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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1. Plot: Watch a video production of 1984. How is the book different from the movie? Was it easier to understand or more difficult? Were scenes left out or changed, and if so, how did those omissions or changes affect the way you interpret the book?

2. Plot: Make a video depicting sections from the book. (e.g. A day in the life of an Inner party member or a prole; the torture scenes with O'Brien; Room 101.)

3. Theme, Point of View: Hold a debate between Party members and revolutionaries or between Inner and outer Party members.

4. Theme: Debate/Discuss "Can history be rewritten? Should it be?" For background, see page 176: "Thus history is continuously rewritten."

5. Plot: Prepare and perform a rap or other song about 1984. This should provide an overview of the book.

6. Theme, Setting: Put together a collection of photographs of current scenes that capture the tone of 1984. A slide show with narration would also be a good idea.

7. All terms: Read George Orwell's Animal Farm or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and compare and contrast them to 1984.

8. Point of View: Create a newspaper with three or four sections written from the Party's point of view. Concentrate on propaganda techniques.

9. Point of View: Create a type of Spoon River Anthology resurrecting ten of Oceania's dead to relate their experiences. What really happened to them?

10. Plot: Create a new ending for the book.

11. All terms: Write a future scenario paper casting yourself as the hero. Use guided imagery to get started thinking about the future and what it could be like, then create a short story around a problem you foresee occurring in the future. Casting yourself as the hero will enable you to solve the problem.

12. Setting: Place the book on a historical time line. What happened before the book was published? What has happened since? Discuss: Which of Orwell's predictions have become a part of history, not only in communist countries but in the free world?

13. Language/Logic: The Appendix provides some interesting activities: (a) Write Newspeak sentences using grammatical rules, (b) Summarize the A, B, and C vocabularies, (c) Translate some famous quotes into Newspeak.

14. Theme: From the Afterword by Erich Fromm, debate the following topics: (a) Can man forget he is human? (b) Can man create a perfect society? (c) The greatest deterrent to achieving goals is hopelessness. (d) The arms race provides essential economic growth.

15. All terms: Compare 1984 to a utopian work of literature in which an individual defeats the system. (Example: Logan's Run)


Books about 1984

Barr, Marleen S. Future Females: A Critical Anthology. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1981, 191 pp. This collection of essays discusses the female role in science fiction and recent utopian literature. Modern women writers are also discussed. Interestingly, as this book points out, most contemporary utopian novels have been written by or are about women.

Goeldner, Jacquelyn R. A Secondary School Guide to George Orwell's Nineteen Eight-Four. Boulder, CO: University Colorado, 1984, 53 pp. This thorough study guide includes a chronological history of Orwell's life, a mini-Newspeak dictionary, and a section by section synopsis of the book. Activities are also included which involve the student at pre-, during, and post-reading levels.

Grillo, Virgil and Marilyn Sawin. Is This 1984? Essays, From the Perspective of the Humanities. CO: University of Colorado, 1984, 159 pp. This extensive collection of essays, compiled by the University of Colorado, features eight submissions on topics ranging from women in dystopias to ideology and political science. The essays are followed by annotated bibliographies and discussion questions.

Hillegas, Mark R. The Future as Nightmare: H.G. Wells and the Anti-Utopians. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967, 200 pp. This book discusses dystopias and dystopian writers. Some titles reviews are We, Brave New World, and 1984. An in-depth look at H.G. Wells' acute imagination and his impact on, and fascination with, dystopias.

Howe, Irving, ed. 1984 Revisited. New York, NY: Perennial Library, 1983, 276 pp. This collection of analytical essays looks not only at the book itself but also at the changes that totalitarianism has brought about since the 1950s. Aspects of the book are discussed including power, sex, class differences, despair and futility, and the nightmare quality of the narration.

Rabinowitz, Robin. Is this 1984? A Guide to Relevant Films. Boulder, CO: University of Colorado, 1984, 38 pp.This useful handbook lists films related to themes found in 1984. Totalitarianism, the Nazi regime, Utopias and Dystopias, and Technology are topics included. Descriptions of the films are given along with the length and information to help locate the film.

