War is Peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. These are the beliefs that the citizens of Oceania, in the novel titled 1984, written by George Orwell, live by. In this novel, Oceania, one of the three remaining world superpowers, is a totalitarian, a society headed by ‘Big Brother’ and his regime, known as the ministries of Truth, Love, and Peace.
A totalitarian government is defined as a government characterized by a political authority which exercises absolute and centralized control, and in which the state regulates every realm of life. This is the type of world that the citizens of Oceania must live in, ruled by fear and under force every day.
In no public or private utterance was it ever admitted that the three powers had at any time been grouped along different lines. Although throughout the story, the conditions of these wars were constantly changing, it made no difference to the masses, and the current truth was all that mattered. “Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia” (Orwell, pg 35). The truth is whatever the government wants it to be, and the people accept it at face value, a concept cleverly worded as reality control (Orwell, pg. 36)
Likewise in today’s society, even though the people live under the rule of a democratic republic in the U.S., a large portion of the news that we receive is distorted and filtered, many times the truth is not what it appears to be. Being a democracy does not stop that from happening. Furthermore, like the citizens of Oceania, we as citizens often accept the information that we receive from the media as absolute truth, not questioning what we hear, even though we have the privilege of doing so.
In the totalitarian society of 1984, the government alters history constantly and changes it to fit the predictions and needs of the party, so that they always come out ahead. The Party destroys any evidence that the past has been altered, and asserts absolute correctness and truth.
Example #2 – essays on 1984
Imagine a society where the thoughts, emotions, and actions of every human are supervised by the government, and there is absolutely no freedom. This is a common theme for a dystopian society, as represented in the famous George Orwell novel, 1984. The Party had the power to control all humanity inside of Oceania.
Winston Smith and his beloved coworker, Julia, are against them in light of the fact that they feel discontent about the oppression and inflexible control of the Party. In the novel, they work together in an attempt to overthrow the Party, until they, unfortunately, realize it may be best to embrace the Party’s doctrine once they come upon O’Brien, a powerful member of the Brotherhood.
Winston, along with all of the other residents of Oceania, is constantly watched by Big Brother, the government. The constant watch is kept on him by a telescreen, which is always monitoring not only his every action and word but his facial expressions as well. The slightest notion through appearance or gesture against the Party, who support Big Brother, could automatically mean death, or maybe much worse torture. He must appear to be a member of the Party in every aspect, and the Thought Police are always there to enforce that loyalty. (LSCHS) This allows us to imagine the cruel, totalitarian society Winston lives in, and just how selfish and power-hungry the government is. It is evident that anybody living under these circumstances would rather be elsewhere.
If there is hope, it lies in the proles. (Orwell 89) This quote means that Winston believed that if they could all come together, they would be strong enough to destroy the Party since the proles make up eighty-five percent of the population of Oceania. If they chose they could blow the Party to pieces tomorrow morning. (Orwell 89) He does not think the Party can be overthrown from within.
In addition, the proles are given the freedom and have no connection with the Party because they are seen as the lower social class, meaning they are not important enough to pay much attention to. However, this concept becomes less significant later in the novel once Winston and Julia meet O’Brien.
O’Brien wants to make Winston perfect in the Party’s image to save him, by bringing torture unto him. If Winston could perhaps become rehabilitated, it was believed that he would be clean from preexisting thoughtcrime. Different torturous techniques he suffered were threats, degradation, starvation, and many others.
However, this was not for Winston’s sake, but for the Party’s to prevent it from becoming corrupt. In addition, it would turn out that Winston was being watched for many years by O’Brien and there was his chance to catch him and to brainwash him into thinking what the Party wants him to think.
The author uses this power struggle to enhance the meaning of the story. 1984, which was written in 1949, was intended to warn its readers in Western nations of the dangers of totalitarian government, or communism. This was important at the time due to the fact that the Cold War was at the verge of escalating. However, communism would begin to spread more rapidly later on.
