1984 is full of images and ideas that do not directly affect the plot, but nevertheless attain thematic importance. What are some of these symbols and motifs, and how does Orwell use them?
Some of the most important symbols and motifs in 1984 include Winston’s paperweight, the St. Clement’s Church picture and the rhyme associated with it, the prole woman singing outside the window, and the phrase “the place where there is no darkness.” In addition to unifying the novel, these symbols and motifs represent Winston’s attempts to escape or undermine the oppressive rule of the Party. Winston conceives of the singing prole woman as an incubator for future rebels; she symbolizes for him the eventual overthrow of the Party by the working class. The St. Clement’s Church picture is a double symbol. For Winston it symbolizes a stolen past, but it also symbolizes the Party’s complete power and betrayal of humanity, since the picture hides the telescreen by which the Party monitors Winston when he believes himself to be safe. The St. Clement’s song is a mysterious, ominous, and enigmatic relic of the past for Winston and Julia. Its ending—“Here comes the chopper to chop off your head!”—foreshadows their eventual capture and torture.
Winston’s paperweight is another symbol of the past, but it also comes to represent a kind of temporal stasis in which Winston can dream without fear, imagining himself floating inside the glass walls of the paperweight with his mother. The phrase “the place where there is no darkness” works as another symbol of escapist hope throughout the novel, as Winston recalls the dream in which O’Brien tells him about this place and says that they will meet there one day. The phrase therefore orients Winston toward the end of the novel, when the phrase becomes bitterly ironic: the place where there is no darkness is the Ministry of Love, where the lights remain on in the prisons all day and all night.
Discuss the idea of doublethink. How important is doublethink to the Party’s control of Oceania? How important is it to Winston’s brainwashing?
One of the most compelling aspects of 1984 is Orwell’s understanding of the roles that thought and language play in rebellion and control. In Newspeak, Orwell invents a language that will make rebellion impossible, because the words to conceive of such an action cease to exist. Doublethink, the ability to maintain two contradictory ideas in one’s head simultaneously and believe them both to be true, functions as a psychological mechanism that explains people’s willingness to accept control over their memories and their past. Doublethink is crucial to the Party’s control of Oceania, because it enables the Party to alter historical records and pass off these distorted accounts as authentic. The brainwashed populace no longer recognizes contradictions. Instead, it accepts the Party’s version of the past as accurate, even though that representation may change from minute to minute.
Emmanuel Goldstein’s manifesto even suggests that doublethink is strongest among the powerful Inner Party members who convince themselves that they act for Big Brother, even though they know that Big Brother is a myth. Doublethink is equally crucial to Winston’s gradual conversion to loving Big Brother because it enables him to accept his torturers’ words as true, even though his own fading memories—of the photograph of the three Party traitors, for instance—contradict them.
Describe Julia’s character as it relates to Winston. How is she different from him? How is she similar to him? How does Julia’s age make her attitude toward the Party very different from Winston’s?
Winston is thirty-nine, and Julia is twenty-six. His childhood took place largely before the Party came to power around 1960 (as he remembers it). Julia, on the other hand, is a child of the Party era. Many of the regime’s elements that seem most frightening and evil to Winston fail to upset or even faze Julia. Like Winston, she hates the Party and sees through many of its techniques. She understands, for instance, that it uses sexual repression to control the populace. She even has a better intuitive grasp of the Party’s methods than Winston does, planning their affair and often explaining aspects of the Party to him. However, the Party’s large-scale control of history does not interest or trouble her as it does Winston, because she does not remember a time when the Party was not in control.
In stark defiance of Party doctrine, Julia enjoys sex and rebels against the Party in small ways. But growing up under the Party regime has made her apathetic to the difference between truth and falsehood. She has no patience for Winston’s desire for a categorical, abstract rejection of Party doctrine. Rather, she falls asleep when Winston reads to her from Emmanuel Goldstein’s book, epitomizing her simple, self-centered, pleasure-seeking approach to life.