1984 Literature Discussion Notes Page of ~Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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1984 Literature Discussion Notes Page of

~Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act

Freedom depends on writers keeping the word-mirrors clean. In an age of sophisticated media manipulation, this is more vital than ever.

In his best articles and letters, he gives us a gritty, personal example of how to engage as a writer in politics. He takes sides, but remains his own man. He will not put himself at the service of political parties exercising or pursuing power, since that means using half-truths, in a democracy, or whole lies in a dictatorship. He gets things wrong, but then corrects them. Sometimes he joins with others in volunteer brigades or boring committee work, to defend freedom. But if need be, he stands alone, against all the "smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls."
In "The Prevention of Literature" he suddenly bursts into an old Revivalist hymn:
Dare to be a Daniel
Dare to stand alone;
Dare to have a purpose firm,
Dare to make it known.
He did. As he himself wrote of Dickens, behind the pages of his work you see the face of a man who is generously angry. This is the great Orwell. We need him still, because Orwell's work is never done.
Orwell Quotes:

" Men can only be happy when they do not assume that the object of life is happiness. "

" To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle. "
"Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side, you automatically help out that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, 'he that is not with me is against me."
" Political language. . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable,

and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. "

" At age 50, every man has the face he deserves. "
" Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket. "
   " We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit

violence on those who would do us harm. "

   " Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. "
   " War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the

depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the

masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. "
"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever" - p. 277

 War is important for consuming the products of human labour; if this work were be used to increase the standard of living, the control of the party over the people would decrease. War is the economic basis of a hierarchical society.

 There is an emotional need to believe in the ultimate victory of Big Brother.

 In becoming continuous, war has ceased to exist. The continuity of the war guarantees the permanence of the current order. In other words, "War is Peace"

 There have always been three main strata of society; the Upper, the Middle and the Lower, and no change has brought human equality one inch nearer.

 Collectivism doesn't lead to socialism. In the event, the wealth now belongs to the new "upper-class", the bureaucrats and administrators. Collectivism has ensured the permanence of economic inequality.

 Wealth is not inherited from person to person, but it is kept within the ruling group.

 The masses (proles) are given freedom of thought, because they don't think! A Party member is not allowed the slightest deviation of thought, and there is an elaborate mental training to ensure this, a training that can be summarised in the concept of doublethink.


Emmanuel Goldstein, the main enemy of Oceania, is, as one can see from the name, a Jew. Orwell draws a link to other totalitarian systems of our century, like the Nazis and the Communists, who had anti-Semitic ideas, and who used Jews as so-called scapegoats, who were responsible for all bad and evil things in the country.

Emmanuel Goldstein somehow also stands for Trotsky, a leader of the Revolution, who was later declared an enemy.

Oceania stands for the United States of America , Eurasia for Russia and Eastasia for China.

One of these symbols is the paperweight that Winston buys in the old junk-shop. It stands for the fragile little world that Winston and Julia have made for each other. They are the coral inside of it. As Orwell wrote: "It is a little chunk of history, that they have forgotten to alter".

The "Golden Country" is another symbol. It stands for the old European pastoral landscape. The place where Winston and Julia meet for the first time to make love to each other, is exactly like the "Golden Country" of Winston’s dreams.

Big Brother

Big Brother is the face of the Party. The citizens are told that he is the leader of the nation and the head of the Party, but Winston can never determine whether or not he actually exists. In any case, the face of Big Brother symbolizes the Party in its public manifestation; he is a reassurance to most people (the warmth of his name suggests his ability to protect), but he is also an open threat (one cannot escape his gaze). Big Brother also symbolizes the vagueness with which the higher ranks of the Party present themselves—it is impossible to know who really rules Oceania, what life is like for the rulers, or why they act as they do. Winston thinks he remembers that Big Brother emerged around 1960, but the Party’s official records date Big Brother’s existence back to 1930, before Winston was even born.

