1984 vrs The Poison Throne

1984 vrs The Poison Throne


On an errand for some councilman, no doubt, thought Wynter following his weaving progress down the hall. Her relief didn’t last long, though, and a knot formed in the pit of her stomach as it became obvious that the page was heading for the commoners’ table.

Oh God

She wasn’t the only person surreptitiously tracking the small figure through the crowd. No one entered or left the royal door without being taken note of, and more than a score of the assembly reacted with varying degrees of interest as the page approached the commoners’ table and touched Christopher Garron on the arm.

Wynter couldn’t hear what was being said, but she saw Christopher’s patent shock and confusion as the page spoke to him. She swallowed and leaned forward in nervous tension as the page gestured impatiently and ushered the baffled young man to his feet. Obeying the page’s gestures, Christopher began to make his way to the Lords’ tables.

No! Oh God, was the King mad? Could he possibly be so crazed as to have ordered Christopher to sit among the lords? Did he hate him so much? Did he want him torn apart by wolves?

Wynter watched in horror as the page led the mortified man through the wide space of no-man’s land that lay between the commoners’ territory and that of the lords’.

Don’t abandon him! She thought. Don’t just leave him here to find his own seat.

But she knew, that this was exactly what the page was going to do. More than anyone else, the servants would detest this outrageous breaking of rank, this terrible, terrible insult to protocol.

As she had suspected, the page accompanied Christopher to the end of Wynter’s table, gestured vaguely to the bench and walked off, his heels clicking in the now almost silent room. Christopher was left standing uncertainly at the end of a very long row of pointedly turned backs, all his brash certainty fled.


In both Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Poison Throne, a recurring theme throughout the books is constant surveillance and paranoia as a direct result. Even though the human experience stems from different sources, it still becomes fundamentally the same in its end result. The difference between the two novels is who is spying on the characters and for what purpose. Whilst in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the antagonists are Big Brother, the Thought Police and the Telescreens, and their motive is culling rebels, in The Poison Throne the antagonists are the  King, and most of the side characters who watch each other for signs of weakness so that they may advance their couriers in court life.

In George Orwell’s novel, Orwell  presents the audience with a futuristic dystopia, where all the characters are under the watchful eye of Big Brother, and are constantly threatened by the
Thought Police. Orwell exaggerates these all seeing powers with quotes early in the book such as “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” that are capitalised to create a higher modality and to juxtapose the connotations of a loving ‘big brother’ and the intrusive action of ‘watching you’. In this sense, it almost seems as if Orwell is trying to create this omnipotent leader who is a god like figurehead for Oceania. Orwell furthers his development of these overarching and watchful powers with quotes such as “Only the thought police mattered.” and “…even a back can be revealing.” which are included to create an atmosphere of fear and paranoia of these powers, and to try and make the reader empathise with Winston as he lives in this environment. Orwell also repeats the use of personification and similes to animate the machines used to invade the personal lives of Oceanic citizens. This is evident when Orwell describes the actions of a police patrol helicopter as “hovered for an instance like a bluebottle… snooping into people’s windows.”, this is used to convey the unpredictability of the surveillance,and further the paranoia of both the characters and the reader in turn.

As the plot furthers, Orwell conveys Winston’s ever growing sense of paranoia by changing the setting so that Winston has less time alone with himself in his apartment, and more time out in crowded public settings. Throughout this process, Orwell also redirects Winston’s fear to not only the Thought Police and Big Brother, but to other members of the outer party and children, as seen when talking to Syme and thinking “I know you’ the eyes seemed to say, ’I see through you…” and when he has to fix the drain for Mrs Parsons and the children shout “You’re a thought criminal!” sending Winston into a barely contained panic. As this continues, and the book continues, both the reader and Winston are held captive by their paranoia of the ruling powers of Oceania and the risk of other citizens  turning them over to the Thought Police, and human experience of fear and paranoia as a direct result of surveillance continues.


To contrast the dystopian future presented to the reader in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Celine Kiernan offers the reader a middle ages, fantasy setting with elements of the dystopian genre. Instead of the characters being scrutinised by machinery and omnipotent overlords, the characters of the Poison Throne are forever scrutinised by the fellow inhabitants of the castle and neurotic royalty. Instead of being scrutinised for any unusual activity that may lead to being accused of rebellion from the Thought Police, the main characters must tread carefully to avoid public humiliation and gossip from the people around them. This concept is introduced to the audience with the line “…the King wanted them near, he wanted them to be observed.” which constructs the first introduction to the idea of surveillance and establishes the sense of paranoia that is to be carried out for the rest of the novel. Kiernan also uses some techniques that are similar to Orwell’s, such as using common cliches to do with animalistic concepts to make the situation  more unpredictable in nature and therefore give the characters more reason to be paranoid, evident when Christopher mutters to himself, “It’s like a vulture’s nest.” and in the quote from the extract “Did he want him torn apart by wolves?” , Kiernan utilises these cliches to convey the complexity that is court life in The Poison Throne. Kiernan’s use of the imagery of these carnivorous animals directs the readers pre conceived notions of the surveillance in The Poison Throne to be more similar to being watched by vultures who are waiting for the character to show a moment of weakness before they eat them or the rest of the castle’s inhabitants uniting to conspire against and devour the main characters. The imagery of vultures waiting for the person to die is characterised by Lorcan, as seen in “He’s arranged himself to look stronger, in case they discovered him.” and “He must have taken advantage of the shifting crowds at the end of the meal and used the chaos to slip away.”

The tone alludes to a greater sense of unease, specifically with the choice of words “chaos” and “shifting crowds, and this is how Kiernan manages to portray the constant paranoia amongst the main characters as they are surveyed by the castle citizens


In summation, both the prescribed text and the related text portray different aspects of the human experience of having fear and paranoia as a direct result of surveillance, whether it be from human agency or machinery as a means of surveillance. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the people of Oceania have to distrust their “comrades”, not make any unusual actions and love their omnipotent leader, for fear of being caught by the Thought Police and being tortured in the Ministry of Love. In The Poison Throne, the inhabitants of the castle must show no weakness, never upset the staus quo, and remain powerful and loyal to the king, or else be banished from the kingdom or worse, tortured or assassinated. So, paranoia as a direct result of being surveyed for difference, or surveyed for weakness, which would be worse?

This entry was posted in Allen and unwin, Elise Hurst, Hyene, Kate Rudd, Moorehawke, O'Brien Press, Orbit, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

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