Social setting

Overview

When working with Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is important to understand the social and political realities of the society the book describes. Some of these are described more or…

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Social classes

Oceanian society is divided into three social classes, centred around the political party INGSOC (short for “English Socialism”), which has complete control of society: Members of the Inner Party, members of the Outer Party, and ‘proles’ (who do not directly belong to the Party but are still under its control). Above everything is the mysterious Big Brother, the leader of the Party and therefore of the state. Finally, we are told of a mysterious resistance group known as the Brotherhood (but it is unclear whether this really exists).

Goldstein’s book reveals that this social structure is carefully designed to eliminate any possibility of rebellion. The proles are kept uneducated and therefore never realise that society might have a different structure, while Party members are systematically indoctrinated to wish to keep the Party in power - and also constantly watched to ensure that no one tries to do anything different. Those who attempt to rebel, or who are seen to hold views that are inimical to the Party are eliminated or ‘vaporised’. 

Big Brother

The leader of the Party is simply known as Big Brother, an imposing figure who is displayed on posters all around London, and who frequently appears at the end of propaganda videos: “[The poster] depicted simply an enormous face, more than a metre wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features” (p. 3).

It is strongly implied that Big Brother is simply a useful symbol of leadership (pp. 216-217) and does not really exist, since he only ever appears on posters and telescreens. O’Brien even freel…

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The Four Ministries

Oceanian society is controlled by the four government ministries, which are each concerned with a particular area of society.

It is important to note that all of the ministries have ironic names, which both reflects the contradictory political philosophy of INGSOC and Orwell’s satirical style. The irony is directly revealed in Goldstein’s book: “The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation.” (p. 225).

The book provides the most detailed information about the Ministry of Truth (where Winston and Julia work) and the Ministry of Love (where Part III of the novel is mostly set), but we also get some information about the other two.

The Ministry of Peace

This Ministry is concerned with waging war against the other nations. It is implied that their work is mostly symbolical, as Goldstein’s book reveals that the three states really maintain their constant wars to keep their own populations under strict control and avoid creating too many resources that would raise their standard of living.

Therefore, none of the three superpowers actually need to achieve victory, they simply need to keep the war going so they can use the idea of the war to motivate people and create useful feelings of national pride and military fanaticism. This idea…

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Family life

A significant element in the Party’s total control of society is the strategies they use to corrupt some of the patterns that exist in traditional family structures.

Men and women

Though not stated directly, the novel gives the impression that the world of Oceania is plagued with misogyny and gender inequality. We rarely hear about female members of the Inner Party, and women do not seem to occupy many leading positions in general. For example, despite women being thought best suited to work with the production of pornography, it is noted that the head of the Pornosec department is a man (p. 137).

Women are also subjected to more strict indoctrination than men when it comes to sex and are held to higher moral standards in that area (p. 139), which is another classic sign of misogyny.

Even Winston, the main character of the story, often displays misogyny in both his thoughts and his behaviour. By his own account he detests women (p. 12), and he even has fantasies of rape at the beginning of the story (p. 17). Even when he starts to question himself more tow…

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