A Historical Analysis of George Orwell's 1984
George Orwell wrote 1984 right after World War II, as a warning against totalitarianism. Orwell wrote, in 1946, that "Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it." Orwell was seriously against the Stalin regime and communism in general and considered himself a "democratic socialist."
Big Brother and Stalin
Much of the book 1984 was based on the Soviet Union under Stalin's rule. Big Brother himself was based on Joseph Stalin. The "Two Minutes Hate" (the film that all Party members are forced to watch on the telescreen everyday showing the Party's enemies, so that the Party members can express their hatred for their enemies and for democracy) is similar to the propaganda films during WWII from all sides. The “Two Minutes Hate” also serves to deify Big Brother in a sort of quasi-religious observance. This is similar to tactics used by real-world politicians throughout history, including Stalin.
Goldstein and Trotsky
Similarly, Emmanuel Goldstein, the rumored leader of the Brotherhood, is based on the exiled Soviet Bolshevik leader, Leon Trotsky. Trotsky was an influential politician during the beginning of the Soviet Union, but was expelled from the Communist Party after a power struggle with Stalin. This mirrors the character Goldstein in 1984, because Goldstein is rumored to have been one of the founders (along with Big Brother), but left and started the dissident organization, The Brotherhood. Goldstein is a former member of the inner circle of the Party, but became a principle enemy of the state upon his involvement with The Brotherhood. Goldstein’s book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism is similar to Trotsky’s essay, The Revolution Betrayed: What Is the Soviet Union and Where Is It Going?, which was published in 1937.
Winston Smith works at the Ministry of Truth in the Records Department, where his job is to rewrite history. They have to rewrite anything that makes The Party or Big Brother look bad, such as when Big Brother makes a prediction that turns out to be wrong, or to remove any mention of people who have become “unpersons” etc. This is similar to the Soviet Union’s history of rewriting history textbooks to remove pictures and information about politicians who were no longer supported by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union made sure to rewrite past events to make Stalin and his government look better. This is the role of the Ministry of Truth in 1984.
Thoughtcrimes and Mind Control
The idea of “thoughtcrimes” plays a major role in 1984, and is based on historical precedent. “Thoughtcrimes” refer to any thoughts deemed illegal by the Party. The punishment for “thoughtcrimes” is similar to the USSR’s use of psychiatry to commit political dissidents to psychiatric hospitals after diagnosing them with schizophrenia, where they were “treated” with psychoactive drugs, presumably to keep them out of public eye and to discredit them. With the psychoactive drugs, it was likely easier to control their minds. At any rate, the USSR sought to tightly control the thoughts of its people and treat any disagreeing ideas as mental illness. This is similar to 1984, because people could be tortured for thoughtcrimes until they were forced to love Big Brother and the Party.
Orwell wrote 1984 as a warning against letting the events of WWII happen again in the future. 1984 warns of what can happen to a society that turns a blind eye to corrupt, power-hungry leaders and allows their freedoms to be slowly taken away, one by one.
© 2018 Jennifer Wilber