Nineteen Eighty-Four - Success and Leadership
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
Written by the Englishman, George Orwell (1903-50),
pictured right, about what the world would be like in 1984.
Like his other famous book, Animal Farm, it
warned of the dangers of totalitarian (or dictatorial) government (now described as
- Created the terms Big Brother, Room 101 and
- Richard Burton starred as O’Brien and John Hurt as Winston
Smith in the film released in 1984!
- Orwell’s real name was Eric Arthur Blair.
Winston Smith, a 39-year-old intellectual and rebel against the ruling Party.
Julia, his lover.
O’Brien, powerful member of the Party.
Big Brother, perceived ruler of Oceania.
The world in 1984 is divided into three dictatorships:
- Oceania (North and South America, Britain and its empire).
- Eurasia (most of Europe and Africa).
- Eastasia (including China).
They all possess nuclear weapons and are continually at war with
Oceania is ruled by the Party, led by the omniscient image of Big Brother.
Rebellious thinking (“thought crime”) is the worst crime and is controlled by the
Apart from the small minority of trained Party members, people are poor and slave-like
“proles” (or proletarians).
Winston Smith works in London (in Oceania) as a junior official of the Party in the
Ministry of Truth where he re-writes news stories to comply with Party propaganda.
He hates the Party and its violent opposition to the Brotherhood, a resistance movement, led by
Winston spends his evenings wandering through the poor, prole districts and illegally writing a
diary with his rebellious thoughts.
He is married but has an illegal affair with his beautiful work colleague and Party supporter,
A senior Party member, O’Brien, invites Winston to his luxurious apartment, saying he is a
secret supporter of the Brotherhood. But Winston and Julia are then arrested by the Thought Police.
Winston and Julia are taken to the Ministry of Love, where O’Brien tortures and
brainwashes them, revealing that his membership of the Brotherhood had been a lie to catch
Eventually O'Brien sends Winston to the dreaded Room 101, where
he straps onto his head a cage of rats (his biggest fear). As O’Brien prepares to allow the rats to eat his face,
he cracks and pleads with him to torture Julia, not him.
On his release he becomes a self-pitying alcoholic, because his betrayal of Julia, the person he loved most, has
destroyed his spirit and self-respect.
Winston is no longer interested in Julia, accepts the Party completely, loves Big Brother and believes that
two plus two equals five.
Lessons for success and leadership
1. Be true to yourself
Winston’s spirit is broken because he is forced to abandon his principles of:
2. Love liberty
1984 shows the horrors of dictatorship, epitomized by
- Hitler's (pictured right
above) Nazi Germany.
Truth is for the Party to decide, not individuals like Winston.
The Party's aim is to control people’s minds through:
- Newspeak, Oceania’s official language that eliminates all words relating to political
- Junior Spies (which brainwash children and encourage them to betray their politically
- the Thought Police (which hunts out unorthodox thinking or “thought
- propaganda - distorting history and giving out lies from the media (controlled by the
Party) and the ironically named Ministry of Truth.
- Big Brother - its image is continually displayed on coins, television and posters
(with the menacing message “Big Brother is Watching You”).
3. Love must be true
As a Party supporter, Julia:
- believes that sex is the only reason for her relationship with Winston.
- is constantly reminded of the power of true love (including memories of his dead
family who were arrested by the Party).
- sees the proles as the only true human beings (because they are loyal to each other, not
4. Live for today but don’t forget tomorrow
Julia’s optimistic love of life (however amoral) contrasts with Winston’s pessimism.
“We are the dead”, he says.
“We’re not dead yet”, she replies, urging him to enjoy her beautiful body.
- has hope for a better future (when “thought is free”).
- realizes the importance of learning from history and honouring the past.
When history stops, he says:
“Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right”.
Julia (Suzanna Hamilton) is pictured right with Winston (John Hurt) in the film.
5. Absolute power is awful
George Orwell gives O’Brien an Irish name as an attack on the Roman Catholic
Church’s absolute power.
O’Brien’s brutality is shown in his nightmarish vision of the future:
“a boot stamping on a human face – for ever”.
The Party abuses its power - its leading officials (like O’Brien) are rich but the people are poor and
cities are crumbling.
O'Brien (Richard Burton) is pictured right in the film
6. Love learning and wisdom
Winston hates the Party for its suppression of truth and learning
This is reflected in the book’s opening sentence:
“It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen”.
7. Dealing with contradiction and paradox
At work Winston is forced to practise “doublethink”, defined as
“the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind, simultaneously, and accepting both of
- is used by the Party to conceal the truth.
- indicates the possible contradictions in life and work (for example, being cruel to
Winston (John Hurt) is pictured right in the film.
8. Fight for your principles
The resistance group, the Brotherhood, bravely opposes the Party.
9. Love nature
Winston loves the beautiful English countryside.
Key quotes on government and
Big Brother is Watching You, Party slogan.
War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength, Party slogan.
Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four. If that is granted, all else follows,
Key quotes on the past, present and future
Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past, Party
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - for ever,
Key quotes on
Power is not a means, it is an end, O’Brien
All rulers in all ages have tried to impose a false view of the world upon their followers, Emmanuel
Other key quotes
It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen, the book’s opening
Two literature websites to