1984 Study Guide

Publication Date: February 13, 2016


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Teacher Edition

1984 George Orwell Focus Study Guide is one in a series of educational units designed to help students with an understanding and appreciation of great and still relevant literature. Teachers new to the profession and seasoned teachers will find practical tools for reading Orwell’s text as well as related materials that amplify his ideas. This guide is different from others in its approach to 1984 as a work that needs to be read and understood on a number of levels.

As a reading experience it is the touchstone of most dystopian literature and uses the ‘anti-utopian’ codes in maximally efficient ways. As a satire, its extremes are imaginative, but critical in understanding the nearly unbelievable abuses of power of which people are capable and for which history has its political progenitors and practitioners. 1984 is also about the power of language as it is related to the way we think and express ourselves. And because language is at the root of dystopia’s deception, the extremes of propaganda and their effects are revealed through Orwell’s text and characters in ways that deserve closer scrutiny.

This guide also moves the student from a familiar acquaintance with Orwell’s powerful story to a series of ways students can assess the value of 1984 in contemporary, scholarly, and critical ways. When Edward Snowden leaked the NSA memos regarding the abuse of privacy, sales of 1984 spiked, reminding us that, while Orwell claimed his book was not a prophecy, it is, as he asserted, ‘a warning.’

As one of 1984’s more powerful motifs, the idea of revisionism informs the narrative throughout. From the redacting of war heroes from record performed by Winston in the Ministry of Truth, to making obscure and eliminating language itself, Orwell instructs us to look deeply into the well of human experience and language that invigorate self-delusion and political deception. Included in this unit are high stakes testing questions geared to retention. While critics of high stakes testing decry rote learning as an inauthentic measurement of achievement, I provide some common sense assessments that test a basic knowledge of 1984.

It is expected through contemplative and research-based writing, students will more deeply explore the profound themes and consequences of Orwell’s novel. The writing assessments and suggested assignments are modeled throughout. As most schools have district-based rubrics, I choose the modeling paradigm as it has more universal applications for composition and critical thinking. Writing is possibly the greatest proof of scholarship, and any achievement in scholarship should lead to an exploration of knowledge beyond this text. Hopefully the resources included in this focus guide will encourage students to consider the greater context of literature.

The “idea” of Orwell as a literary and political abstraction is permanent in our social and political culture, as the term Orwellian has taken prominence in all manner of conversation, for better or worse. “…[We] commonly use the term ‘Orwellian’ in one of two ways. To describe a state of affair as ‘Orwellian’ is to imply crushing tyranny and fear and conformism. To describe a piece of writing as ‘Orwellian’ is to recognize that human resistance to these terrors in unquenchable” (Hitchens 5). It is my hope that this guide help clarify these distinctions. Beyond the text, Orwell’s thoughts on language, fascism, realpolitik, and his satirical theories regarding the structures of human behavior reveal a mind that is critically engaged. This unit is an attempt to pass on this engagement to the student.

Student Edition

This student edition of George Orwell’s 1984 Focus Study Guide is nearly the same as the teacher edition, except that it does not have the recommended objective assessments, which are normally geared to a district’s learning frameworks. The highlights feature fully annotated and in-depth analyses of the following: “Goldstein’s Book,” Orwell’s essays on “Nationalism” and “Politics of the English Language,” and Christopher Hitchens’ Why Orwell Matters. Reading comprehension questions and models of essay and research writing mirror the in-depth pursuit of meaning of this great work of literature. General considerations of myth, archetype, satire, nationalism, fascism, essential questions that apply to any work of literature, and complete bibliographies of dystopian literature, film, and graphic novels make this focus guide a complete resource for parallel and further studies.

 


From the Introduction

1984 George Orwell Focus Study Guide is one in a series of educational units designed to help students with an understanding and appreciation of great and still relevant literature. Teachers new to the profession and seasoned teachers will find practical tools for reading Orwell’s text as well as related materials that amplify his ideas.

This guide is different from others in its approach to 1984 as a work that needs to be read and understood on a number of levels. As a reading experience it is the touchstone of most dystopian literature and uses the ‘anti-utopian’ codes in maximally efficient ways. As a satire, its extremes are imaginative, but critical in understanding the nearly unbelievable abuses of power of which people are capable and for which history has its political progenitors and practitioners. 1984 is also about the power of language as it is related to the way we think and express ourselves. And because language is at the root of dystopia’s deception, the extremes of propaganda and their effects are revealed through Orwell’s text and characters in ways that deserve closer scrutiny.

