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94 pages 3 hours read

George Orwell

1984

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1949

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

George Orwell’s dystopian novel1984 (also written as Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel) was originally published in 1949. Orwell was known for social and political criticism in his writing. He supported democratic socialism and opposed totalitarianism—political stances that come through in the themes of his most well-known works.

Edition note: This novel is available in the public domain in many countries, and this summary is based on the electronically published version made available by Planet eBook. The edition referenced in this summary includes nine chapters in Part 2, whereas some editions of the novel split the final section of Part 2 into Chapter 9 and Chapter 10. A similar separation occurs at the end of Part 3, with some editions including the Appendix as a separate chapter and others including it as an extension of Chapter 6.

Plot Summary

Winston Smith is an Outer Party member living in London in 1984. The future is dismal: London is now a city in the super-nation Oceania, which is ruled by an oppressive totalitarian party and constantly at war with other world superpowers, Eurasia and Eastasia. Winston dislikes the Party and Big Brother, its symbolic figurehead, but speaking or acting against the Party is a crime sure to be met with death. Although the Party maintains power, the majority of Oceania’s population make up the proletarian class, described as filthy and subhuman. Despite their lower-class standing, Winston believes that any hope of toppling the Party lies with the proletariat.

Winston believes that O’Brien, an Inner Party member, shares his anti-Party sentiments. He also worries that a dark-haired girl might be following him to report him for his anti-Party thoughts. The dark-haired girl turns out to be Julia, who has followed Winston because she’s interested in starting a sexual affair with him. Despite the dangers of a love affair, Winston and Julia regularly visit a rented apartment above a shop in the proletariat district. The shopkeeper, Mr. Charrington, seems accepting of their love affair, and his shop becomes their refuge for lovemaking and political discussion away from the constant surveillance of the Party, or so they think.

Charrington turns out to be a member of the Thought Police, a secretive and controlling branch of Party authority, and Winston and Julia are arrested in the apartment above Charrington’s shop. O’Brien has also been following Winston for years, and he turns out to be Winston’s interrogator and torturer after his arrest. O’Brien subjects Winston to ongoing torture until Winston confesses his crimes against the Party, betrays Julia, and accepts Big Brother and the Party. Winston is released from his torture but is a broken man and a disgraced Party member who now loves Big Brother and no longer entertains anti-Party thoughts.

The novel ends with an appendix explaining Newspeak, the official language of Oceania, referencing its history and usage in the past tense. This leaves readers with a hint that Newspeak and the Party might now be in the past, but the ambiguity of the ending leaves critics and readers debating whether the novel ends with a hopeful view of the future.

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