1984 Themes – Meaning and Main Ideas

Main Theme of 1984 – Introduction

The novel takes place in a futuristic and dystopian version of London, UK. The citizens of this nation, Oceania, are ruled by Big Brother and The Party. They are under constant surveillance and the information that they receive is controlled by The Party before it reaches any citizens. The novel was written in 1949 but the exact year of the story is unknown. Even the main character, Winston, is unsure of the exact date anymore because The Party keeps its citizens uninformed and he lost track. We know that it is “the future” because of all of the technology and the title leads us to guess it may be in the year 1984, which shows Orwell’s intentional message that a government takeover with advanced technologies could be more imminent than anyone would want to believe.

There are several very strong themes in this short novel, and a couple of motifs that back those themes up and support the overall message Orwell intended to create. Doublethink is a motif in the novel—it occurs when The Party suddenly changes the information that they’ve been giving the citizens. The citizens agree to just go along with the changes and are able to believe whatever they need too, even if it is all directly contradictory. For example, when a speech is being given, the orator randomly changes which nation he refers to as their enemy. The people believe it right away and feel bad that they made the wrong signs to bring to the speech. Another motif is the decay of the city as a result of the violent revolution that occurred some years prior. The city is in a state of decay, but The Party ignores this, mismanaging a city of the size completely. This leaves the proles (lower class citizens) largely unmonitored, which is an oversight on the part of the government because it poses the potential for revolution.

Main Themes in 1984

Here’s a list of major themes in 1984.

  • Totalitarianism
  • Propaganda
  • State control of expression
  • Control over information
  • Individual Identity
  • Resistance

The Inherent Destruction in Totalitarianism

1984 book themesA major purpose of 1984 being written was to warn people of the dangers of totalitarian revolutions. Orwell witnessed the overthrow of several major empires to socialism and communism and felt frightened that it could happen to him and anyone else—especially with the rise of violent technologies and weapons. In the novel, Orwell shows the effects that such a government can have on the people, showing them living intellectually and emotionally stifled lives. If anyone dares to try and live outside of these constrictions, they are punished and tortured into submission. Brainwashing and absolute control are The Party’s tactics to stay in power and they do this by manipulating technology to be tools for oppression.

Psychological Manipulation Through Technology

1984 novel themesThe Party uses telescreens in every home to watch people and speak to them. They also have regularly scheduled messages that go out and reminders for people who are not doing things as they should be. This is an interesting psychological tool that reinforces to people that they are always being watched and monitored and that nothing they think or do is truly theirs anymore. People comply and just do what The Party asks of them in order to stay safe and ultimately wind up completely brainwashed. The city also has the face of Big Brother staring down at them from televised ads all over which remind them that they are being watched. Propaganda of all sorts is everywhere—both inside and outside of people’s homes. Young children are recruited to be a part of the league of Junior Spies and are encouraged to report any suspicious behaviors or activities that they notice. The Party forbids sexual relationships outside of procreation and is always watching whether or not this is occurring through the cameras and telescreens. They use any pent-up energy to direct towards the supposed enemies of The Party which contribute to the propaganda found throughout the city and ensures that citizens stay on their side.

State Control Over Expression

Since The Party is always watching, they also control how citizens use their bodies. They cannot have sex outside of procreation, and even a misgiving facial twitch could lead to an arrest and subsequent torture to break that individual into submission. The Party also requires daily exercises from all citizens, and they will be yelled at through their telescreens if they do not exercise hard enough. When people turn to anti-Party activities, they will be tortured by officials until they relent and show full brainwashed support for The Party.

Control Over Information

The Party has decided to control all information, being very careful what kinds of history the citizens are able to access. They develop Newspeak, which is a modified form of English that eliminates any words that could threaten The Party’s control over its people. People’s memories become fuzzy, they lose track of the year, and eventually they just comply because they don’t know any better.

Individual Identity

1984 george orwell themesSince acts of individuality are forbidden, Winston finds ways to express himself since it becomes too uncomfortable for him not to, but he has to do so in secret. He buys items from an antique shop in the prole district that inspire him, such as a journal. After he writes in his journal a few times, he finds himself automatically beginning to write anti-Party things. This leads him to feel freer, but he knows that he can be punished extremely harshly for this. Citizens of Oceania are not able to express their individuality and The Party favors people who are dull and impressionable and punishes people who are individualistic. Party members wear the same clothes, eat the same foods, and drink the same drinks.


The novel centers on Winston’s various acts of resistance that start small but then become bolder and bolder until he is finally arrested and tortured for it. He dreams of revolution, imagining that the proles will be the key to overthrowing The Party and giving future generations freedom. He finds inspiration in items that remind him of the past, which he can barely remember. He starts up a love affair with the beautiful Julia. All of these things lead Winston to seek out an anti-Party movement. Ultimately, though, he is arrested by double agents and this desire to resist is tortured out of him. The Party does not treat any opposition lightly, making sure to use every method they can possibly find to brainwash and remove desire for resistance in their citizens.