This guide also moves the student from a familiar acquaintance with Orwell’s powerful story to a series of ways students can assess the value of 1984 in contemporary, scholarly, and critical ways. When Edward Snowden leaked the NSA memos regarding the abuse of privacy, sales of 1984 spiked, reminding us that, while Orwell claimed his book was not a prophecy, it is, as he asserted, ‘a warning.’

As one of 1984’s more powerful motifs, the idea of revisionism informs the narrative throughout. From the redacting of war heroes from historical record, performed by Winston in the Ministry of Truth, to making words meaningless, obscure and eliminating language itself, Orwell instructs us to look deeply into the well of human experience and language that invigorate self-delusion and political deception.

 

From “Chapter 8: Dystopian Codes”

Dystopian literature is a subgenre of science fiction and satire and is the opposite of utopian literature. Plato’s Republic is the original source of Western utopian political thought, which was systematized and further explored by Sir Thomas More in his book Utopia, written during the bloody reign of Henry the Eighth. Both Plato and More present a political and social vision of how society could organize itself for the benefit of all its citizens and allow them to thrive and grow as individuals, as citizens, and as collective members of society. War, poverty, ignorance and corruption are eradicated by diplomacy, shared wealth, education and mutual trust. The most imaginative conceptions of the utopian state are Atlantis and The Garden of Eden, where humankind is one and righteous with the temporal, metaphysical, and the divine.

Subsequent writers, leery of human nature, scoffed at the idea that human beings could attain such perfection and would ridicule this vision. Early dystopian works like Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift and Erehwon (“nowhere” spelled backwards) by Samuel Butler, ridiculed humankind and revealed that human virtues are too complex to align themselves with perfection.

During the colonialization of indigenous peoples by European powers, and after the Industrial Revolution, realpolitik, totalitarianism, and genocide gripped the imaginations of writers who churned out works satirizing any hope for civilizing humankind. Books like Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and George Orwell’s 1984, present chilling visions of a social state in which society has lost its ability to bring people together in any hopeful way. These dystopian societies dehumanize its members, marginalize the majority for the benefit of the few, almost always enslave or “disappear” fringe groups, and brutally punish and discourage those brave souls who attempt to bring order, justice, and hope back to society.

Dystopian literature is critical; therefore, it is an argument. Almost all dystopian literature and film embrace all or some of the following codes in order to pursue their respective arguments:

Codes:
• The masses are oppressed because…
• Authority is corrupt.
• There must be blind obedience to authority
• A faceless, well-equipped police state enforces laws
• Minorities are persecuted
• The use of terror and torture are instruments of order
• There are no governmental checks and balances
• Civil and human rights are eliminated
• Free movement is suspended
• Books are banned or burned, or both
• Language is corrupted, convoluted, misused, reduced
• Propaganda and brainwashing techniques are used
• The consumption of alcohol, drugs and pornography is encouraged or tolerated
• The presence of an enemy is necessary, whether real or fictional
• The concentration of power is in the hands of a few
• Society is divided into a caste system
• There is a calculated dissemination of money
• Religion is either eliminated or amplified to extremes
• The establishment of authority borders on the semi-divine
• There is a constant conflict between the inner world and outer world
• People never had so good, though things have never been worse

Like the terms Orwell uses to define the political and social thought of the 1984 society, it is equally important for the reader to bring modern context to these dystopian codes. For example, the concept of a faceless, well-equipped police state enforcing laws is currently under scrutiny in many Western democratic countries, such as England, France, and the United States. In these countries we see heavily armed and aggressive police forces engaging in para-military actions in civil affairs. In the USA, the Homeland Security Act of 2004 gives municipalities across America access to military equipment to combat urban and rural unrest. In addition, with the end of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, surplus military equipment, including high powered explosives, firearms, and heavily armed Humvees and the like, are available to local cities and towns to supplement their law enforcement abilities. Critics fear that the ‘militarization’ of ordinary police in American towns will lead to a permanent and implacable martial state.

 

From Chapter 11: Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism by Dr. Lawrence Britt

Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights – Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause – The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military – Even when there is widespread domestic government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

6. Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in wartime, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security – Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined – Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is Protected – The industrial and business aristocracies of a fascist nation are often the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite. problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of

10. Labor Power is Suppressed – Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts – Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment – Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption – Fascist regimes are almost always governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections – Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

Source: Free Inquiry.co/ 5-28-2003, Liberty Forum, Courtesy of Jeff Rense (Rense.com)