HSC English – George Orwell’s ‘1984’

22 June 2020
22 June 2020 The Alchemy Team

Navigating the HSC English syllabus can be tricky, especially when you’re tackling a prescribed text as complex as George Orwell’s ‘1984’. Not to fear, though! Here’s a basic rundown on the context, key ideas and some quotations that may be useful:


Orwell, having written ‘1984’ following WW2, was greatly influenced by having witnessed first-hand the rise of authoritarian figures such as Hitler in a post-war era.

Essentially, the world as Orwell knew it was changing. He witnessed authoritarian systems of government seeking to suppress the freedoms of citizens and become fixated on controlling the individual’s right to free speech, free thought and autonomy. His concerns within his own evolving society are reflected within ‘1984’ – prominent as he provides insight into oppressive nature of life in Oceania as dictated by the ruling Party in Oceania.

Context is super important when it comes to a text like ‘1984’, figuring out: Why did Orwell write this? What is the overarching message he is implying about a totalitarian society? Understanding the context of a text such as ‘1984’ can be extremely beneficial in an effective Common Module HSC English Essay, with your essays demonstrating a deep level of understanding and analysis that HSC markers will appreciate.

Key Ideas in ‘1984’


Orwell’s concerns within his own evolving society are reflected in ‘1984’ – evident as he provides insight into the oppressive nature of life in Oceania as dictated by the ruling Party in Oceania. Some examples:

  • The Party’s initiation of Newspeak – a language designed to “diminish the range of thought” – has the main aim of making “…thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.” The Party is essentially assassinating words, thus, removing the capabilities of citizens to have any independent thought that would otherwise counter the Party’s accepted norms and standards.
  • The Party’s system of pervasive surveillance, in which, “To keep your face expressionless was not difficult…but you could not control the beating of your heart, and the telescreen was quite delicate enough to pick it up.” This demonstrates the invasive nature of the Party, driving citizens to live in constant fear – allowing the Party to maintain control.

Rebellion & its repercussions

In an environment so heavily restricted by government power, any act of self-expression is punishable by death; this lack of individuality ultimately driving main protagonist, Winston, to rebellion. Examples:

  • Winston’s self-expression – writing in a diary for, “…a time when thought is free…a time when truth exists.” Winston deliberately defies the social constraints placed by the Party in hope of individuality and autonomy.

The repercussions of Winston’s rebellion, however, becomes clear as Winston is subject to a range of punishments, Sometimes it was

  • fists, sometimes it was truncheon…boots.” This reiterates the extent to which the Party has control over its citizens.

George Orwell’s ‘1984’ is considered to be one of the greatest literary works of the 20th century, renowned for its warning on the dangers of a totalitarian system. Analysis of a text as complex as this can be difficult, but it’s doable – and you’ll be able to ace HSC English by understanding exactly what Orwell is warning readers about.

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