The Big Brother’s eye won’t be watching you from all 1984 covers.
Certain 1984 book covers will, indeed, gape at you with their blood-red pupils.
Several of them will literally make you shudder, or feel you have the Sword of Damocles hanging over your head, or even hear the threat slowly tiptoeing toward you.
No wonder because particular covers illustrate the regime of total control over thoughts and actions in 1984, a dystopian novel written by George Orwell and rated the fifth in the list of “the most valuable books to humanity.”
Let’s recall some bits of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four before you scroll down to 1984 covers in chronological order.
Flashbacks from Dystopia
Could you live in a world in which “The Ministry of Love was the really frightening one” and which made you believe that 2 + 2 = 5?
Winston starts doubting the totalitarian system, with the ever-growing feeling of its cold breath on his neck – total restriction of emotions, memories, and actions; endless wars with other states; constant purges.
You do remember the routine confession from those tortured by the Party and vaporized afterward, don’t you?
“Screaming for mercy, the crack of broken bones, the smashed teeth, and bloody clots of hair…”
When Winston meets Julia, it looks like they’ve got a chance not only for love but also to weaken the Party and bring down the “Big Brother” cult.
Should they trust O’Brien, one of the Party members, with this matter?
Everything ends in Room 101 with “the worst thing in the world” inside. Then comes Winston’s “healing.”
1984 Covers – From Colors to Eyeballs
Below you’ll see how 1984 book covers were changing over time, as we’ve sorted them chronologically: from the first publications and up till now.
The Blue Color, Fonts, and Marketing of the Fifties
Some Nineteen Eighty-Four cover conceptions have a strong accent on the font and the blue color. Generally, blue represents order and commitment;
it’s conservative and depressive.
In Oceania, people were dressed in blue overalls as if enslaved in humility and self-discipline required by the Party.
Now to the top right corner.
Apart from having a deep décolleté, the woman is wearing a scarlet sash which was an emblem of the Anti-Sex League in the novel and advocated celibacy.
Somehow, the cover hints rather at the woman’s sexuality than the true contents of the book.
It seems to have been a marketing gimmick, with the word “sex” on the badge as if deliberately made larger to be easily caught by the reader’s eye.
When Marketers Do It Again (the 1960s)
Bottom left (a face-palm…)
The same marketing trick was applied again, following the principle of let’s-make-dresses-even-shorter-and-breasts-more-visible for men to salivate.
Don’t you agree that the dress with a navel-deep neckline is quite far from the overalls that Julia wore?
But the worst is to come as your gaze shifts towards the man in the background who is, this time, even in a more provocative latex costume.
This cover is deceiving readers and advertising not the novel itself but a twisted, sexualized version of it.
Yellow, as a sign of hope, is chosen for particular 1984 book covers. It’s marred, though, by the rough lines (top left) and fades away completely (top right), as the expression on the man’s face doesn’t offer an optimistic ending.
His features are abrupt and distorted. His thick mouth-line is a promise that he’ll never utter a word.
The Penguin’s Nineteen Eighty-Four cover (bottom center) particularly stands out.
This design perfectly demonstrates the despicability of tortures that Winston underwent. The eye makes your insides ache with the utmost terror.
Creepy Eyes and Screens (the 1980s)
The bulk of book cover designers in the eighties accentuated eyes and eyeballs to signify the idea of supervision.
“The Big Brother is watching you.”
The bottom left one is by far the creepiest (with eighteen eyes in the telescreens, one of them staring at the man), while the layers carousel of the bottom right cover makes you swallow your budding dizziness as if your worldview were about to be overturned.
Has the man with the mustache (top center) also caught your attention?
The image is a direct allusion to Hitler/Stalin, as George Orwell depicted the authoritarianism of Bolshevik Russia and Nazi Germany and the atrocities they committed during WWII.
More Eyes and Tribute to the Writer (the 1990s)
The most distinctive 1984 covers from the nineties stick to the “eye” concept even more persistently.
This archetypal symbol again suggests that somebody unseen is watching, and you cannot escape.
No matter how determined Winston and Julia were to undermine the system’s stability, Big Brother’s omnipresent eyes peered into every thought.
Some 1984 book covers from these publications pay homage to the author, displaying his portrait.
Slogans and Ashes of Life (2000-2010)
Grayish shades on the few 1984 covers point to the gray lives of the citizens and their dismal routines, dull and nondescript, without a ray of freedom or truth in them, doomed to ashes.
The bottom left design spotlights the three “golden rules,” fundamentals of the Party:
“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
The Bleeding Red and the Tapestry of Eyeballs(2011-2022s)
The majority of 1984 book covers from the past two decades have red in their designs.
Quite understandably, as it’s a prohibitory color. It conveys the essence of dictatorship and tyranny that resulted in the blood and deaths of innocent people.
The abstraction woven from eyeballs, the monitoring camera, and the gloomy abyss with the eye in the center of it create a reversed ode to the watchful all-seeing eye of the government.
The Face of Cruelty (Foreign Publications)
Several 1984 book jackets selected from foreign publications give prevalence to red, emphasizing the bloodiness of the system in the novel.
There are even more TV screens and eerie eyeballs, while two surveillance cameras and the mustache (bottom right) form a face of ideal brutality and despotism.
1984 Book Covers: What Unites Them All
As you may have noticed, all illustrations are permeated with similar motives and prevalent artistic means to render them:
- Red/blue/yellow colors and dark-gray shades
- Surveillance cameras
- Abstractions, etc.
Occasionally, looking at symbolic 1984 covers, you feel oppressive fear and dismay crawling under your skin.
Other times, you hurry to look away because those monstrous eyes of the unknown watcher paralyze you, their pupils get dilated, and you fall into their darkness.
Which of Nineteen Eighty-Four book covers above has made the greatest impression on you? Share in the comments below.