Study Guide

Pyongyang 1984

By Guy Delisle


Kim is Watching You

Guy sees a lot of similarities between the world of Orwell’s 1984 and North Korea. What similarities, you ask? How about the incessant propaganda? Or the family members turning on family members? The people being “vaporized” (6.83)? The ugly clothes? It’s all there.

Guy gives a copy of 1984 to his guide, Mr. Kyu. (Side note: is he trying to get the man killed?) He later asks Mr. Kyu how he liked the book. Going into a cold sweat, Mr. Kyu says “I don’t really like science-fiction” (7.105). Did he read it? He must have, because why else would he seem so nervous?

If Mr. Kyu understands the similarities between North Korean society and the society in 1984, does this mean that other North Koreans secretly understand how strange and dangerous their world is? Guy keeps wondering whether actually they believe everything they hear, and everything they say. Maybe Mr. Kyu shows us that at least some North Koreans have doubts they’re too afraid to voice.

After this incident, Guy looks in the mirror and pops a zit on his nose. Is that how he views North Korea? Like a zit that needs to be popped?

1984 and North Korea aren’t a perfect one-to-one analogy, of course. In 1984, the citizens rely on technology, and this allows Big Brother to watch over everything they do. North Korea is against technology altogether (or at least certain kinds of technology). But Dear Leader hardly needs technology, because North Koreans are so scared that they watch over each other for him. No one wants to get in trouble, so people are willing to turn on even their family members if they smell danger. No wonder everyone feels alienated.