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The most unforgettable quotes from George Orwell’s ‘1984’

1984 is an ominous warning in the age of social media. We’ve collected the most unforgettable quotes from George Orwell’s classic novel.

Recently, Orwell’s potential motivations for writing 1984 have resurfaced through the discovery of a letter, written to Noel Willmett, just three years before the publication of 1984.

In the letter, he writes: “The whole the English intelligentsia have opposed Hitler, but only at the price of accepting Stalin. Most of them are perfectly ready for dictatorial methods, secret police, systematic falsification of history etc. so long as they feel that it is on ‘our’ side… one can’t be sure that that won’t change, nor can one be sure that the common people won’t think ten years hence as the intellectuals do now. I hope they won’t, I even trust they won’t, but if so it will be at the cost of a struggle. If one simply proclaims that all is for the best and doesn’t point to the sinister symptoms, one is merely helping to bring totalitarianism nearer.” 

1984 has undeniably left an inimitable, enduring mark on global culture, having coined phrases like “Big Brother,” “newspeak” and writing of technology existing solely for the purpose of controlling public society. Written with Orwell’s characteristic dark humour, the satirical novel has been enduringly popular in recent years — having spiked in sales after the inauguration of Donald Trump in 2017, and  Kellyanne Connaway’s use of the term “alternative facts,” the latter of which ironically calls to mind another phrase from the book: double-think, “which defines the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct.” We’ve revisited 1984 to highlight some of the classic novel’s most unforgettable quotes.

1984 film
Film adaptation of ‘1984’ (Photo: Alamy, via The New Yorker)

On Love

“Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.”

“If you loved someone, you loved him, and when you had nothing else to give, you still gave him love.”

On Power

“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”

“The object of terrorism is terrorism. The object of oppression is oppression. The object of torture is torture. The object of murder is murder. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?”

“Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”

On Surveillance

“Always eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or bed—no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres in your skull.”

“Big Brother is Watching You.”

On Time

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

On Mind Control

“Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else.”

“It’s the one thing they can’t do. They can make you say anything—anything—but they can’t make you believe it. They can’t get inside you.”

“How do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?”

“In general, the greater the understanding, the greater the delusion; the more intelligent, the less sane.”

On War

“War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking into the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.”

“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

On Humanity

“Of pain you could wish only one thing: that it should stop. Nothing in the world was so bad as physical pain. In the face of pain there are no heroes.”

“If you can feel that staying human is worthwhile, even when it can’t have any result whatever, you’ve beaten them.”

“The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.”

On Truth

“There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”

“For the first time, he perceived that if you want to keep a secret you must also hide it from yourself.”

“We are the dead. Our only true life is in the future. We shall take part in it as handfuls of dust and splinters of bone.”

On Hope

“But if there was hope, it lay in the proles. You had to cling on to that. When you put it in words it sounded reasonable; it was when you looked at the human beings passing you on the pavement that it became an act of faith.”