1984 Essay Questions

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According to Lynskey, “Nothing in Orwell’s life and work supports a diagnosis of despair.”Lynskey traces the literary genesis of 1984 to the utopian fictions of the optimistic 19th century—Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888); the sci-fi novels of H. Wells, which Orwell read as a boy—and their dystopian successors in the 20th, including the Russian Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1924) and Huxley’s Brave New World (1932).

The most interesting pages in The Ministry of Truth are Lynskey’s account of the novel’s afterlife.

Lynskey’s account of the reach of 1984 is revelatory.

The novel has inspired movies, television shows, plays, a ballet, an opera, a David Bowie album, imitations, parodies, sequels, rebuttals, Lee Harvey Oswald, the Black Panther Party, and the John Birch Society.

Left-wing journalists readily accepted the fabrication, useful as it was to the cause of communism.

Orwell didn’t, exposing the lie with eyewitness testimony in journalism that preceded his classic book Homage to Catalonia—and that made him a heretic on the left.

It has acquired something of the smothering ubiquity of Big Brother himself: 1984 is watching you.

With the arrival of the year 1984, the cultural appropriations rose to a deafening level.

The title, the adjectival form of the author’s last name, the vocabulary of the all-powerful Party that rules the superstate Oceania with the ideology of Ingsoc—doublethink, memory hole, unperson, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, Thought Police, Room 101, Big Brother—they’ve all entered the English language as instantly recognizable signs of a nightmare future.

It’s almost impossible to talk about propaganda, surveillance, authoritarian politics, or perversions of truth without dropping a reference to 1984.


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