Themes, Symbols, and Motifs in 1984

This Storyboard That activity is part of the lesson plans for 1984


Symbols and Themes in 1984

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Activity Overview


Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the novel, and support their choices with details from the text.

1984 Themes, Motifs, and Imagery to Look For and Discuss

Government Overreach

One of the novel’s key themes is the dangers of governmental overreach. When the government can communicate with you via telescreens, watch your every move, punish you for thoughtcrime, and indoctrinate children to believe nothing is more important than The Party, quality of life, the sharing of ideas, and simple things like freedom all become repressed. The government continues to maintain control of its people by making them think they are constantly at war, but no side ever wins in this war. When there is a common enemy, there is camaraderie. In addition, rather than focusing on emotions like love and tranquility, the government fires people up through exercises such as Two Minutes Hate, and Hate Week. While there is no resolution to this absolutist tyranny in the novel, it does lay out the dangers of allowing a government, political party, or dictator gain too much control over citizens’ privacy and lives.


Propaganda

The media reports in Oceania are all propaganda, because they are all controlled by the government. For example, Winston is sent a few short missives that come down a mysterious pneumatic tube. The first reads “times 17.3.84 bb speech malreported africa rectify.” According to Winston, his job is to go back into old news items and change them to make them true, even if they were not. In the first message, it appears that on March 17th, Big Brother had predicted a Eurasian offensive to be launched in North Africa; in reality, the offensive had been launched in South India instead. Winston must change, or “rectify” this discrepancy so that Big Brother is never incorrect. In addition to rewriting history, other propaganda includes: Ingsoc’s slogans of “War is Peace”, “Freedom is Slavery”, and “Ignorance is Strength”; large posters of Big Brother everywhere, reminding citizens they are being watched at all times; the constant stream of news telling the citizens of Oceania who they are at war with that week; entertainment is provided solely by the government; and children are indoctrinated from a very young age and even encouraged to turn in their parents for any instances of thoughtcrime.


The Importance of Free Thought and Speech

If nothing else, this novel warns about what a society could potentially become if freedoms of thought and speech are repressed. The loss of individuality, privacy, and the complete control of thoughts, well-being, and even physical movements are highlighted as consequences of letting a dangerous government or dictatorship take control. The inability to share or debate ideas, to choose one’s marriage partner, to fall in love, and to speak freely are scary to those of us who live in free societies. Equally scary is the loss of a free media to share important information with the public, which oftentimes counters what the government would like it to say. Embracing the right to do all of these things is a reminder of how special these free societies are, and how we must do everything to protect these basic human rights.


Ministries of Truth, Love, Peace, and Plenty

The names of these organizations/buildings are paradoxes: the Ministry of Truth changes the truth through propaganda constantly; the Ministry of Love tortures people; the Ministry of Peace is where wars are planned; and the Ministry of Plenty is a lie because the rations for the people are always running out. The Ministries hold the truth about the government: it is one big lie. These buildings are also used to help suppress any incidents of free thought or speech.


Big Brother

Big Brother represents the power of the Party, and the pinnacle of the propaganda machine. It is unsure of whether or not he truly exists, since he never seems to age, and since readers are privy to what goes on at the Ministry of “Truth.” He is plastered in posters and on telescreens all over Oceania, and citizens are constantly told that “Big Brother is Watching You”, a reminder to control their thoughts and actions at all times.


Goldstein’s Book

For Winston, Emmanuel Goldstein’s book represents hope, a potential way to revolutionize and overthrow this oppressive government and bring back free thought and personal independence. However, once Winston actually reads the book, he feels let down because he gets a history of how Ingsoc came to be, but he doesn’t get the why it came to be, or even what can be done about it. He thinks the book will hold the key, or some answers, to solving their current predicament.


Room 101

Room 101 holds everyone’s deepest fear, and it depends upon the person what that fear is. For Winston, it is rats. Room 101 is where people who have been tortured for weeks are taken to finally break their spirits completely. When Winston is faced with a cage full of angry, hungry rats coming towards his face, he tells O’Brien to do it to Julia instead. With these words, he finally gives up all of his private loyalties, and dedicates himself fully to Big Brother. Room 101 represents the broken spirit and the complete loss of free thought and speech of the people of Oceania.



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Template and Class Instructions

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in 1984. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from 1984 you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for an example that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.

Template: Theme

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