This is the dust jacket of the first edition of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, published by Secker & Warburg in 1949. In the novel, the Great Britain of the future – renamed Airstrip One – is depicted as a dystopia, a repressive totalitarian society whose citizens are constantly monitored. Published four years after the critical and commercial success of Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four was equally well received. It was Orwell’s last published novel before his death in 1950.
Surveillance and state control
Nineteen Eighty-Four presents a chilling description of a totalitarian state in which the government exerts complete control over its citizens. The inhabitants of Airstrip One are continually monitored by telescreens and microphones installed in all buildings, as well as by informants. This information is used by the government to control and suppress people. The terrifying Ministry of Love uses its knowledge of its citizens’ greatest fears to torture them more effectively.
State control affects every aspect of society, and even historical sources are manipulated to fit political purposes. Winston Smith, the novel’s protagonist, works correcting old newspapers so that they match the official version of the past endorsed by the government.
Orwellian terms in everyday language
Many of the words and expressions coined by Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four have entered into the English language, bearing witness of the immense cultural impact of the novel. This includes the term ‘Big Brother’, the name of the totalitarian leader of the state of Oceania, but also expressions such as ‘Thought Police’, ‘Memory Hole’, ‘Newspeak’ and ‘Doublethink’, which are used regularly in discussions about the restriction of personal freedom and media manipulation.