The Glass Paperweight and St. Clement’s Church

By deliberately weakening people’s memories and flooding their minds with propaganda, the Party is able to replace individuals’ memories with its own version of the truth. It becomes nearly impossible for people to question the Party’s power in the present when they accept what the Party tells them about the past—that the Party arose to protect them from bloated, oppressive capitalists, and that the world was far uglier and harsher before the Party came to power. Winston vaguely understands this principle. He struggles to recover his own memories and formulate a larger picture of what has happened to the world. Winston buys a paperweight in an antique store in the prole district that comes to symbolize his attempt to reconnect with the past. Symbolically, when the Thought Police arrest Winston at last, the paperweight shatters on the floor.

The old picture of St. Clement’s Church in the room that Winston rents above Mr. Charrington’s shop is another representation of the lost past. Winston associates a song with the picture that ends with the words “Here comes the chopper to chop off your head!” This is an important foreshadow, as it is the telescreen hidden behind the picture that ultimately leads the Thought Police to Winston, symbolizing the Party’s corrupt control of the past.
The Place Where There Is No Darkness

Throughout the novel Winston imagines meeting O’Brien in “the place where there is no darkness.” The words first come to him in a dream, and he ponders them for the rest of the novel. Eventually, Winston does meet O’Brien in the place where there is no darkness; instead of being the paradise Winston imagined, it is merely a prison cell in which the light is never turned off. The idea of “the place where there is no darkness” symbolizes Winston’s approach to the future: possibly because of his intense fatalism (he believes that he is doomed no matter what he does), he unwisely allows himself to trust O’Brien, even though inwardly he senses that O’Brien might be a Party operative.

How Big Brothers used Orwell to fight the cold war

David Hencke and Rob Evans
Friday June 30, 2000
The Guardian

Even before 1984 was published in 1949, US publishers sought to exploit the novel as an attack on Soviet totalitarianism by seeking the endorsement of J Edgar Hoover, the FBI chief - ironically, he was later dubbed America's Big Brother. A decade later the Soviets used Orwell as part of a smear campaign to tell the Russian people that his satire was based on real life in America where everybody was under survellience.

In the 1960s and 1970s the US security services monitored George Orwell societies and film clubs on US campuses to make sure they were not a cover for subversive pro-socialist behaviour. His name was even linked with "Americong", a terrorist group which bombed an officers' mess at an air force base in Denver, Colorado, in 1972 in protest at the war in Vietnam.

The file, opened by Hoover himself, begins with a letter from Orwell's publishers in April 1949, saying: "We hope you might be interested in helping to call this book to the attention of the American pub lic - and thus, perhaps, helping to halt totalitarianism". He goes on: "The book leaves the reader with the shocked feeling that there is not single horrible feature in the world of 1984 that is not present, in embryo, today.

Hoover declined to endorse 1984 and he ordered files kept on the author - including book and film review cuttings. A heavily censored agent's report says that Orwell had originally been "sympathetic toward the communists but he later turned against them".

Ten years later the FBI was reporting on a " smear campaign" organised in East Berlin claiming that Orwell's satire was based on real life in America "where police survellience and investigation has surpassed the world and had no equals.

"Already today an American lives, so to speak, under a glass cover, and is viewed from all sides," said a report which was distributed across the communist world.


*June 25, 1903 Motihari - India

+ January 21, 1950 London - GB

The British author George Orwell, pen name of Eric Blair, achieved prominence in the late 1940s as the author of two brilliant satires. He wrote documentaries, essays, and criticism during the 1930s and later established himself as one of the most important and influential voices of the century.

Eric Arthur Blair (later George Orwell) was born in 1903 in the Indian village of Motihari, which lies near the border of Nepal. At that time India was a part of the British Empire, and Blair's father, Richard, held a post as an agent in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service. The Blairs led a relatively privileged and fairly pleasant life, helping to administer the Empire. The Blair family was not very wealthy - Orwell later described them ironically as "lower-upper-middle class". They owned no property, had no extensive investments; they were like many middle-class English families of the time, totally dependent on the British Empire for their livelihood and prospects. In 1907, when Eric was about eight years old, the family returned to England and lived at Henley, though the father continued to work in India until he retired in 1912. With some difficulty, Blair's parents sent their son to a private preparatory school in Sussex at the age of eight. At the age of thirteen he won a scholarship to Wellington, and soon after, another to Eton, the famous public school.

