A Map of George Orwell’s 1984

Many fic­tion­al loca­tions resist map­ping. Our imag­i­na­tions may thrill, but our men­tal geolo­ca­tion soft­ware recoils at the impos­si­bil­i­ties in Ita­lo Calvino’s Invis­i­ble Cities—a series of geo­graph­i­cal­ly whim­si­cal tales told by Mar­co Polo to Genghis Khan; or Chi­na Miéville’s The City and the City, in which two metropolises—Besźel and Ul Qoma—occupy much of the same phys­i­cal space, and a secre­tive police pow­er com­pels cit­i­zens to will­ful­ly “unsee” one city or the oth­er.

That’s not to say such maps can­not be made. Calvino’s strange cities have been illus­trat­ed, if not at street lev­el, in as fan­ci­ful a fash­ion as the nar­ra­tor describes them. Miéville’s weird cities have received sev­er­al lit­er­al-mind­ed map­ping treat­ments, which per­haps mis­take the novel’s care­ful con­struc­tion of metaphor for a kind of cre­ative urban plan­ning.

Miéville him­self might dis­avow such attempts, as he dis­avows one-to-one alle­gor­i­cal read­ings of his fan­tas­tic detec­tive novel—those, for exam­ple, that reduce the phe­nom­e­non of “unsee­ing” to an Orwellian means of thought con­trol. “Orwell is a much more overt­ly alle­gor­i­cal writer,” he tells There­sa DeLuc­ci at Tor, “although it’s always sort of unsta­ble, there’s a cer­tain kind of map­ping where­by x means y, a means b.”

Orwell’s spec­u­la­tive worlds are eas­i­ly decod­ed, in oth­er words, an opin­ion shared by many read­ers of Orwell. But Miéville’s com­ments aside, there’s an argu­ment to be made that The City and the City’s “unsee­ing” is the most vivid­ly Orwellian device in recent fic­tion. And that the fic­tion­al world of 1984 does not, per­haps, yield to such sim­ple map­ping as we imag­ine.

Of course it’s easy to draw a map (see above, or in a larg­er for­mat here) of the three impe­r­i­al pow­ers the nov­el tells us rule the world. Frank Jacobs at Big Think tidi­ly sums them up:

Ocea­nia cov­ers the entire con­ti­nents of Amer­i­ca and Ocea­nia and the British Isles, the main loca­tion for the nov­el, in which they are referred to as ‘Airstrip One’.
Eura­sia cov­ers Europe and (more or less) the entire Sovi­et Union.
Eas­t­a­sia cov­ers Japan, Korea, Chi­na and north­ern India.

These three super­states are per­pet­u­al­ly at war with each oth­er, though who’s at war with whom is unclear. “And yet… the war might just not even be real at all”—for all we know it might be a fab­ri­ca­tion of the Min­istry of Truth, to man­u­fac­ture con­sent for aus­ter­i­ty, mass sur­veil­lance, forced nation­al­ism, etc. It’s also pos­si­ble that the entire­ty of the novel’s geo-pol­i­tics have been invent­ed out of whole cloth, that “Airstrip One is not an out­post of a greater empire,” Jacobs writes, “but the sole ter­ri­to­ry under the com­mand of Ing­soc.”

One com­menter on the map—which was post­ed to Red­dit last year—points out that “there isn’t any evi­dence in the book that this is actu­al­ly how the world is struc­tured.” We must look at the map as dou­bly fic­tion­al, an illus­tra­tion, Lau­ren Davis notes at io9, of “how the cred­u­lous inhab­i­tant of Airstrip One, armed with only maps dis­trib­uted by the Min­istry of Truth, might view the world, how vast the realm of Ocea­nia seems and how close the sup­posed ene­mies in Eura­sia.” It is the world as the minds of the nov­el­’s char­ac­ters con­ceive it.

All maps, we know, are dis­tor­tions, shaped by ide­ol­o­gy, belief, per­spec­ti­val bias. 1984’s lim­it­ed third-per­son nar­ra­tion enacts the lim­it­ed views of cit­i­zens in a total­i­tar­i­an state. Such a state nec­es­sar­i­ly uses force to pre­vent the peo­ple from inde­pen­dent­ly ver­i­fy­ing con­stant­ly shift­ing, con­tra­dic­to­ry pieces of infor­ma­tion. But the nov­el itself states that force is large­ly irrel­e­vant. “The patrols did not mat­ter… Only the Thought Police mat­tered.”

In Orwell’s fic­tion “sim­i­lar out­comes” as those in total­i­tar­i­an states, as Noam Chom­sky remarks, “can be achieved in free soci­eties like Eng­land” through edu­ca­tion and mass media con­trol. The most unset­tling thing about the seem­ing sim­plic­i­ty of 1984’s map of the world is that it might look like almost any­thing else for all the aver­age per­son knows. Its ele­men­tary-school rudi­ments metaphor­i­cal­ly point to fright­en­ing­ly vast areas of igno­rance, and pos­si­bil­i­ties we can only imag­ine, since Win­ston Smith and his com­pa­tri­ots no longer have the abil­i­ty, even if they had the means.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

George Orwell Explains in a Reveal­ing 1944 Let­ter Why He’d Write 1984

A Com­plete Read­ing of George Orwell’s 1984: Aired on Paci­fi­ca Radio, 1975

A Map Shows What Every Coun­try in the World Calls Itself in its Own Lan­guage: Explore the “Endonyms of the World” Map

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (3)
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  • dan says:

    There’s some evi­dence, kind of.
    The appen­dix of 1984, “The Prin­ci­ples of Newspeak”, which sug­gests that the sto­ry is a fic­tion with­in a fic­tion. The sto­ry you read is a his­tor­i­cal nov­el writ­ten fur­ther into the future, as the appen­dix deals with the events of the nov­el as being events in the past.
    It also explains why, and more impor­tant­ly here, that, the Par­ty nev­er did, or could, realise its goals, which would sug­gest that the bor­ders of the world would be at least some­what close to the gen­er­al con­cep­tion of them.

  • Lucia Restelllo says:

    Nonethyeigghty four one five
    the kee in my mind to under­stand the tthrue in tthis bookk
    LUCIA RESTELLLO 🙆 my name that i Know

  • Mac says:

    I realise the impli­ca­tions of this only recent­ly. Win­ston Smith is a Com­rade Ogilvy.

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