The pre-war international system had collapsed, causing the USA to face an enormously strengthened Communist USSR across large stretches of Europe and even vaster stretches of the non-European world, whose political future seemed uncertain except that in this explosive and unstable world anything that happened was more likely than not to weaken both capitalism and the USA, and to strengthen the power which came into existence by and for revolution. (Hobsbawm 231)
In conclusion, George Orwell’s 1984 is about the dystopian, totalitarian society in Oceania. A totalitarian government us defined as a government that has almost complete control over the lives of its citizens and does not allow freedom to oppose them. (Cambridge English Dictionary) It describes Winston and the other citizens’ struggle trying to cope with living in such a society, trying to avoid getting caught and executed and trying to escape it’s rule.
It was written to inform readers about what might happen in the event that communism spreads across the world during the Cold War. Winston never actually became free from the Party, instead, he was only deceived into changing his opinion on the Party, and when that didn’t work, he had many more unfortunate things in store for him.
There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. According to Ray Bradbury, You don’t stay for anything. It is curious to think that a single work of art, a single poem, and a single book can radically change the minds of the populace as a whole and yet it has been a recurring theme throughout history.
As a major source of political and social criticism, books have been implemented in criticism of political machines, social injustices, the greedy and selfish side of human nature that works toward assuming total control. As sometimes a blunt and rude awakening, dystopian novels illustrate, often in exaggerated ways, a fictional reality that disturbingly mimics what has occurred or is occurring in reality and has the potential to prophesied the emergence of many different types of societies along with the conflicts between the people and the government.
One dystopian writer who was influenced to write a novel criticizing the totalitarian regimes of his time, such as Natzi Germani under Hitler and the Soviet Union under Stalin, was the left-wing writer George Orwell. In one of his lesser praised books,1984, argued by critics as being a very underdeveloped story lacking interesting plot points and containing a harshly pessimistic outlook on London’s society, George Orwell warns that a similar society to the socially oppressive, totalitarian society of Oceania could arise if social oppression in the forms of degradation of the self, political greed and extreme patriotism and oppression of the working class through enhancements in technology and erasure of the past continue in his current society.
Orwell is well recognized for his inclusion of political and social criticism within his novels and essays. He used real-world politics to be able to effectively depict and prophesize human greed for power and need to control people in totality through unquestioning loyalty. The critic Morris Dickstein comments that:
Orwell’s appeal to posterity brings to mind poems like Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” or Brecht’s “A die Nachgeborenen” (“To Posterity”), which begins, “Truly, I live in the dark ages,” and ends with an appeal for understanding: “Think back on us / With kindness.” Winston scribbles in his diary, as Orwell writes the novel, “for the future, for the unborn,” though he wonders if such communication is really possible, especially under a system that claims it can wipe out any trace of him. (105).
It is interesting to note that Orwell, with his lifetime numbered with a severe illness that took hold around the time of his writing 1984, rushed to get his message out to his future audience, in an effort to provide critical insight about political idealisms, such as communism and totalitarianism(Dickstein). Similarly, although he does not know how his message will be sent or received, Winston seems to want to relay a message for the future generation as a warning sign to be cautious with the seemingly desolate direction of total control that is Oceania.
His desire is to make sure that his truth is spoken so that the future generation may know and understand the horrible conditions Winston lived in and aspire to change the negligent and oppressive lifestyle the government is forcing their own people to lead.
Moreover, Dickstein comments that Nineteen Eighty-Four has several minor characters who also serve as emblems of Orwell’s argument, including Syme, the ideological zealot, and Parsons, the slovenly, stupid true believer who is turned in by his own children(104).
The unbridled patriotism that the people of Oceania exude, unsurprisingly, backfires when extreme amounts of surveillance come into play. The patriot’s ignorance and the belief that unquestioning loyalty has the ability to protect the self from perceived unlawfulness are products of the governments want to assume control. Not only is this exaggerated form of patriotism needlessly present in the adults it is also disproportionately apparent in the younger generation because the propaganda in favor of the government was all the children ever even knew.
