Nations of Nineteen Eighty-Four
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How the world evolved into the three states is vague. They appear to have emerged from nuclear warfare and civil dissolution over 20 years between 1945, the end of World War II, and 1965. Eurasia was likely formed first, followed closely afterwards by Oceania, with Eastasia emerging a decade later, possibly in the 1960s.
Oceania is the superstate in which protagonist Winston Smith dwells. It is believed to be composed of the Americas, the British Isles (called "Airstrip One" in the novel), Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, and Southern Africa below the River Congo. It also controls, to different degrees and at various times during the course of its perpetual war with either Eurasia or Eastasia, the polar regions, India, Indonesia, and the islands of the Pacific. Oceania lacks a single capital city, but London and apparently New York City may be regional capitals. In the novel, Emmanuel Goldstein, Oceania's declared public enemy number one, describes it in the fictional book The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism as a result of the United States having absorbed the British Empire. Goldstein's book also states that Oceania's primary natural defence is the sea surrounding it.
The ruling doctrine of Oceania is Ingsoc, the Newspeak neologism for English Socialism. Its nominal leader is Big Brother, believed by the masses to have been the leader of the revolution and still used as an icon by the Party. The cult of personality is maintained through Big Brother's function as a focal point for love, fear, and reverence, more easily felt towards an individual than towards an organization.
The unofficial language of Oceania is English (officially called Oldspeak), and the official language is Newspeak. The restructuring of the language is intended to eliminate unorthodox political and social thought by eliminating the words needed to express it.
The society of Oceania is sharply stratified into three groups: the small ruling Inner Party, the more-numerous and highly-indoctrinated Outer Party, and the large body of politically-meaningless Proles. Apart from exceptions such as Hate Week, the proles remain essentially outside Oceania's political control and are placated by trivial sports and other entertainment: the Thought Police manage any Proles who are socially aware enough to be a problem.
Oceania's national anthem is Oceania, Tis For Thee, which, in one of the three film versions of the book, takes the form of a crescendo of organ music along with operatic lyrics. The lyrics are sung in English, and the song is reminiscent of God Save the Queen and My Country, 'Tis of Thee.
Even the names of countries, and their shapes on the map, had been different. "Airstrip One, for instance, had not been so called in those days: it had been called England, or Britain, though London, he felt fairly certain, had always been called London.
Like the rest of Europe, Britain was hit by atomic weapons in the conflicts before the revolutions in Oceania and then elsewhere. One British town, Colchester, is referenced specifically as having been destroyed; flashbacks to Smith's childhood also include scenes of Londoners taking refuge in the London Underground tunnels in the midst of the bombing.
It is stated that Eurasia was formed when the Soviet Union annexed the rest of Continental Europe, creating a single polity stretching from Portugal to the Bering Strait. Orwell frequently describes the face of the standard Eurasian as "mongolic" in the novel. The only soldiers other than Oceanians to appear in the novel are the Eurasians. When a large number of captured soldiers are executed in Victory Square, some Slavs are mentioned, but the stereotype of the Eurasian maintained by the Party is Mongoloid, like O'Brien's servant, Martin. That implies that the Party uses racism to avert sympathy toward an enemy.
According to Goldstein's book, Eurasia's main natural defence is its vast territorial extent, while the ruling ideology of Eurasia is identified as "Neo-Bolshevism", a variation of the Oceanian "Ingsoc".
Eastasia's borders are not as clearly defined as those of the other two superstates, but it is known that they encompass most of modern-day China, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea. Eastasia repeatedly captures and loses Indonesia, New Guinea, and the various Pacific archipelagos. Its political ideology is, according to the novel, "called by a Chinese name usually translated as Death-worship, but perhaps better rendered as 'Obliteration of the Self'. Orwell does not appear to have based this on any existing Chinese word or phrase.
Not much information about Eastasia is given in the book. It is known that it is the newest and smallest of the three superstates. According to Goldstein's book, it emerged a decade after the establishment of the other two superstates, placing it somewhere in the 1960s, after years of "confused fighting" among its predecessor nations. (At the time of writing, the victory of Mao Zedong's Communists in the Chinese Civil War was not yet taken as a foregone conclusion. The Korean War had also not yet occurred, but Korea was already being administered by two competing governments. Japan was still under military occupation by several different powers, at least until shortly before Orwell completed the book. Power in the real-life nations that make up the fictional Eastasia was, therefore, very much in flux). It is also said in the book that the industriousness and the fecundity of the people of Eastasia allow them to overcome their territorial inadequacy in comparison to the other two powers. At the time Orwell wrote the book, East Asians, including the Japanese, all had birth rates higher than those of Europeans.
