George Orwell's thought-provoking novel 1984 covers the themes of dehumanization, isolation, repression, loneliness, social class disparity, and abuse of power. This teacher's guide includes chapter summaries, questions, and extension activities.
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Because of the complexity of plot and theme in 1984, many students may have difficulty reading and understanding the book. To help students understand the themes of dehumanization, isolation, repression, loneliness, social class disparity, and abuse of power, 1984 may be taught as part of a thematic unit. If the themes of 1984 are studied in less complex literature, especially works dealing with actual historical events or fictional situations familiar to teenagers, students will be able to relate the happenings of 1984 to their own lives and their own futures. Books to use in thematic units are suggested in the bibliography at the end of this study guide. In addition to theme and plot, the literary techniques of irony and paradox used in this work are difficult and should be introduced to the students.

Also, students should look at the publication date and the title and discuss the historical context of the book. Research into Orwell's background should provide some interesting clues as to why he wrote the book when he did.

In addition, the idea of the genre should be introduced. The work is "soft" science fiction, based in the social sciences, in this case political science. 1984 depicts a dystopia or "negative utopia" as it is called in Erich Fromm's Afterword. Students probably have never encountered this genre and may be confused by it.

And finally, because state guidelines for English education often include the teaching of literary terms, the activities and questions in this study guide are labeled according to the following: plot, character, setting, theme(s), point of view, irony/paradox, language/logic. A term in brackets denotes the focus of the question or activity.

Before Reading the Book

It is helpful to have students consider questions or engage in activities that relate to themes in the book before reading it. The following suggestions may be used as group or individual activities.

1. Surprise attack. On the first day you begin 1984, inform your students as they walk into class that a new set of classroom rules will be followed from today forward. Make the rules unnecessarily stringent and inflexible and enforce them for 15-20 minutes. When the exercise is over, ask students to respond, discussing their feelings and thoughts about the activity.

2. List the freedoms you enjoy both in your home and in your community. List the freedoms you are denied. What is the reason for the denials? Do you accept the reasons? Possible follow-up activities could include writing an essay on the subject or creating a collage depicting freedoms enjoyed.

3. What is your fear? Write an essay describing your worst fear and why it is that you fear that thing. Artwork would be a good edition to this essay.

4. Keep a diary for a week. Record everyday happenings, thoughts, feelings, and dreams. After a week, ask yourself what are some of the advantages to keeping a diary.

5. Examine the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights to find freedoms granted to you as an American citizen. Are some of these freedoms denied to citizens of other countries? Which ones?

6. Discuss: Are there ways in which government or the private sector intrudes upon the privacy of U.S. citizens? What are some of these ways?

7. Interview people who lived in 1949 when the book was published and find out what life during and after World War II was like.


Questions - Part I

Questions can be discussed or used as topics for writing assignments.

1. Language/Logic, Setting: What does the opening sentence suggest about the book? ("...the clocks were striking thirteen" denotes another time and place not familiar to us.)

2. Irony, Language/Logic, Character: The name "Winston" means "from a friendly country." "Smith" is a common last name. From these names, can you suggest a possible irony? Also, consider the association of Winston Smith with Winston Churchill. What similarities do you see between the two? What else do we know about Winston concerning his age, abilities, and occupation? (/Winston is actually from a very unfriendly country and the irony of "Smith" is that he is not common. He is one of the few people who ever rebels. This strength and his perseverance are what link him to the great British leader. Winston is thirty-nine, has a higher than average intelligence and is employed by the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth.)

3. Irony/Paradox, Language/Logic: What are the Party mottos? What is unusual about them? (They are the opposite of what is expected and accepted by most people in America as well as contradictory.)

4. Language/Logic, Theme: What is Newspeak? What is its purpose? (A look at the Appendix might be helpful here.) Why is it essential for the Party to rid the language of synonyms and antonyms? (The official language of Oceania. The purpose is to repress the citizens by limiting their language and hence their ability to express themselves.)

5. Language/Logic: Who is Big Brother and what is the significance of his name? (The dictator of Oceania. The name gives the impression that he is there to guide and protect the citizens for their own good, watching over them like a big brother.)

6. Language/Logic: What is facecrime? Why is it so easy to commit? (An improper expression on one's face. Facial expression is almost an involuntary act.)

7. Theme, Irony/Paradox: How does the Party control history? Why? (In order to control the future, they must erase the past so the citizens won't question or challenge what is done in the present.)

8. Plot, Theme: Who is Emmanuel Goldstein and how is he presented to the people of Oceania? What is the probable significance of using the obviously Jewish name? (Leader of the Brotherhood, an underground rebel organization. He wrote, or perhaps wrote, the book read by Winston. He is the object of the daily Two Minutes Hate exercise designed to direct citizen frustration away from the Party. Considering the fact that World War II with its horror of the holocaust had just ended, the use of Goldstein as a scapegoat parallels the Nazis' attempt to blame their problems on the Jews.)

Activities for Part One

1. Language/Logic: Create a Newspeak dictionary, prepare a speech written in Newspeak, or rewrite a newspaper article in Newspeak. Present it to the class.

