2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the first publication of George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

This blog offers some suggested topics for reading group discussion. Others blogs look at the main themes and characters, and screen adaptations of the book.

In reading this novel, which elements struck you as having a relevance to events of today or the recent past? To what extent, do you think your response to the book is influenced or shaped by recognising these similarities? Do you agree that the novel is timeless even though Orwell’s near future is now past?

Winston frequently refers to his knowing he will eventually die at the hands of the state. How does this influence his behaviour? Is there any sense he might avoid this fate if he behaves differently?

Winston puts his faith in a future rebellion by the proles. From what you see of the proles, how likely is it that they would rebel effectively?

How does the Party use the never-seen character of Emmanuel Goldstein and rumours of the Brotherhood to reinforce its position of power? What function do the Two Minutes of Hate and Hate Week serve?

What is the significance of the written evidence Winston briefly holds in his hand that the confessions of three former leaders of the Revolution – Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford – were lies?

Winston is said to dislike ‘nearly all women, and especially the young and the pretty ones. It was always the women, and above all the young ones, who were the most bigoted adherents of the Party…’ How is this attitude conveyed in the novel in relation to the various women encountered by Winston? Does his attitude change – or is Julia the exception that tests the rule?

Why do you think Winston is so willing to believe O’Brien is his protector and ally?

Why is Winston moved by the coral paperweight at the junk shop?

Winston dreams of The Golden Country. Does his visit to the countryside match his expectations? How does this location contrast with that of the city?

How do O’Brien’s home and private lifestyle compare with that of Winston? What does this say about the status of members of the Inner Party?

How are references to different types of songs and music used in the book?

In his diary Winston writes: ‘I understand HOW: I do not understand WHY.’ Does he ever get an answer to this?

The scenes of Winston’s brutal interrogation can be difficult to read. Do you think Orwell was right to be so graphic? Would a subtler approach have worked?

Why is the final mutual betrayal of the lovers so effective as a means of breaking their spirit?

Why do you think Orwell concluded the novel with an appendix explaining the origins and use of Newspeak? Did this add to your understanding of the novel?

Would you recommend this book to others? How would you describe it?

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