The perception of George Orwell in Germany

With a focus on "1984"

Seminar Paper, 2003

15 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Conception of the World and Structure of Society
2.1 Formation of States
2.2 War
2.3 Ideology

3. The Observation State
3.1 Elements of total control
3.2 Orwell’s concepts „Doublethink“ and „Newspeak“
3.3 The self definition of the state
4. The Media
4.1 Personalising enemies
4.2 Information

5. Results

6. Literature

1. Introduction

When George Orwell’s „1984“ was published about 50 years ago, heavy discussions about its content arose. While being interpreted as criticism on Stalin’s system on one side, the other side read it as a warning concerning the consequences of capitalism. In the East German Republic people have even been arrested for reading and passing on „1984“.[1]

The novel has been element of English classes in German schools for many years. So Orwell’s thoughts are passed on from generation to generation. While many scientists from the US and GB analysed the truthfulness of the story in the early 1980ies, in Germany only a few books were published about it. The Spiegel magazine dedicated one issue to the “man of the year”, Eric Blair also known as George Orwell, regarding the population census in the German Democratic Republic and the introduction of the new plastic identity cards with a focus on “1984”.

This work is an attempt to evaluate the available literature (see chapter six) and to find out, what the people in Germany thought about “1984” when the anti-utopian future became present.

2. Conception of the World and Structure of Society

2.1 Formation of States

“Nineteen Eighty-Four” presents an imaginary future where “Big Brother“, the leader of the totalitarian state “Oceania“, controls every aspect of life. The world is divided in only three big super-states: Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia.

Compared to the real world, the states consist of:

- Oceania: North and South America, Australia, South Africa, and Great Britain as air force base
- Eurasia: Soviet Union and continental Europe
- Eastasia: Asia

These states are self-supporting, of the same strength and totally divided from each other. There is no possibility to move from one state to another. Oceania is in turn at war with the two other states.

The real powers of 1984, USA and Soviet Union have been waging continuous wars in Africa and Asia. Both states did not have substantial reasons for the wars, as to conquer the space for life or to get raw materials. Both empires, the real one and that created by Orwell, possessed enough living space and resources. Armament and rivalry were also not sufficient reasons. But the wars disciplined the society. Besides, militarism always leads to talks about peace. At the same time the immediate aspiration for peace was suppressed. Thus the doublethink was not the satire any more, but the reality [Meyer-Larsen 1983, p. 30].

Even Orwell’s statement that Great Britain should be the main air force base of Oceania approached really in the end of 1982: the NATO wanted to place its main base in Great Britain because in the case of a nuclear war, continental Europe would not be able to stand its ground. And even quite the reverse, in the case of an atomic war, central Europe would be annihilated.

Both democratic and totalitarian countries thoroughly constructed the image of an external enemy, in the East with more rough, in the West with more concealed and skilful means.

People on the both sides of the iron curtain were provided with the essentials in order that they notice nothing.

Concerning society, one can state that the structure in Oceania described in „1984“ is not as worse as one might think after a quick reading. That’s because the Proles, 85% of the society, are not in the hand of Big Brother, only 15% are [Hoffmann 1983, p. 13]. These 15% are „the Elite“. In the west German society there was already a highly specialised elite in the 80ies, too. These people worked as counsellors in policy, as managers in transnational concerns and in other key positions. Transferring Orwell’s structure to reality, these people would be the inner party, those who are working as head of the department in administration, institutes and mass media would be the outer party.

2.2 War

The war in “1984” is a never ending one. It does not matter, which state fights against another one, even if two states collaborate in a war against the third, it is impossible to win. This has to do with the economy. It is a disciplinary measure for the members of the Party and for the Proles [Hoffmann 1983, p. 113].

The citizens of the Orwell-state watch the war on big telescreens, sometimes bombs detonate near their houses. Dead bodies and torn off parts border the streets after bomb attacks. How indifferent Winston Smith had become, he realises when kicking a torn off hand from the sidewalk. Between the attacks, pictures of Emmanuel Goldstein, the leader of the Brotherhood, the biggest enemy are shown on the telescreens to arise protests and to make the people angry, to call for pay back. The theory that some of the attacks could have been initiated by Big Brother himself, comes only short to Winston Smiths’ mind.

In the real world, the super powers in the east and the west reached a weapon capacity, which made it – theoretically – possible to kill every human being some thousand times [Hoffmann 1983, p. 115]. More than 100 wars have been made between 1945 and 1983 – most of them based on the eastern and the western ideology.

„Neben den Kriegen „am Rande”, den Bombenanschlägen politischer und religiöser Fanatiker, den zwielichtigen Kleinkriegs- und Bürgerkriegshilfen der Geheimdienste, herrscht völlig analog zu Orwells „1984" ein „Krieg mit Worten”. Das Zwiedenken ist in unseren Köpfen, denn dieser Krieg mit Worten, so heißt es, dient dem Frieden.” [Hoffmann 1983, p.117]


[1] The German author Baldur Haase published his book „Briefe, die ins Zuchthaus führten“ this year. and 07/11/2003

Excerpt out of 15 pages


The perception of George Orwell in Germany
With a focus on "1984"
University of Hamburg  (Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
Oberseminar: George Orwell, the British and the Empire
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
508 KB
Germany, British, Empire, 1984, George Orwell, Perception, Wahrnehmung, Dystopia, Utopia, Novel
Quote paper
Christoph Behrends (Author), 2003, The perception of George Orwell in Germany, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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