The adults may have grown up in a time where Oceania had not formed yet and so may be less influenced by the propaganda but because the children were born when this government was fully-fledged, they are able to be molded in such a way that makes them turn against their own kin for the benefit of the government. As illustrated by the main character Winston, the two minutes Hate was a prime example of this extreme form of patriotism in which: The most horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but it was impossible to avoid joining in…
A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sled hammer seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s own will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic…his secret loathing of Big Brother changed into adoration, and big brother seemed to tower up, an invincible, fearless protector, standing like a rock against the hordes of Asia, and Goldstein, in spite of his isolation(Orwell 15).
In his dystopian world, technology, specifically the telescreen, is used as a method for surveilling the populace to keep the people in a state of terror for their livelihood, specifically the telescreen, which is able to receive and transmit any sounds above a whisper to the thought police. This essentially gives rise to the effect of people believing that their every action and thought can and will be heard and if anything goes against the belief system that the Party offers, the consequences are severe, in the form of torture and death. As an effect this causes them to be docile and unquestioning complacency of the populace. As the critic, John David Frodsham pointed out how the system of surveillance to beget loyalty in 1984 mimics reality.
As one observer commented, as late as 1975: “China is an immense barracks living in a permanent state of terror and fear. The Maoist way of life is based on the surveillance of the citizenry. Several houses make up a cell whose members are required to report their thoughts and actions to each other. . . The individual has no right to personal life. . . where he goes, what he talks about, what he eats, what he reads, what he listens to on the radio, all this is immediately learned by those around him and reported to the neighborhood revolutionary committee !”Thanks to the bao-jia (mutual surveillance) system, Mao’s China did not need the telescreen. Thought-control had been achieved without elaborate technology (144).
With effectively little to no privacy, the government of Oceania, as well as China in the Maoist way of life, have efficiently stripped the populace of their identities and amassed control through surveillance (Frodsham). Likewise, the fear factor in 1984 of being reported by someone or overheard by the Thought Police allows Oceana’s government to effectively assume control. To the people of Oceania, the thought of being taken away to never be seen or heard of again and to have their entire life uprooted has effectively made the masses complacent and docile enough to not utter a single word against the government and to foolishly believe the propaganda that is being spread to further elicit complacency.
Frodsham continues to explain that For Orwell, Nature was essentially good and technology essentially evil. Technology in 1984 is used to enslave men, not liberate them(142). It is interesting to note that many technologies are in current use that helps the government surveil and keep their people in line so utter chaos does not ensue.
However, the extent of which the novel uses technologies such as the speak write and telescreen as a form of control is quite literally frightening as one misspoken word or action could get one killed. The extreme misuse technology in the novel is, quite literally, evil in the sense that, technology is innovative and meant to help one live a more comfortable life, but is rather used to constrain people into a very limited form of living where fear prevails and peace of mind does not.
In the novel, O’Brien explains that:”The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. (1984, 175).
The power that O’Brien is illustrating is in and of itself desolate. It is a power that provides for no security or peace of mind for the people as a whole but rather illustrates the burning desire of the few who are in power to gain more and more power, of course without a second thought of the consequences and without a second thought for the wellbeing of the people. The greed that is illustrated in O’ Brien’s explanation as claimed by critic H. Mark Roelofs, stems from the knowledge that, power of this order cannot be possessed by a single individual – except in and for the perpetuation of myth, to wit, the myth of Big Brother.
In fact, toted power can be possessed only by a class, or a party representing a class(23). In essence, having the power of that extent possibly be held in the hands of one individual. However brainwashing the population into believing that there exists someone in the right who is all-seeing and all-controlling, Big Brother, and symbolically having someone who is trying to overthrow this myth of Big Brother who is in the wrong, as demonstrated by the enemy of Oceania, Emmanuel Goldstein, essentially makes the people ideologically complacent to the control of Oceania’s Party.
