Also known as: 1984
Author: George Orwell
From: 1984, Bloom's Guides.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is told in three sections, comprising eight, ten, and six chapters respectively. The narration is from the third person, with an omniscience limited to Winston's perspective. The first section covers the beginning of Winston's personal treason, his background, and his hopes. In the second, Winston becomes romantically involved with Julia and the two develop their dual rebellion and their relationship and finally approach O'Brien. Also in the second section, Winston reads literature of the opposition, which helps him to formulate his ideas concerning the Party and the Brotherhood. The third section is dominated by Winston's inevitable capture, torture, and reprogramming and his betrayal of Julia and his own humanity.
Humanity is an important concept to remember in thinking about Nineteen Eighty-Four—particularly because the author's own humanity plays a key role in the work's construction. For instance, the critic Peter Davison argues against the prevailing belief of critics and biographers that Orwell simply inverted the final digits of the year in which he finished the book, 1948. Rather, he posits an arithmetical source for the book's title, arguing that Orwell delighted in number games and was accustomed to a world in which the falsification of dates had advantages—and thus the title was a game of sorts but also named a date by which a dystopia might reasonably have come into being. Orwell himself left no known evidence of the title's origin. Critics have begun to suspect, though, that Orwell's life had a greater influence on his work than did his political philosophy. But it can be difficult in Orwell's case even to separate the two, and after the novel's publication he had to fend off attacks from fellow leftists who felt he had betrayed them with a stinging indictment of socialism. "My recent novel is NOT intended as an attack on Socialism," he wrote in a letter shortly after publication. "... I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily will arrive, but I believe ... that something resembling it could arrive.... The scene of the book is laid in Britain in order to emphasise ... that totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere." (In Front of Your Nose 1945–1950502.)
Interestingly, the main text of Nineteen Eighty-Four is supplemented by a kind of paratext that saps the humanity of the reading experience itself: an appendix that explains the origins, development, and goals of Newspeak, the principal language of INGSOC. The immediate goal of Newspeak is to reduce the English language to only a few hundred words with functional and extremely narrow meanings; its larger goal is to eliminate dissent by eliminating the ability to express dissent. Bernard Crick, an Orwell biographer and a political scientist, and Joan Weatherly (q.v.) consider the appendix a symbol that the novel does not, in a sense, end, but loops back on itself, the eternal story of any member of the novel's (non-)culture. The perfunctory nature of the description constructs language as a machine—a characteristically Orwellian denial of the human element.
Section One: The Life and Times of Winston Smith
Many critics find Nineteen Eighty-Four flawed and heavy-handed as a novel. Harold Bloom, in his introduction to this volume, suggests that the enduring and important aspect is the novel's vision, its craft being merely a vehicle for Orwell's ideology, and not always a seductive one. That said, Orwell as an author is careful to put his narrative elements into order at the outset of the novel. One experiences the smell of "boiled cabbage and old rag mats," and among the novel's earliest visuals is that of the Big Brother poster, which is "too large for indoor display ... [and] tacked to the wall." Orwell's description of this is succinct: "[T]he poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It