Rooney, Charles J., Jr. Dreams and Visions: A Study of American Utopias, 1865-1917. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985, 209 pp. Using a historical approach, Charles Rooney discusses the origins of utopias, pointing to the Christian significance of the term. Emphasis is placed on the utopian thoughts of the early twentieth century at the time when it flourished. Interesting background and complete bibliographies enhance this work.

Repression by Government

Cridle, Joan and Teeda Butt Mam. To Destroy You is No Loss. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987, 289 pp. Joan Cridle tells the harrowing story of Teeda Butt Mam, a Cambodian whose family and country were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge in the seventies. Teeda escaped to Thailand when she was twenty but not before the repressive government of the Khmer Rouge all but wiped out her entire family. The title, a Khmer Rouge slogan, sums up the attitude of the totalitarian rulers toward their work camp prisoners.

Hoobler, Dorothy and Thomas. Nelson and Winnie Mandela. New York: Franklin Watts, 1987, 120 pp. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for over twenty-five years by South African officials who feared his political role in the Black Nationalist Movement. This biography details his life and the background of racism in South Africa. Although he was in prison, his wife, Winnie, carried on his spirit and dedication to giving Blacks in South Africa the freedom and dignity they deserve as human beings. This is their story and a story of South Africa.

Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki. Farewell to Manzanar. Toronto, New York: Bantam Books, 1974, 145 pp. This true story of a Japanese American girl describes life in an internment camp in California during and after World War II. Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston tells a story of becoming a young woman within the walls of the U.S. internment camp. While Japanese Americans tried to form themselves into a community of sorts, a young girl was suffering through her adolescent years without freedom or privacy.

Kheridan, David. The Road from Home. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1979, 237 pp. Veron Dumehjian was born to a prosperous Armenian family who lived in Turkey until 1915 when the Turkish government deported its Armenian population. Surviving unbelievable hardships and suffering with her family, she was finally sent to America as a mail-order bride. The story is written by her son.

Mathabane, Mark. Kaffir Boy. New York: Macmillan, 1986, 354 pp. (Also available in a Plume Trade paper edition.) This true story follows the coming of age of a Black youth in racially torn South Africa. Dealing with apartheid on a day-to-day basis is the focal point of this book.

Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. E.P. Dutton and Company, Inc., 1963, 160 pp. (Also available in a Signet Classic edition.) Ivan Denisovich has been in Russian prison camps for nine years of his twelve year incarceration. This book details his bleak life of survival by following his routine throughout the course of one day. Bleak but not hopeless, his day holds opportunities for small gains of food and clothing, anything he can scavenge or trade for. Repression, dehumanization, and survival are the major themes of this work.

Behavioral Conditioning/Isolation

Cormier, Robert. The Bumblebee Flies Anyway. New York: Pantheon Books, 1983, 241 pp. Barney Snow is a patient inside the Complex, an experimental hospital where drugs shatter his memory with images of violence and his mother's death. Along with three other patients, he embarks on an adventure within the prison-like walls of the Complex. His desire to help a friend experience the thrill of real living leads to a riveting climax.

Cormier, Robert. I am the Cheese. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1974, 166 pp. A young boy tries to unlock his past yet knows he must hide those memories if he is to remain alive. A shocking reality unfolds as Adam Farmer takes a psychological journey into his past. Government manipulation and interrogation play a role in this story of a person's struggle against a past wrecked by outside forces.

George, Jean Craighead. Julie of the Wolves. New York: Harper and Row, 1972, 170 pp. Miyax, a young Eskimo girl, rebels against her home situation and runs away. Becoming lost, without food or a compass in Alaska, she is alone except for a pack of arctic wolves whom she comes to depend upon and love in this story of courage, isolation, and the will to survive.

Sleator, William. House of Stairs. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1974, 166 pp. Five sixteen-year-olds who are orphans in state institutions are brought one by one to a place that is not a hospital or a prison, but a house made of nothing but stairs. A red machine, the only other item in the house, plays a role in this shocking picture of a possible future world of experiments.

Utopias and Dystopias

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Ballantine Books, 1953, 179 pp. Bradbury's story of an insane world where the firemen actually burn books instead of putting out fires provides the title for the work: Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper burns. One fireman rebels against the establishment after meeting a seventeen-year-old girl who tells him of a time when people were not afraid and they took joy in thinking. Convinced that burning books is wrong, he decides to escape to a secret utopian society where people "become" books by memorizing them.