As further explained by the critic Roelofs, In consequence, their power could be taken to the ultimate pitch… total power is more like an absolute perversion of love(23). As a result of the Party’s lust for power and greed combined with an overall lack of concern over the well being of the population as a whole, people like O’Brien, who find those going against the societal norms to completely and utterly destroy the thinking, conscious and rational mind, essentially the self, allow for an almost mindless and unquestioning loyalty to the Party to be instigated.
Furthermore, in the novel, O’Brien exclaims If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever (178). Essentially, the Party has created a government without freedom, a grim reality that is substantially hopeless for the populace.
There seems to be an overall lack of compassion, gratitude, and true criticism of the power-hungry government that stems from rational thought based on the idea that government is meant to protect the wellbeing of the people. Roelofs claims that It must always be noted that party members “love” (i.e., “merge” themselves with) the Party, and that the populace – and Winston Smith in particular- must “love” Big Brother (23).
Because the people have been conditioned to such an extent to believe that they must “love” Big Brother, they know only how to believe the lies the government is feeding them with a spoon and lack the ability to criticize and provide for intelligent debate that may help improve the well being of the people. Likewise, the extreme forms of surveillance make this task quite difficult since so few are willing to stand up for better humane treatment at the expense of their lives.
The self is a concept that is constantly being sought after, along with individuality and uniqueness. However, due to the inhumanity and cruelty illustrated throughout the book, the self along with individuality is not something that is considered or even widely sought after. According to the critic Irving Howe, Orwell is trying to present the kind of world in which individuality has become obsolete and personality a crime and Orwell has imagined a world in which the self, whatever subterranean existence it manages to eke out, is no longer a significant value, not even value to be violated (195). The very idea of having an identity, within the dystopian society that Orwell has created, is seen as being blasphemous.
The people are often depicted as robots, doing what the masses do, never stepping out of line for fear of severe judgment, and never once thinking or speaking their minds because they have been conditioned to not think. Therefore because the people are so far gone under the control of the government, none can ever have an original opinion or thought, none can critique, and none can ever be able to contemplate what it is to be human, to have an identity and a sense of self.
The horrifying illustration of the older generation not being able to teach the younger generation how to think analytically and always question and have intelligent conversations come into play through the portrayal of mindlessness throughout the novel. 1984 demonstrates the horrific society in which politics has overridden a person’s ability to express themselves freely without fear of reprimands along with society and how it functions as a whole and Howe describes the novel as a profoundly anti-political book, full of hatred for the kind of world in which public claims destroy the possibilities for privacy (196).
It should be noted that Orwell’s intention of the messages in the book are not anti-political in nature but are rather anti-totalitarian in which the entire state is required to have total subservience to a centralized and dictatorial authority. This is shown illustrated to the many instances of a lack of privacy and surveillance taken to extreme levels to garner complete and utter conformity of the people the government serves along with the utter lack of care of the government towards the people they are meant to serve and protect.
To further demonstrate the illusion of good living conditions and security, the government has workers such as the main character, Winston, erasing and rewriting history and facts to prevent the truth from reaching the public and to spread lies.
As illuminated by R. B Reeves: inhabitants of this world (of crowded apartment houses that reek of boiled cabbage, of foul-smelling Victory Gin, of Victory Cigarettes that fall apart) cannot know how truly bleak their lives are since they have no means of comparison. All knowledge of the past has been altered, so there is no way of discovering whether life had been better previously (14).