At the beginning of Why I Write, he explains that from the age of five or six he had known that he would be - must be-a writer. But in order to become a writer one had to read literature. But English literature was not a major subject at Eton, where most boys came from backgrounds either irremediably unliterary or so literary that to teach them 'English Literature' would be absurd. One of Eric's tutors later declared that his famous pupil had done absolutely no work for five years. This was of course untrue: Eric has apprenticed himself to the masters of English prose who most appealed to him - including Swift, Sterne and Jack London.

In 1922 Eric Blair joined the Indian Imperial Police. In doing so he was already breaking away from the path most of his school-fellows would take, for Eton often led to either Oxford or Cambridge. Instead, he was drawn to a life of travel and action. He trained in Burma, and served there in the police force for five years. In 1927, while home on leave, he resigned. There had been at least two reasons for this: firstly, his life as a policeman was a distraction from the life he really wanted, which was to be a writer; and secondly, he had come to feel that, as a policeman in Burma, he was supporting a political system in which he could no longer believe. Even as early as this, his ideas about writing and his political ideas were closely linked. It was not simply that he wished to break away from British Imperialism in India: he wished to "escape from ... every form of man's dominion over man

For more than one year he lived among the poor, first in London, then in Paris. For him the poor were victims of injustice, playing the same part as the Burmese played in their country. One reason for going to live among the poor was to overcome a repulsion which he considered typical of his own class. In Paris he lived and worked in a working-class quarter. At that time, he tells us, Paris was full of artists and would-be artists. There Orwell led a life that was far from bohemian; when he eventually got a job, he worked as a dishwasher. Once again his journey was downward into the life to which he felt he should expose himself, the life of poverty-stricken, or of those who barely scraped a living.

When he returned to London, he lived for a couple of months among the tramps and poor people there. In December 1929, Eric spent Christmas with his family. At his visit he announced that he was going to write a book about his time in Paris. The original version of Down and Out in Paris and London entitled A Scullion's Diary was completed in October 1930 and came to only 35,000 words for Orwell had used only a part of his material.

Down and Out in Paris and London is not a novel; it is a kind of documentary account of life unknown to most of its readers. And this was the point of it: he wished to bring the English middle class, of which he was a member, to an understanding that the life they led and enjoyed, was founded upon the life under their very noses.

In 1938, Orwell became ill with tuberculosis and spent the winter in Morocco. While being there, he wrote his next book, a novel entitled Coming up for Air, published in 1939, the year the long-threatened war between England and Germany broke out. Orwell wanted to fight, as he has done in Spain, against the fascist enemy, but he was declared physically unfit. In 1941 he joined the British Broadcasting Corporation as talks producer in the Indian section of the eastern service. He served in the Home Guard, a wartime civilian body for local defence. In 1943 he left the BBC to become literary editor of the Tribune and began writing Animal Farm. In 1944 the Orwells adopted a son, but in 1945 his wife died during an operation. Towards the end of the war, Orwell went to Europe as a reporter. Late in 1945 he went to the island of Jura off the Scottish coast, and settled there in 1946. He wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four there. The island’s climate was unsuitable for someone suffering from tuberculosis and Nineteen Eighty-Four reflects the bleakness of human suffering, the indignity of pain. Indeed, he said that the book wouldn't have been so gloomy had he not been so ill. Later that year he married Sonia Brownell. He died in January 1950.


In February the writing of Animal Farm is completed but no publisher will accept it because of the British Alliance with Stalin.


