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Nineteen Eighty-Four - Success and LeadershipNineteen 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 “Orwellian”).


Fun facts

  • Created the terms Big Brother, Room 101 and doublethink.
  • 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.


Key characters

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 story

The world in 1984 is divided into three dictatorships:

  • Oceania (North and South America, Britain and its empire). Nineteen Eighty-Four - Success and Leadership
  • Eurasia (most of Europe and Africa).
  • Eastasia (including China).

They all possess nuclear weapons and are continually at war with each other.

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 Thought Police.

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 Emmanuel Goldstein.

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, Julia.

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 them.Nineteen Eighty-Four - Success and Leadership

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:Nineteen Eighty-Four - Success and Leadership

  • liberty (see point 2).
  • love (see point 3).


2. Love liberty

1984 shows the horrors of dictatorship, epitomized by

  • Hitler's (pictured right above) Nazi Germany. Nineteen Eighty-Four - Success and Leadership

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 rebellion.
  • Junior Spies (which brainwash children and encourage them to betray their politically rebellious parents).
  • the Thought Police (which hunts out unorthodox thinking or “thought crime”).
  • 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”).

 Nineteen Eighty-Four - Success and Leadership

3. Love must be true

As a Party supporter, Julia:

  • has no morals.
  • believes that sex is the only reason for her relationship with Winston.

But 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 the Party).


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.

But Winston:

  • 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:Nineteen Eighty-Four - Success and Leadership

“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:Nineteen Eighty-Four - Success and Leadership

“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 them”. Nineteen Eighty-Four - Success and Leadership


  • is used by the Party to conceal the truth.
  • indicates the possible contradictions in life and work (for example, being cruel to be kind).

 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 freedom

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, Winston Smith.


Key quotes on the past, present and future 

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past, Party slogan

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - for ever, O’Brien.


Key quotes on leadership

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 Goldstein


Other key quotes

It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen, the book’s opening line


Two literature websites to recommend 

1. sparknotes.com

2. litcharts.com

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