Golding William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Wideview/Perigee Books, 1954, 190 pp. A group of English boarding school children try to survive after crash landing on an island during a major war in this story of a utopia gone wrong. When the boys first land, they enjoy the lack of grownup supervision but soon revert to savagery. Only two boys try to maintain order and respect while the others turn into animals with little regard for life. The book points to the inherent evil in mankind and the ease with which humans regress into beasts, abusing authority and power.

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: Harper and Row, 1932, 311 pp. This satire about a utopia of the future deals with the theme of the advancement of science as it affects individuals. The elements of propaganda, sexual promiscuity, and general shallowness of life in the brave new world of the future are startlingly familiar.

More, Thomas. Utopia. Arlington Heights, IL: AHM Publishing, 1949, 83 pp. (Also available in a Penguin Classic edition.) The best-known novel of a utopian society and the forerunner of most other utopian and dystopian works, Thomas More's book discusses all aspects of a utopian society including law, economy, social and business relations, education, and foreign affairs and policies. Interestingly, it also covers such controversial and timely topics as euthanasia and divorce.

Nolan, William F. and George Clayton Johnson. Logan's Run. New York: Bantam Books, 1967, 149 pp. This novel tells of a race against death and of two lovers who flee from a society which would destroy them simply because they have reached the age of thirty. The setting is the twenty-third century, a time for only the young. When the crystal flower imprinted on the palm of your hand turns black, your life is over. This is the story of two people who choose to live by escaping.

Orwell, George. Animal Farm. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1954, 155 pp. (Also available in a Signet Classic edition.) In this political satire on dictatorship, Orwell describes the takeover of a farm by the animals. The animals are searching for equality, but the pigs declare themselves more equal than the others. This new regime shows the other animals that the pigs are no better than--and indeed, come to resemble--the humans they supplanted.

Wells, H.G. The Island of Doctor Moreau. New York: Signet Classic, 1977, 160 pp. When Andrew Braddock washes ashore on the island of Doctor Moreau after a shipwreck, he does not realize that the mysterious doctor is using technology to perform experiments on animals, turning them into humans. Braddock soon finds out the doctor wants to reverse the experiment, using Braddock as the test subject. Themes of dehumanization and the threat of technology are explored in this adventure story.


The author gives special thanks to John Sessions and Arthea Reed for help and support, and Judy Mills and Todd Carstenn for ideas concerning this guide.

Presently a ninth grade English teacher at Asheville Junior High in North Carolina, Lisa Sessions has also taught seventh and eighth grade English. She received her B.A. from Mars Hill College and her M.A.Ed. from Western Carolina University. A member of the North Carolina Association of Educators, she has been a speaker at the NC State Gifted Convention and has been published in their Newsletter.


W. Geiger (Guy) Ellis, Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia, Department of Language Education, received his A.B. and M.Ed. degrees from the university of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and his Ed.D. from the University of Virginia. For over 25 years, Guy has been active in teaching adolescent literature in the classroom and in training future teachers in its use, lecturing and writing extensively on the subject. he developed and edited The ALAN Review from 1978 to 1984, changing its focus from a newsletter to a fully referred journal with an emphasis on articles with research and instructional significance. His research has had heavy emphasis on the content of literature instruction.

Currently Professor and Chairperson of Education at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Arthea (Charlie) J.S. Reed has taught for 20 years on both the high school and college level. She received her A.B. (Bethany College) and her M.S. (Southern Connecticut State University) in English and her Ph.D. (Florida State University) in Teacher Education. In addition to teaching, Charlie was The ALAN Review (NCTE) editor from 1984 to 1990 and served as Co-Director of the Mountain Area Writing Project (a part of the National Writing Project) from 1982 to 1988. She is also the author of Reaching Adolescents: Young Adult Books and the Schools (Holt, 1985), Comics to Classics: A Parent's Guide to Books for Teens and Preteens (IRA, 1988), and Point-Counterpoint: An Introduction to Education (Dushkin, 1991).

Page numbers reference Penguin Putnam books.

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