War correspondent for The Observer in Paris and Cologne. Meets Hemingway in Paris (March-May). Death of Eileen in Newcastle; while under anaesthetic for operation (March 29).Orwell's wife died as the result of a minor operation. He attributed her death to lowered physical resistance due to the war; both she and Orwell had consistently given up a part of their wartime food rations to feed children, and consequently had impaired their health. Covers first post-war election campaign (June-July). Animal Farm published (August).


Publishes Critical Essays in February. Leaves London for the isle of Jura in the Inner Hebrides with his son and a nurse to live in Barnhill, an abandoned farmhouse. Starts to work on Nineteen Eighty-Four. Increasingly ill.


Final appearance of his "As I Please" column in Tribune in April. Enters Hairmyres Hospital, East Kilbride, near Glasgow, with tuberculosis of the left lung (Christmas Eve).


In July, returns to Jura. Has great difficulty in getting a typist and so types the book himself. Completes revision of Nineteen Eighty-Four by December. Tells Tosco Fyvel: "Everything is going well here except me".


Enters sanatorium in Cranham, Gloucestershire in January. Negotiations for publishing Nineteen Eighty-Four. The Book-of-the-Month Club in the United States wants the book without the Newspeak appendix and Goldstein's essay-but Orwell refuses. Book-of-the-Month Club relents and accepts the entire book.

Secker & Warburg publishes Nineteen Eighty-Four on 8 June 1949. Published by Harcourt Brace in New York on 13 June. Instantaneous and outstanding success.

Admitted to University College Hospital (London) in September.

Marries Sonia Brownell on October 13th. Plans to go to Switzerland on discharge from hospital.


Dies suddenly, aged 46, of pulmonary tuberculosis at University College Hospital on January 21st.

You and the Atomic Bomb

by George Orwell

Considering how likely we all are to be blown to pieces by it within the next five years, the atomic bomb has not roused so much discussion as might have been expected. The newspapers have published numerous diagrams, not very helpful to the average man, of protons and neutrons doing their stuff, and there has been much reiteration of the useless statement that the bomb "ought to be put under international control." But curiously little has been said, at any rate in print, about the question that is of most urgent interest to all of us, namely: "How difficult are these things to manufacture?"

