Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


The idea of “doublethink” emerges as an important consequence of the Party’s massive campaign of large-scale psychological manipulation. Simply put, doublethink is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in one’s mind at the same time. As the Party’s mind-control techniques break down an individual’s capacity for independent thought, it becomes possible for that individual to believe anything that the Party tells them, even while possessing information that runs counter to what they are being told.

At the Hate Week rally, for instance, the Party shifts its diplomatic allegiance, so the nation it has been at war with suddenly becomes its ally, and its former ally becomes its new enemy. When the Party speaker suddenly changes the nation he refers to as an enemy in the middle of his speech, the crowd accepts his words immediately, and is ashamed to find that it has made the wrong signs for the event. In the same way, people are able to accept the Party ministries’ names, though they contradict their functions: the Ministry of Plenty oversees economic shortages, the Ministry of Peace wages war, the Ministry of Truth conducts propaganda and historical revisionism, and the Ministry of Love is the center of the Party’s operations of torture and punishment.

Urban Decay

Urban decay proves a pervasive motif in 1984. The London that Winston Smith calls home is a dilapidated, rundown city in which buildings are crumbling, conveniences such as elevators never work, and necessities such as electricity and plumbing are extremely unreliable. Though Orwell never discusses the theme openly, it is clear that the shoddy disintegration of London, just like the widespread hunger and poverty of its inhabitants, is due to the Party’s mismanagement and incompetence. One of the themes of 1984, inspired by the history of twentieth-century communism, is that totalitarian regimes are viciously effective at enhancing their own power and miserably incompetent at providing for their citizens. The grimy urban decay in London is an important visual reminder of this idea, and it offers insight into the Party’s priorities through its contrast to the immense technology the Party develops to spy on its citizens.

Language and Textual Evidence

Numerous forms of writing appear throughout 1984. Some are as brief as the “I love you” note that Julia leaves for Winston, or recurring appearances of the Party’s three slogans. Others, however, are as in-depth as Emmanuel Goldstein’s book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, chapters of which appear as full text within the novel. As much of the Party’s regime involves removing influences or factors that could promote free thinking, written information carries an even stronger amount of power, used here as either forms of resistance, or as a means of perpetuating the government’s beliefs.

With a totalitarian regime seeking to discipline its citizens and reinforce loyalty right down to its citizens’ thoughts, the physical evidence of written material is tantamount to treason. Because George Orwell wrote 1984 to feel all-too-cautionary and plausible, the details of his dystopian future are quite specific. The reader engages with textual evidence as Winston does. Repeated ideas that are nearly impossible to ignore as a citizen begin to feel familiar within the fabric of the world, rendering Goldstein’s manifesto as even more of a contrast to military propaganda.

The concept of Newspeak corresponds directly with this idea, as the reader is presented with clear examples of just how much language is contorted to serve the Party’s needs. Manipulated media made visible to citizens allows the Party to control the narrative in their favor. Repetitive phrases begin to take on their own meanings, where the threat of an idea is backed up with the support and knowledge of the phrase or aphorism itself. Winston’s ongoing speculation of the “2 + 2 = 5” idea is one such example, where its own frequency reinforces its potency from sheer exposure. By putting it in writing, like the Party’s other contradictory slogans, the idea should feel harder to reject.

On the other hand, the reader finds examples of the rebellious nature of written evidence in spectrums as eclectic as Goldstein’s book, Julia’s note, and Winston’s own secretly written diary. In a society where physical ephemera is enough evidence to determine one's own fate, thoughtcrime seems like an even more invasive offense, as it grows increasingly clear just how many obstacles are in place to limit the expression of the citizens.