are all symbols, and Julia and Winston have different perceptions of “The Party" due, in part, to their age. You may consider taking a look at chapter summaries of 1984 for more a more in depth understanding of the novel.

Web References / Image References - Wikimedia Commons

Web References

Spark Notes on 1984 at https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/1984/study.html

Cliff Notes on 1984 at https://www.cliffsnotes.com/study_guide/literature/1984/at-a-glance.html

Image References - Wikimedia Commons



This post is part of the series: Summaries: Classic Books

Read some more summaries of the classics.

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