Such information as we--that is, the big public--possess on this subject has come to us in a rather indirect way, apropos of President Truman's decision not to hand over certain secrets to the USSR. Some months ago, when the bomb was still only a rumour, there was a widespread belief that splitting the atom was merely a problem for the physicists, and that when they had solved it a new and devastating weapon would be within reach of almost everybody. (At any moment, so the rumour went, some lonely lunatic in a laboratory might blow civilisation to smithereens, as easily as touching off a firework.)
Had that been true, the whole trend of history would have been abruptly altered. The distinction between great states and small states would have been wiped out, and the power of the State over the individual would have been greatly weakened. However, it appears from President Truman's remarks, and various comments that have been made on them, that the bomb is fantastically expensive and that its manufacture demands an enormous industrial effort, such as only three or four countries in the world are capable of making. This point is of cardinal importance, because it may mean that the discovery of the atomic bomb, so far from reversing history, will simply intensify the trends which have been apparent for a dozen years past.
It is a commonplace that the history of civilisation is largely the history of weapons. In particular, the connection between the discovery of gunpowder and the overthrow of feudalism by the bourgeoisie has been pointed out over and over again. And though I have no doubt exceptions can be brought forward, I think the following rule would be found generally true: that ages in which the dominant weapon is expensive or difficult to make will tend to be ages of despotism, whereas when the dominant weapon is cheap and simple, the common people have a chance. Thus, for example, thanks, battleships and bombing planes are inherently tyrannical weapons, while rifles, muskets, long-bows and hand-grenades are inherently democratic weapons. A complex weapon makes the strong stronger, while a simple weapon--so long as there is no answer to it--gives claws to the weak.
The great age of democracy and of national self-determination was the age of the musket and the rifle. After the invention of the flintlock, and before the invention of the percussion cap, the musket was a fairly efficient weapon, and at the same time so simple that it could be produced almost anywhere. Its combination of qualities made possible the success of the American and French revolutions, and made a popular insurrection a more serious business than it could be in our own day. After the musket came the breech-loading rifle. This was a comparatively complex thing, but it could still be produced in scores of countries, and it was cheap, easily smuggled and economical of ammunition. Even the most backward nation could always get hold of rifles from one source or another, so that Boers, Bulgars, Abyssinians, Moroccans--even Tibetans--could put up a fight for their independence, sometimes with success. But thereafter every development in military technique has favoured the State as against the individual, and the industrialised country as against the backward one. There are fewer and fewer foci of power. Already, in 1939, there were only five states capable of waging war on the grand scale, and now there are only three--ultimately, perhaps, only two. This trend has been obvious for years, and was pointed out by a few observers even before 1914. The one thing that might reverse it is the discovery of a weapon--or, to put it more broadly, of a method of fighting--not dependent on huge concentrations of industrial plant.
From various symptoms one can infer that the Russians do not yet possess the secret of making the atomic bomb; on the other hand, the consensus of opinion seems to be that they will possess it within a few years. So we have before us the prospect of two or three monstrous super-states, each possessed of a weapon by which millions of people can be wiped out in a few seconds, dividing the world between them. It has been rather hastily assumed that this means bigger and bloodier wars, and perhaps an actual end to the machine civilisation. But suppose--and really this the likeliest development--that the surviving great nations make a tacit agreement never to use the atomic bomb against one another? Suppose they only use it, or the threat of it, against people who are unable to retaliate? In that case we are back where we were before, the only difference being that power is concentrated in still fewer hands and that the outlook for subject peoples and oppressed classes is still more hopeless.
When James Burnham wrote The Managerial Revolution it seemed probable to many Americans that the Germans would win the European end of the war, and it was therefore natural to assume that Germany and not Russia would dominate the Eurasian land mass, while Japan would remain master of East Asia. This was a miscalculation, but it does not affect the main argument. For Burnham's geographical picture of the new world has turned out to be correct. More and more obviously the surface of the earth is being parceled off into three great empires, each self-contained and cut off from contact with the outer world, and each ruled, under one disguise or another, by a self-elected oligarchy. The haggling as to where the frontiers are to be drawn is still going on, and will continue for some years, and the third of the three super-states--East Asia, dominated by China--is still potential rather than actual. But the general drift is unmistakable, and every scientific discovery of recent years has accelerated it.
We were once told that the aeroplane had "abolished frontiers"; actually it is only since the aeroplane became a serious weapon that frontiers have become definitely impassable. The radio was once expected to promote international understanding and co-operation; it has turned out to be a means of insulating one nation from another. The atomic bomb may complete the process by robbing the exploited classes and peoples of all power to revolt, and at the same time putting the possessors of the bomb on a basis of military equality. Unable to conquer one another, they are likely to continue ruling the world between them, and it is difficult to see how the balance can be upset except by slow and unpredictable demographic changes.
For forty or fifty years past, Mr. H.G. Wells and others have been warning us that man is in danger of destroying himself with his own weapons, leaving the ants or some other gregarious species to take over. Anyone who has seen the ruined cities of Germany will find this notion at least thinkable. Nevertheless, looking at the world as a whole, the drift for many decades has been not towards anarchy but towards the reimposition of slavery. We may be heading not for general breakdown but for an epoch as horribly stable as the slave empires of antiquity. James Burnham's theory has been much discussed, but few people have yet considered its ideological implications--that is, the kind of world-view, the kind of beliefs, and the social structure that would probably prevail in a state which was at once unconquerable and in a permanent state of "cold war" with its neighbors.
Had the atomic bomb turned out to be something as cheap and easily manufactured as a bicycle or an alarm clock, it might well have plunged us back into barbarism, but it might, on the other hand, have meant the end of national sovereignty and of the highly-centralised police state. If, as seems to be the case, it is a rare and costly object as difficult to produce as a battleship, it is likelier to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a "peace that is no peace."


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