Somebody is always watching. And somebody is always teaching 1984, one of the most popular (though censored many times over the years) and deeply historical texts that high school has to offer. Two hundred and sixty-eight pages of subtle satire (with accompanying literary devices) and deeply rooted historicism make the novel a tough nut to crack in any classroom. Thankfully, Shmoop is here with a big old nutcracker. Several of them, in fact.
1984 is first and foremost a political satire. As such, its historical complexity can be daunting, but it is precisely the key to unlocking the meaning and themes that make the novel an unforgettable, enjoyable, and comic relief to read. To that end, you should first make sure your students are familiar with at least the basics of the 1917 Russian Revolution and some larger trends of Russian twentieth-century history that followed. For a quick and easy synopsis, check out the info under Shmoop's "Good to Be King" heading in this analysis of Animal Farm. And to make things even easier, go ahead and introduce the Cold War, however briefly, before the next class bell tolls.
If you're one of those lucky English teachers who are in cahoots with history colleagues, you have an advantage here, as the novel explores many political themes, including authoritarianism, censorship, human rights, and the relationship between government, media, and personal freedom. If inter-disciplinary collaboration is not available, however, Shmoop's history and civics guides provide plenty of materials that allow students to delve into these themes and understand their significance in 1984.