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Essay: Big Brother Is Watching (George Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451)

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Cameras, televisions and microphones are everywhere. Our actions are constantly being monitored for various purposes. Though it generally poses no threat to our well being, nothing we do goes unnoticed. In George Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 neither protagonist agrees with the actions and views of their respective totalitarian governments. Due to the relationship both protagonists have with women, their difficulties in conforming to the ideas of the general public, and their fear of being caught, the protagonists who are stuck in similar situations face differences that differ the outcomes of their attempts at rebellion.

The impact of women each day is crucial, whether through the actions of a loving wife, a caring mother, or a partner on a project. In both novels, women play an essential role in influencing the actions and thoughts of the protagonists. In 1984, Julia acts as a catalyst for Winston, she speeds up the process for him to succumb to his inevitable hatred for the party. In a clearing, escaping the prying confines of society, Winston says to Julia, hinting towards possible vulnerability within the party “I hate purity, I hate goodness! I don’t want any virtue to exist anywhere. I want everyone to be corrupt to the bones” (Orwell 83). Following a conversation with Julia about her beliefs, and once he trusts Julia more ,Winston is enticed to share his own thoughts about the party and the people’s senseless devotion to it. It is only through his relationship with Julia that Winston is comfortable coming to terms with and sharing his belief that there are members of the party who are crooked and against Big Brother. Being able to express his beliefs gives Winston the encouragement and confidence to fight against the party. Julia’s personal displeasure against the party only fuels Winston’s fury further.

Similarly to how Julia jump started Winston’s anger towards the party, Clarisse is responsible for sparking Guy’s rebellious thoughts. Though he only knows her for a short period of time, Clarisses thinking and understanding prompts Guy to start contemplating his own life, choosing not to follow a conventional lifestyle. As they walk down a sidewalk, discussing how quickly life is passing, Clarisse says “‘And if you look’ she [nods] at the sky ‘there’s a man in the moon.’ He [has not] looked for a long time… then she [seems] to remember something and [comes] back to look at him with wonder and curiosity. ‘Are you happy’”(Bradbury 9)? Guy is so absorbed with the destination that he has not stopped to simply observe the world he is living in. He has prevented himself from noticing the beauty in the world around him, and only once he is prompted to think by Clarisse, does he notice how truly unhappy he is. The simple provocation that changes how Guy views life is what leads to the novel’s rising action.

Winston and Guy are greatly impacted by the women in their lives. However, the reaction both protagonists have poses great importance to their respective situations. Julia imposes her views on Winston, inducing him to act with them. In contrast, Clarisse allows Montag to think for himself, and discover his own beliefs on the problems in society. This seemingly small difference in approaches, causes an extensive difference in outcomes. Winston’s poorly thought out actions are based on inconclusive secondary evidence, whereas Guy focuses on things he is certain about and past experience prior to making decisions.

Every person in society has slightly different opinions. The seemingly identical views among all citizens is what allows a totalitarian government to remain in power. In 1984, the belief that everyone else loves the party prevents anyone’s thoughts that do not align to develop into actions. While silently plotting against the party in his room, Winston thinks “He [is] a lonely ghost uttering a truth that nobody [will] ever hear”(Orwell 20). Winston is prevented from reaching out and furthering his rebellion against the party, because of his assumption that everyone else follows the beliefs laid out by Big Brother. Since the party is able to restrain all forms of communication, and people are too scared to show their distaste toward the party, any kind of revolution is prevented from occurring.

In a similar mindset, Faber hides from those in power his whole life and keeps his love for books to himself, protecting himself at all costs. He protects himself by not revealing his secret to anyone and thus preventing anyone from joining the cause that he believes in. When Guy calls Faber to ask him about the remaining number of Bibles, Faber’s reply is “I [do not] know what [you are] talking about!… this is some sort of trap! I [cannot] talk to just anybody on the phone”(Bradbury 76)! In his conversation with Guy, Faber demonstrates the fear felt by those who feel they have anything to hide. By acting oblivious to the topic Faber keeps himself safe from harm. The ruling class preserves complete power over the citizens of Chicago because they have all been brainwashed to accept the lifestyle that has been created for them.
In both novels, the citizens appear to share the exact opinions as the ruling party. This keeps our protagonists in the dark and makes reaching out extremely difficult. For lack of trust and knowledge about other citizens, Faber is unable to have faith in anyone. Similarly, Winston hesitates to reach out and ultimately waits for others to make contact, as he believes that the consequences of being incorrect are far worse than the advantages if he is correct. Winston’s lack of real progress to rebel against the party is exactly how the party intends any sort of rebellion attempt to occur. The more severe nature of Big Brother and the lack of trust Winston has for anyone makes advancing any plans much harder in 1984 than in Fahrenheit 451.

A driving force throughout the plot of both novels is fear and lack of information. The fear caused by Big Brother and the party in 1984 prevents logical and rational thought by the citizens it controls . Winston contemplates the punishment he would face if it were discovered that he was caught writing against the propaganda of Big Brother, and he discloses to the reader “It [is] always at night… there [is] no trial…people simply [disappear]…every record of everything you [have] ever done [is] wiped out…he was seized by a kind of hysteria”(Orwell 15). Winston is filled with unease simply thinking about what would happen if he were caught, the thought of disappearing from existence, as if he is never born. The fear of a government who can inflict such an immense punishment for such a small action, acts as an excellent prevention for potential rebellions.

Conversely, the fear created by the party in 1984 is not as large of a driver in Fahrenheit 451. The anxiety of being caught with books or other thought provoking works, leads to a population of incredibly ignorant citizens. It would be especially challenging to attempt to gain interest in the thought of a rebellion or revolution. Guy’s wife, Mildred, is deathly afraid of losing her peaceful, ignorant life and has no interest being disrupted by Guy’s novels. Following her screaming for him to leave, Guy exclaims “Let you alone!… we need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real”(Bradbury 52)? Realizing how ignorant his wife truly is, Guy begins to educate her on what he learned when he took Clarisse’s advice. Guy challenges the lifestyle created by the ruling party. Guy attempts to enlighten her about how conflict is necessary in life, how agitation is required to learn and to grow; a repeated routine with no change or excitement is not considered living.

The fear of pain can act as a tremendous motivator. People can be driven to act atypically, however they can also be driven to not act at all. Through both novels the latter is commonly seen. Totalitarian governments are able to keep their civilians in line with the assurance of pain and torture, should one act improperly. Actions that disagree with the ruling party are never large and can be easily handled. While both the novels have similar governments, the end results of the novels are drastically different. Winston’s rebellion had no noticeable impact and a non existent legacy, while Guy’s was a partial success. The differences in the protagonists success is due to the varying levels of punishment and harshness of both governments. Winston was always fearful of disappearing in the night and facing a life of torture, while Guy was solely fearful of the Mechanical Hound, which was only meant to capture him after his retaliation towards the firemen. Those differences are responsible for the different outcomes of both protagonists.

Slight contrast in similar situations is what causes the the overall differences between the outcomes of both 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. The way women influenced the protagonists to change their thoughts and actions, the difficulties reaching out within their societies, and the varying ability of the ruling parties to control their civilians, are each components responsible for the different end result of each novel. Both characters were being watched by their own Big Brother, but only one was able to escape. The importance of acting for yourself rather than against others is demonstrated by the difference in the outcome of the novels.

Works Cited

  • Orwell, George. 1984. Penguin Books Ltd, 2008.
  • Bradbury, Ray, and Neil Gaiman. Fahrenheit 451. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2013.

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