Icons of England
  • Introduction
  • The Icons
  • Nominations
  • News
  • Learn & Play
  • Your Comments

1984 by George Orwell

856 of 1160 nominations


1984 by George Orwell

Is this an icon?


1984 by George Orwell

Hard as this may be to remember, there was once a time when Big Brother meant more than hours and hours of sitting in front of the TV watching people becoming inexplicably famous, their every moment scrutinised by the public, and all this enthusiastically presided over by the firm but benign Davina McCall. Big Brother was born back in 1948, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, a George Orwell novel about a totalitarian future when – indeed – your every move is scrutinised and the mysterious (and not so benign) figure of Big Brother is Watching You. The story of Winston Smith, arrested by the Thought Police and subjected to the horrors of Room 101 is a powerful and sometimes horrifying political warning-sign. But is this book a real icon of England, or a pet horror of yours worthy of consignment to Room 101? Vote or comment and let us know your thoughts. And we very much hope they agree with ours. Remember: ICONS is watching you.

Photo: Courtesy Penguin Books


Your comments

I think this book is essential Englishness at its best. The terms and ideas that George Orwell wrote about have seeped into our everyday life. We couldn't imagine an England without room 101 or Big Brother. Orwell provoked our imaginations and warned us what being too controlling of peoples thoughts would look like. I think this message should not be ignored and has come true in our everyday lives. This book is an icon, and is universal in its ideas.

karyn ward

1984 is a variation on two of Orwell's favourite themes: totalitarianism, and Englishness. It came as a challenge to British readers who looked down on the many European nations that had become dictatorships in the 1920s through 1940s - whether Fascist or Communist. What he is trying to say is "it _can_ happen here", which is why the book portrays many essentially English traits, twisted and perverted by totalitarian thinking. And it is not just a fantasy... having himself made propaganda broadcasts during World War II, Orwell was aware of the pressure to surrender one's invdividuality and perhaps even conscience in a time of national crisis. In many ways, 1984 is a commentary on the way that individual freedoms were eroded during the war.
Mark Honman

"The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live - did live, from habit that became instinct - in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and except in darkness, every movement scrutinised." N.B. Todays CCTV cameras use infrared technology and can see in the dark and can zoom in beyond normal human visual range, and no longer need a wired infrastructure, but can work over mobile phone networks. The video and audio signals can be processed electronically to automatically attempt to pick out your face from a database of suspects. There is even research ongoing into classifying "suspicious" behaviour automatically from video images. Such CCTV systems have already been linked to automatically fire military weapons systems. This imperfect technology, fraught with false positive matches, is being rapidly deployed in the civilian world, without any enforcable, consistent rules or means of appeal to correct the inevitable persecution of the innocent. However, it should be noted that in this iconic book, the dystopia which Eric Blair (who write under the name George Orwell) describes does not apply to the vast majority of the population , the "proles", who were not considered important enough to keep under surveillance. It was the IngSoc party elite and apparatchik bureacrats and state workers who were under the eye of Big Brother. NuLabour appears to have some similarilties with IngSoc, especially in the way that it tortures the English language into NuSpeak, but their mass surveillance plans, enabled by cheaper surveillance technology, completely dwarf those described in 1984.
Watching Them, Watching Us

View All Comments (6)



I believe rice, peas and jerk chicken is an Icon of England.

Ade Adeluwoye