George Orwell’s 1984 is a great book to introduce students to dystopian literature. Like many dystopian stories, 1984 introduces a futuristic world in which severe societal oppression is the norm. Through this setting, Orwell reveals the dangers of a totalitarian government and contrasts them with the privilege of freedom and individuality in society. These ideas allow for class discussions on surveillance, propaganda, and oppression.

Before beginning to teach 1984, you might want to review its historical and political background with your class. Orwell began generating ideas for the novel near the end of World War II, influenced by the oppressive regimes of Hitler and Stalin. He was also deeply concerned by the 1943 meeting of Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill, in which they discussed the fate of the world after the war ends. In short, Orwell wrote 1984 while considering the apparent decay of democracy and the rise of states with extraordinary power and weapons. With this background in mind, students can have an informed discussion of Orwell’s intended connections to history and overall message.

Language is an important component of 1984, specifically “Newspeak,” a language invented by the totalitarian regime intended to manipulate the thoughts of Oceania’s oppressed citizens. Classroom discussion can revolve around the power of words. Students are probably already familiar with some of the terms in the novel, such as “big brother” and “doublethink.” Most Newspeak words, like "miniplenty, “plusgood,” and “thoughtcrime,” will be new and fascinating but are composed of words familiar to students. These terms and their role in the novel demonstrate the impact that evolving language has on the world of the novel and, as an extension, in real life. You might also consider facilitating conversation about how Orwell’s invented words have been used or altered to transmit meanings beyond what he may have intended.

And now, a message from the Ministry of Truth: Keep reading for more information on 1984!

Summary of 1984

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 1949
  • Length: 267 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1090
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9-10

After an atomic war, the world has been divided into three super states that are constantly in conflict with each other, thereby keeping their citizens under strict control. Winston Smith lives in Oceania, where the Party, under the leadership of Big Brother, controls its population by keeping them under constant surveillance, rewriting history, and implementing a new language to limit and control people’s thoughts.

Within this dystopia, Winston tries to assert his individuality by questioning the Party’s propaganda and starting a covert relationship. When his illegal activities are discovered, Winston struggles to resist losing himself to the totalitarian regime.

Content Warning: 1984 contains elements of torture and some sexual references.

What Your Students Will Love About 1984

  • The dystopian setting
  • Relatable themes about identity and individuality

Potential Student Struggles With 1984

  • Understanding the historical context that inspired Orwell
  • The slow pace and fairly extensive descriptions of politics and the way society works

Learning Objectives for 1984

  • Discuss the historical context in which George Orwell wrote 1984.
  • Evaluate which aspects of Orwell’s vision of the future appear to have been accurate and which have been wrong.
  • Examine how a repressive society relies on isolation, suppression of emotions, control of information, and alienation as means of controlling its citizens and their thoughts.
  • Compare Orwell’s view of the class structure in 1984's society and the relationship of that society to events in 1949.
  • Identify Newspeak words and analyze their significance.

Literary Elements in 1984

  • Antithesis
  • Dystopia
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Oxymoron
  • Parable
  • Paradox
  • Satire
  • Symbolism
  • Verisimilitude
  • And more!

Major Themes in 1984

The Power of Words — Big Brother and the Ministry of Truth use the invented Newspeak language to influence their citizens’ perception of the truth.

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Oppression — Big Brother maintains constant surveillance of the people and controls everyone’s actions and thoughts.

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Individual and Society — The dystopian setting constricts individuality and promotes conformity, despite Winston’s attempts to distinguish himself.

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Other Resources for 1984

Order 1984 Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
1984 Paperback Student Edition
1984 Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
1984 AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
1984 Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
1984 Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
1984 Multiple Critical Perspectives Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
1984 Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set