The "disputed area", which lies "between the frontiers of the super-states", is "a rough quadrilateral with its corners at Tangier, Brazzaville, Darwin, and Hong Kong". This area is fought over during the perpetual war among the three superstates, one of which sometimes controls vast swaths of the disputed territory, only to lose it again. The reason that the three superstates seek to control the area is to harness the large population and the vast resources within the region. Control of the islands in the Pacific and the polar regions is also constantly shifting, but there also, none of the three superpowers ever gains a lasting hold. The inhabitants of the area, having no allegiance to any nation, live in constant slavery under whichever power controls them.
At one point during the novel, Julia procures tea to share with Winston and remarks that she thinks Oceania recently captured India (or perhaps parts of India), but such "control" is usually transient.
The world of Nineteen Eighty-Four exists in a state of perpetual war among the three major powers. Two of the three states are aligned against the third: Oceania and Eurasia against Eastasia or Eurasia and Eastasia against Oceania. However, as Goldstein's book points out, each superstate is so powerful that even an alliance of the other two cannot destroy it, which results in a continuing stalemate. From time to time, one of the states betrays its ally and sides with its former enemy. In Oceania, when that occurs, the Ministry of Truth rewrites history to make it appear that the current state of affairs is the way it has always been, and documents with contradictory information are destroyed in the memory hole.
Goldstein's book states that the war is not a war in the traditional sense but simply exists to use up resources and keep the population in line. Victory for any side is not attainable or even desirable, but the Inner Party, through an act of doublethink, believes that such victory is possible. Although the war began with the limited use of atomic weapons in a limited atomic war in the 1950s, the combatants all stopped using them for fear of upsetting the balance of power. Relatively few technological advances have been made (the only two mentioned are the replacement of bombers with "rocket bombs" and of traditional capital ships with the immense "floating fortresses"). Examples of both technologies had been developed in the closing stages of World War II: the V2 rocket, the ice aircraft carrier, and the floating harbour.
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Almost all of the information about the world beyond London is given to the reader through government or Party sources, which, by the very premise of the novel, are unreliable narrators. Specifically, Julia brings up the idea in one page that the war is fictional and that the rocket bombs falling from time to time on London are fired by the government of Oceania itself to maintain the war atmosphere among the population. The protagonists have no means of proving or disproving the theory. However, during preparations for Hate Week, rocket bombs fall at an increasing rate, hitting places such as playgrounds and crowded theatres, causing mass casualties and increased hysteria and hatred for the Party's enemies. War is also a convenient pretext to maintain a huge military–industrial complex in which the state is committed to developing and acquiring large and expensive weapons systems, which almost immediately become obsolete and require replacement. Finally, according to Goldstein's book, war makes handing over power to a small caste easier and gives a pretext to do so.
Because of the ambiguity, it is entirely possible that the geopolitical situation described in Goldstein's book is completely fictitious. Perhaps the Party controls the whole world, or its power could be limited to just Great Britain as a lone and desperate rogue nation, using fanaticism and hatred of the outside world to compensate for political impotence. It is also possible that a genuine and large-scale resistance movement exists or that Oceania is indeed under a large-scale attack by outside forces.
- George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, p. 18.
- The literal translation of "Death-worship" is "死亡崇拜", or Sǐwáng chóngbài, which is not a known religious concept or political philosophy. Related moral concepts may be "殺身成仁", shāshēn chéngrén, to die to achieve virtue, found in Analects; or "捨身取義", shěshēn qǔyì, to give up life for righteousness, found in Mencius, but the concept of mortal sacrifice for the greater good, and emphasis of collective interests were already used in propaganda of both Nationalist and Communist revolutionaries at the time. In comparison, the later North Korean ideology of Juche has a roughly-similar trait of difficult translation into English. In any case, INGSOC probably invented the name "Death-worship" as deliberate misinformation.
- Part II, Ch. 9.