2. Point of View: Make a cassette recording of Winston's secret diary.

3. Plot, Character: Act out scenes or give a dramatic reading of a scene from Part One.

4. Theme: Winston says that "Your worst enemy...was your own nervous system." Have you ever experienced a time when you felt this way? Have you ever felt helpless or not in control of your own life? Write a short essay explaining the situation and how you dealt with it.

5. Irony/Paradox: Identify examples of doublethink in Part One. Discuss examples of doublethink from recent history.

6. Language/Logic, Theme: Discuss how language is important to freedom.

Questions - Part Two

1. Character: In what ways are Julia and Winston alike? In what ways are they different? (Like Winston, Julia works at the Ministry of Truth and she rebels against the party. The difference is in the way in which they rebel. Rather than becoming a part of a grand scheme to overthrow the government, Julia carries on her own private war by doing things she knows are forbidden simply for the sake of rebelling.)

2. Theme: Why does the party permit couples to marry but discourage love? (The sole purpose of marriage is to have children. Encouraging love would endanger the Party by directing people's loyalties away from the government.)

3. Plot: O'Brien asks Winston and Julia what they are willing to do for the Brotherhood. What are they willing to do? (pp. 142-143) What is the one thing they are unwilling to do? (Separate and never see each other again.) What types of things does O'Brien tell them they might have to face as members of the Brotherhood? (Change of identity, plastic surgery, torture, death.)

4. Irony/Paradox: Julia tells Winston that even though the Party can torture a person and make him say anything, they cannot make him believe it. How do you feel about this statement? How easy is it to brainwash a person? Do you think governments actually use brainwashing? Discuss. (See also the discussion of the term "blackwhite.")

5. Plot: Why are the three superpowers always at war according to the Brotherhood's handbook? (To use the products of the country without raising the standard of living.)

6. Plot, Irony/Paradox: How are Winston and Julia betrayed? (Mr. Charrington, a member of the Thought Police, has had a telescreen rigged behind the picture on the wall. O'Brien is also involved; both have been working to capture Winston and Julia.)

Activities for Part Two

1. Point of View: Write a diary from Julia's point of view (or O'Brien's or Parsons'.)

2. Language/Logic: Create a constitution or bill of rights for the Brotherhood. Include rules, constraints, rights. Use the U.S. Constitution as a guide for form.

3. Character: By the end of Part Two, all the characters have been revealed. Choose one and become that character for a class period. Dress, speak, and act as that character would.

4. Language/Logic: Write a poem or short story with the same tone as that of 1984.

5. Language/Logic: Debate: Laws protect freedom.

6. Language/Logic: The doublethink concepts of "ignorance is strength" and "war is peace" are discussed in the book of the Brotherhood. Outline the argument of the doublethink concepts. Discuss why the Party's conclusions are ironic.

7. Setting: Examine a world map of the 1980s. Color in the countries of the Eastern bloc. What has happened recently regarding these power blocs? Color in the countries of the Western alliance. How close were Orwell's superstates?

8. Theme: On page 169, Winston reads from Goldsmith's book that "The invention of print, however, made it easier to manipulate public opinion." Explore the history of using print to influence opinion.

9. Theme: Explore the symbolic significance of the clock, the paperweight, the song the prole woman sings, and the nursery rhyme about the bells.

Questions - Part Three

1. Character, Irony/Paradox: How does Parsons feel about being imprisoned as a result of his own daughter reporting him for thoughtcrime? (He is proud of her and feels he must have committed the crime even though he doesn't remember doing so.)

2. Theme, Plot: Before Winston is interrogated, he sees many prisoners escorted off to Room 101. From their reactions, he gathers the room is extremely unpleasant. What is in Room 101? (Whatever the prisoner fears most.)

3. Plot: When and in what way does Winston betray Julia? (After months of torture, Winston admits he still loves Julia and he is taken to Room 101. There he faces his greatest fear: rats. In a moment of terror he begs O'Brien to let the rats at Julia instead of at him.)

4. Plot: Why does O'Brien say prisoners are brought to the Ministry of Love? (To cure them of their insanity.)

5. Plot: What happens to Julia? (Winston see her in the Park and she admits that she betrayed him as well after being tortured.)

6. Theme, Irony/Paradox: How does Winston ultimately feel about Big Brother? (He loves Big Brother.)

Activities for Part Three

1. Language/Logic: The concept of memory and existence discussed on pages 203 and 204 provides an interesting debate point topic: Does the past exist if no one remembers it? How can it be proven? Debate this topic after reviewing O'Brien's argument.

2. Theme: Who wrote Goldstein's book? If it was the Party, then why? Discuss.

3. Theme: On page 216, O'Brien says the proles will never revolt, yet on page 181, Winston came to the conclusion that the future's only hope lay with the proles. What brings each man to say what he does? Discuss.

4. Theme: What is power? What makes a person powerful? Write an essay explaining your opinion, then create a collage depicting scenes of power in action and/or powerful people.

5. Language/Logic, Irony/Paradox: What is ironic about the Chestnut Tree Cafe? The significance of the Chestnut Tree is revealed on page 241. Write an essay explaining your interpretation of the final lines of the song about the Chestnut Tree. What, for example, is the meaning of the word "lies?" As an alternative exercise, you might want to illustrate the final scene in the cafe.

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