Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four stands as the most influential political novel written during the course of the twentieth centaury. It is a work of prose that has had a massive impact on the society on which it commented AND on the literature that has followed its example. It is my aim in this essay to examine first briefly where his political and literary ideas came from, and then in some depth, how he has presented them in his novel.
To see where his ideas came from we must first understand what they are and what Orwell hoped to achieve by writing his novel, Orwell had hoped that his book would serve as a warning against the evils of a totalitarian state. He wished to warn English society against the growing complacency that proliferated at the time, he saw that this could lead to the rise of such a government as the Bolshevik party, or as the Nazi government of World War 2 Germany.
However it would be a very superficial view were his book considered merely as a prophesy of things that were to come, rather he wrote it as a satirical comment on the political and social environment of the day, he was intending to satirize and demonise the rising popularity of the centralised government1. One must be careful when reading the book, as it would be an easy misinterpretation of the novel to assume that his work is targeted at Communist government exclusively, as the novel is swarming with allusions to the rise and struggle of the Bolsheviks in the USSR, as we will explore later.
However to see it this was would be to miss a large portion of the novel: Orwell’s work is aimed at oligarchy in all its forms, yes that would include the Russian Bolshevism but the United Soviet Socialist Republic was merely a convenient example of such a totalitarian state. It is oft misinterpreted now, and so at the time of publishing it is no surprise to find that the book was seen as a blow struck at socialism and the British Labour Party, and so brought much rebuke from these and others.
However, Orwell himself was quick to deny this, and in a letter to Francis A. Henson he said: “My recent novel  is NOT intended as an attack on Socialism… but as a show-up of the perversions to which a centralized economy is liable and which have already been partly realised in Communism and Fascism… I believe that totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere, and I have tried to draw these ideas out to their logical consequences. “2?
It is an important fact that none of the ideas that Orwell explores in his work are new to him, nor to anyone else. They are all thoughts and concepts that he has examined in detail and possibly in a context that is more “realistic” through letters, journalism, and essays of the past. We can see in his past work as in Nineteen Eighty-Four, This crushing of the human sprit and of the individual, the destruction of hero’s, the corruption that power brings, the physical horror of existence and the inevitable tyranny of those who rule without control or accountability.
3 For example, almost all of the ideas that he explores regarding the role of language in politics can be found expressed in his essay “Politics and the English Language” which was written in 1946, well before the novel. 4 Of course it would be foolish to think that the book is made up exclusively of Orwell’s ideas, and if we are to examine the genesis of the ideas that Orwell writes of it is vital to consider this. Orwell does in fact owe many of his political ideas to the writings of John Burnham, in his work: “The Managerial Revolution” 5
For example, the idea of the world being divided up into three super states of Eurasia, Eastasia and Oceania, is one that was explored first by Burnham, Although of course when his text was written it seemed likely that the victorious party in the European war would be the Germans, and so they would dominate the European continent. Orwell does however claim that his inspiration for this political system came in 1941 through the Tehran Conference between the Allied forces of World War 26 though this seems somewhat implausible.
It is also from this same work that the pyramidal structure that Orwell uses in his novel was devised. With a divine leader at the top (Big Brother) who is actually representative of a group of elite leaders, and a collection of near slaves at the bottom of the state’s hierarchy. 7 In the same way that Orwell owes much of his political ideas to the work of Burnham he owes equally to the Russian author Zamyatin for his literary ideas. Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four falls into a category of political fiction known as the Dystopian Fable.
This genre has been used for centauries by such authors as Swift in “Gulliver’s travels”, but the style was altered dramatically by Zamyatin in his novel “We” 8, Orwell’s work bares a great similarity to this. The plot of the book has a theme of invasion of privacy (The occupants of Zamyatin’s world live in glass walled houses) that is markedly akin to Orwell and the similar overall theme of anti-totalitarianism can be found. The difference between Zamyatin’s work and other works of the past was that he used it as a kind of “Speculative Fiction”.
The genre that he began is a type of novel where the Author, seeing the perils involved in a current political or social movement, takes the idea and then extrapolates it to its logical conclusion, showing the reader where such a notion could lead. From these sources and more Orwell developed his idea of “a fantasy, but in the form of a naturalistic novel. “9, that he writes in Nineteen Eighty-four. Thus, it is from these texts and others that Orwell’s ideas were spawned, but we must now ask ourselves: into what did they develop?
How does Orwell attempt to sway the reader to the political ideal that is described above? A novel of any type is composed of a range of features and stylistic techniques, which are unique to an Author, and it is through these that the writer of a work explores his or her ideas and beliefs. In Orwell’s book, these ideas are political ones, and it is the central purpose of this essay to look at how they are explored. These are features such as: the setting of the novel, the characterization, the narrative viewpoint and the language and style used in the authors prose.
We will now look at these in some detail. Firstly we will examine the structure of the novel, at first glance there is little unusual about the structure, it is a series of relatively short chapters that make up 3 parts, each of which coincides with a new part of Winston’s life, indeed that is WHY they are separated thus, it is to allow the author to clearly separate these three stages in the events of the book. This furthers the distinction between Winston’s world before he finds Julia, and after he finds her, and then his life after capture by the thought police.
Orwell does this for two reasons, to add to the importance of Julia in the readers mind, and also to add to the contrast between what is already a horrible world before capture, and the hellish environment in the cells of the Ministry of Love, more than that it means that the reader can distinguish a new segment of Winston’s life beginning, contributing to the feeling that this is where his life will be lived out for the rest of his days.
This serves Orwell’s political purposes by further demonising the government, and adding to the feeling that they are omnipotent and malevolent. Aside from this the structure is relatively simple and chronological, aside from a handful of flashbacks to his mother and sister, however these come in the form of dreams and so do not actually affect the chronology of the book. There is one final item of significance in the structure of Nineteen Eighty-four and that is Orwell’s use of essays in his novel.