“I hate purity, I hate goodness. I don’t want any virtue to exist anywhere. I want everyone to be corrupt to the bone” (Orwell 102). This statement is one of many similar to it that are uttered throughout George Orwell’s book 1984. In this antiutopian novel, the people of society are viewed as sinful and untrustworthy. A series of devices are used to monitor the citizens in this government-run society. The novel gives a sad vision of the world of the future. When Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948, a strange coincidence, Europe was in the middle of World War II. “The war was unquestionably an important part of his [Orwell’s] writing” (Williams 8). Orwell used his novel to speak out against socialism and classism. In a society ruled by a character named Big Brother, the citizens are not only told how to act, but how to think and feel.
The governing force of society uses fear and brutality to control its citizens. Many of Orwell’s predictions came true, and the majority of those that did not come true, are not very extreme. “Many believed these predictions to be those of a raving lunatic, I think not” (Leif 92). Although many of his predictions were not achieved in 1984, many are becoming reality in 1999.
In his day, Orwell’s predictions seemed outlandish, but today, many people would argue that his dreams have become reality. Although the world is not under complete control of the government, the leaders of today do influence the direction society goes. Increased technology has led to a highly monitored society, much like Orwell’s Oceania. Hidden cameras and huge satellites allow the government to view individual people and entire countries at one time. In 1984, devices called telescreens functioned as televisions and cameras, relaying government messages and surveillance footage to the “Thought Police.”
In reference to the telescreens, “The instrument could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off” (Orwell 3). Although modern society does not have a telescreen, it does have a television that influences the public through the media and commercials. Security systems in many stores carefully watch the behaviors and deeds of the public. Many programs on television show glimpses into the habits of the common people, intruding on their personal lives. Much as Orwell predicted, the idea of private life is almost non-existent.
In 1984, actions, plans, or immoral thoughts about the government were severely punished. During the Cold War, Americans hunted for “Pinko’s,” or Communist sympathizers, and brought down harsh penalties on them. Even more similar to 1984, are the Salem witch hunts in which the accused were punished if found guilty, or punished for telling the truth in order to lessen the consequences of lying. In 1984, many citizens were arrested for having someone accuse them of treachery.
The people in 1984 were very patriotic, and this patriotism led to suspicion. The increased love for Big Brother made families crumble and friends disloyal. Children became so pro-Big Brother that they would turn in their own parents and blood to please Big Brother. Any activity that broke from the normal routine of life was considered suspicious and grounds for arrest. Violators were taken to the Ministry of Love, an ironic name for a torture chamber.
In American society, the government has not separated the family, but in some smaller countries, children actually do implicate their own parents in a conspiracy to damage the government. “The possibility of a world leader replacing the Divine Spirit seems inevitable” (Small 135). In Orwell’s novel, Big Brother is the highest being, greater than that of God, just like some citizens in modern countries view their leaders as the end of the line when it comes to authority.
Oceania is a world of no enjoyment or pleasure. Citizens work, eat, and sleep day after day after day, with no breaks for relaxation or fun. Even sexual intercourse is viewed as treacherous if pleasure is achieved. This behavior is merely for reproduction, no more, and no less. Big Brother and the government limit pleasure in order to limit disobedience, much like the Communist party does control its peoples. In the modern United States, pleasure is a very profitable business and is one of the largest contradictions to Orwell’s predictions.
However, all the order and conformity in 1984 did need a key figure. In this case, it is Big Brother. Big Brother acts as a focal point for the people of Oceania to look towards. He guides the people even though no one ever sees him in real life, all they see are pictures of him, which bring about the question of his existence. In modern society, people look up to their presidents and monarchs for guidance, not so much for religious and emotional reasons, but for help in following the path to better the nation. Big Brother gives his people hope and pride. On the contrary, the leaders of many nations today do not invoke pride and hope, but fear and mistrust. People in modern society to die for their leaders when the fate of the nation is at stake.
In 1984, suspicion and mistrust were very strong, much like today’s society. With improved technology, private life is almost nonexistent. Nearly all actions today are viewed and documented, similar to that of 1984. The people of Oceania and the modern world live in fear. Fear that the government will control their lives and individuality will be sacrificed in the pursuit of power and order. War and hate run rampant in today’s society, much as it did in 1984.
