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Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four

5. Key Themes

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In this module, we think about some of the key themes of the novel, focusing in particular on: (i) the politics of the novel, and Orwell’s denial of the claim that Nineteen Eighty-Four represented an attack on socialism; (ii) the links between language and political conformity, especially in light of Orwell’s 1946 essay ‘Politics and the English Language’; (iii) the theme of surveillance, in terms of both the proliferation of surveillance technology (e.g. telescreens) and the internalisation of surveillance culture; (iv) the links between (control of) information and political control, including the mutability of records and the denial of basic facts; and (v) the idea of the politics as a form of religious belief, e.g. O’Brien as ‘priest’, ‘inquisitor’, performing a ‘catechism’, etc.


In this course, Dr Nathan Waddell (University of Birmingham) explores George Orwell’s 1949 novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. The first two modules provide broad context for the novel: in the first, we think about Orwell’s writing of the novel and the reaction of his contemporaries, while in the second we think about Orwell’s life and career, and the experiences that contributed to the shape of the novel. After that, in the third and fourth modules, we think about the novel’s form, considering first (in the third module) the genre, structure and style of novel, and then (in the fourth module) the texts and traditions that had an influence on the novel. In the fifth module, we think about some of the key themes of the novel, before turning in the six, seventh and eighth modules to focus in more detail on the characters of Winston, Julia and O’Brien. Finally, in the ninth module, we think about the novel’s legacy, including its influence on other writings and its continued relevance today.


Dr Nathan Waddell is Senior Lecturer in Early Twentieth-Century and Modernist Literature at the University of Birmingham. He teaches and researches early twentieth-century literature, with a core emphasis on the life, work, and controversies of the painter and writer Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957). His recent publications include Moonlighting: Beethoven and Literary Modernism (2019) and (as co-editor with J. Greenberg) 'Brave New World': Contexts and Legacies. (2016).

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Waddell, N. (2020, January 04). Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four - Key Themes [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Waddell, N. "Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four – Key Themes." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 04 Jan 2020,

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