George Orwell’s 1984 gives readers a glimpse into a frighteningly plausible future where censorship and absolute power have taken the place of freedom of thought and democracy. The narrator and main character, Winston, is a citizen of Oceania, a fictitious superstate ruled under an iron thumb by Big Brother and his authoritarian regime, which is named “The Party.” To call this government pervasive would almost be an understatement, not only do they maintain a firm and indefinite control over the state and its people, they even go as far as criminalizing thoughts that oppose them. By carefully employing fear, intense surveillance, and major deceptions, the party is able to keep total, repressive control over not just people’s actions, but even their opinions.
Like most dictatorships, the party maintains control mostly thanks to one all powerful weapon: fear. Public hangings of those who speak out or work against big brother is a normal in this world, as is torture, and the combination of the two is enough to keep most citizens in line. This sense of impending doom has been drilled into the population so hard that they’re even afraid of their own anti-party thoughts, as shown by Winston in one of his monologues: “Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed for ever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you.” This controlling agent is inescapable for the population even in their own homes, where a mandatory telescreen monitors their every sound and movement. Additionally, parents have to fear their own children: “It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children…hardly a week passed in which ‘The Times’ did not carry a paragraph describing how some eavesdropping little sneak…overheard some compromising remark and denounced its parents to the Thought Police.” (31). This practice draws a parallel to communist Afghanistan, where brainwashed children were known to occasionally give up their anti-Soviet parents at the request of their teachers. 1984 was written decades before this happened in the real world, which discredits those who jump to rule out a future such as the one Orwell predicts as impossible.
In the modern world, when governments spy on their citizens they tend to cover their tracks in order to maintain secrecy. The Party takes an entirely different approach: “It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran” (3). Not only does this regime keep a constant watch on their citizens, they also make them clearly aware of it through propaganda such as the big brother posters. The paranoia resultant of this intense surveillance and scrutiny The Party subjects its citizens to is best summed up by one of Winston’s observations: “Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed—no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.” (34). Ultimately, this invasiveness helps Big Brother’s regime destroy individual thought, ensuring they continue to hold complete control over their people. The everlasting threat of capital punishment by the thought police is enough to suppress rebellious thoughts and actions in most of the population, and the intense surveillance makes spreading any anti-government messages virtually impossible. “The idea of following up their momentary contact hardly crossed his mind. It would have been inconceivably dangerous even if he had known how to set about doing it. For a second, two seconds, they had exchanged an equivocal glance, and that was the end of the story.” (23). Here, Winston acknowledges the ineffectiveness of attempting such an act, demonstrating how the government’s power to create fear has, to a certain degree, broken the will to act of even those who know the truth about the party.
When it comes to ensuring the longevity of their regime, The Party has it down to a science. ‘’Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past,” (313). They know that by creating a history that is grim and full of despair, their party can claim to be the reason humanity was brought out of the dark ages, therefore validating their otherwise indefensible actions such as the extent of the party’s control over the minds of their citizens and methods employed to do so. “In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy.” (102). If anything, this quote further shows the absolutism of the government’s political power, because they’ve achieved something no other tyrannical regime in the real world has quite reached: complete control of the truth. Even in our own country we are faced with information such as “alternative facts” or “fake news” on a daily basis, but the alteration of crucial facts like history is an entirely new level of mind-controlling deception. What is especially chilling about this deception is how amazingly well it works, as demonstrated by the following excerpt from Goldstein’s book: “the Party member, like the proletarian, tolerates present-day conditions partly because he has no standards of comparison.” (268).
The terrifying part of this excerpt is that the logic is foolproof.
How can you know you are living a lie when it’s the only life you’ve ever lived? In this sense, for the citizens of Oceania, one of the party’s slogans is true: ignorance is freedom. If the citizens have lived a life constructed by The Party since the minute they were born, how would they know that there was a whole world out there they have missed out on?
The government’s control over their citizens is manipulative by design. The Party alters the past to better suit its ideology and motives, then acts as if nothing has changed. They destroy psychological independence by manipulating thoughts and watching everyone’s every move. Even the party’s core concepts, such as doublethink, are deceptive by nature. In accepting something you know is wrong, you effectively surrender your independence of thought to whoever is in control, allowing them to stay in control as long as they like, in this case The Party. That’s where the themes of the book translate to real life, or a warning rather, to be conscious of “alternative facts” and maintain carefully your own freedom of thought.
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