Perspectives

Historical perspective

Nineteen Eighty-Four was published in 1949, and George Orwell often refers to major events that took place in the first half of the 20th century, particularly in relation to the totalitarian states that emerged at the time.

For example, the novel contains multiple references to Soviet Russia (which was still a major world power in 1949) and its version of Communism. We learn that the Party was originally founded on something resembling Socialist principles, and Oceania clearly has some form of planned economy in place, as the government has extremely tight control of the means of production and the flow of goods through the Ministry of Plenty (p. 215).

The reference to frequent “Three-Year Plans” (e.g. p. 4) is also an obvious parallel to Josef Stalin’s Five-Year Plans for Soviet Russia’s economy. There are also parallels between the rebel leader Emmanuel Goldstein and Leon Trotsky, who was a central figure in the early years of the Soviet Union. Just as Trotsky used to be a prominent member of the Communist party before he was expelled and exiled by Josef Stalin, Goldstein is said to have been one of the Party’s founding members, before he betrayed its principles and was cast out.

Finally, the novel mentions that the Party often carries out “[...] great purges of traitors and thought-criminals” (p. 47), which is a reference to Stalin’s Great Purge in 1936-1938, during which hundreds of thousands of people were executed for political reasons. The many references to the Party’s methods of torturing ‘traitors’ until they are willing to make all kinds of false c...

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