During World War II, George Orwell believed that British democracy, as it existed before 1939, would not survive the war. The question for him being “Would it end via Fascist coup d’état from above or via Socialist revolution from below”. Nineteen Eighty-Four was his reaction to this belief that change was inevitable.
A comparison of the wartime essay “The Lion and the Unicorn” with Nineteen Eighty-Four shows that he perceived a Big Brother régime as a perversion of his cherished socialist ideals and English Socialism. Thus, Oceania is a corruption of the British Empire he believed would evolve “into a federation of Socialist states, like a looser and freer version of the Union of Soviet Republics”.
He “encapsulated the thesis at the heart of his unforgiving novel” in 1944 and wrote most of it three years later on the Scottish island of Jura, despite being seriously ill with tuberculosis.
Originally the novel was titled, The Last Man in Europe but a letter dated 22 October 1948 to his publisher Fredric Warburg, eig, Orwell wrote about hesitating between The Last Man in Europe and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Warburg suggested changing the main title to a more commercial one.
Orwell originally set the novel in 1980, but he later shifted the date first to 1982, then to 1984. The final title may also be a permutation of 1948, the year in which he wrote it.
Literary scholars consider the Russian dystopian novel We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, to have strongly influenced Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The story of Winston Smith begins on 4 April 1984: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen,” yet he is uncertain of the true date, given the régime’s continual rewriting and manipulation of history.
The statement “2 + 2 = 5″, used to torment Winston Smith during his interrogation, was a Communist party slogan from the second five-year plan, which encouraged fulfilment of the five-year plan in four years. The slogan was seen in electric lights on Moscow house-fronts, billboards etc.
The Thought Police are based on the NKVD, which arrested people for random “anti-soviet” remarks. However, the Thought Crime motif is drawn from Kempeitai, the Japanese wartime secret police, who arrested people for “unpatriotic” thoughts.
The “Hates” (two-minutes hate and hate week) were inspired by the constant rallies sponsored by party organs throughout the Stalinist period. These were often short pep-talks given to workers before their shifts began (two minutes hate), but could also last for days, as in the annual celebrations of the anniversary of the October revolution (hate week).
The Ministry of Truth derives from the BBC’s overseas service, controlled by the Ministry of Information; Room 101 derives from a conference room at BBC Broadcasting House.
The term “English Socialism” comes from his the essay “The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius”. In it Orwell said that “the war and the revolution are inseparable… the fact that we are at war has turned Socialism from a textbook word into a realisable policy” — because Britain’s class system hindered the war effort and only a socialist economy would defeat Adolf Hitler
Throughout its publication history, Nineteen Eighty-Four has been either banned or legally challenged as subversive or ideologically corrupting. In fact, according to the American Library Association, it’s one of the world’s top ten most banned books.
By 1989, Nineteen Eighty-Four had been translated into sixty-five languages, more than any other novel in English at the time.