It is true that modern society does not completely resemble Oceania and the world portrayed in 1984, but the ideas and thoughts of the novel are present. Perhaps some of Orwell’s predictions were a little extreme, but his predictions cannot be pushed aside. Maybe the book should have been named “2000,” or “2013,” the point is, what will prevent his predictions from becoming total reality at a later date in time.
In 1984 George Orwell suggests that the repression of family bonds, human individuality, and artistic expression in order to attain a stable environment makes the achievement of a perfect state unrealistic. A perfect state in this situation refers to epitomized, idealistic, utopian society. This is a place where not only does the community run smoothly, but each member of the society is content and well. It is shown that the society examined, Oceania, does not possess family values nor attempts to practice them.
It is not passionate or creative in factors such as love, language, history, and literature. Being that these are rudimentary components of what the average ideal society consists of, it proves that the “perfect state of well-being” cannot be accomplished through the rigid control and uniformity described in the aforementioned novel.
“There seemed to be no color in anything except the posters that were plastered everywhere. The black mustachioed face gazed down from every commanding corner, “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU? the caption said?” (6) This quote symbolizes the view of family life that is in the novel 1984. The ways in which the familial bonds are broken in 1984 are through the advent of large families (The Inner and Outer Party), and the way the smaller individual families are run. In the society of Oceania, there is one large, dominant family headed by Big brother, who is nothing more than a logo of the Inner Party.
Orwell’s choice in the Party’s leader “Big Brother” gives the reader the impression that Oceania is one huge family since the word brother is the name one would use in a family. In the book, however, using Big Brother’s name and face so habitually takes away from the family ideal and begins to weaken family bonds. Although Big Brother is the commanding figure in Oceania, there are also small nuclear families that in some ways function as a “normal” family would. Just like in typical society, the parents in Oceania have their children through live birth and were encouraged to dote and show affection to their children. Beyond those few aspects are where the similarities end.
The responsibilities of the children in 1984 are much different than the responsibilities children have in society today. “The children were systematically turned against their parents and taught to spy on them and report their deviations. The family had become in fact an extension of the Thought Police. It was a device by means of which everyone could be surrounded day and night by informers who knew him intimately.” (111) As you can see, the family structure in 1984 lends itself to stability and order, and the melancholy and discomfort portrayed throughout the book oppose the notion of Oceania being a utopian society.
Authority, in 1984 has an immense effect over one’s identity and individualism, leading to a dystopic state. This great lack of individuality is due to the power control exerted by the Inner Party in order to sustain a stable environment. Stability can be looked upon as minimizing conflict, risk, and change, and without these, Utopia is realistic. The lack of these is fundamental to the book. All the Outer Party members, or comrades as they are called, are all identical, not in how they look, but in how they act.
Anything less is intolerable. There are many instruments used to ensure that “thought-crime”, which is thought that strays from the overall principles of the Party. There were telescreens and Thought Police who detect and apprehend the inhabitants when they commit a crime against the Party. The following quote shows how they control the population: “The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard it was even conceivable that they (Thought Police), watched everybody all the time you had to live-did live, from habit that became instinct-in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized”. (6) If a member of the Party were to be caught by the thought police, they were eliminated- COMPLETELY. Their existence was deleted entirely; it was as if they were never born. All the fellow comrades accept this as truth and after one day, all is forgotten and they go on with their lives. This is all due to the control and brainwashing of the Party. Individualism is not only frowned upon, but it is forbidden and fatalistic.
The third aspect that is lacking completely from 1984 is that of artistic and creative expression. Everyone has the need to express him or herself; whether it is through poetry, music, writing, or painting; it should be a wonderful passion people enjoy. With a ban of creative or artistic activity, a change in society is inevitable. You cannot have a lasting society, much less a utopian one, without plenty of pleasant vices.
Language and history are slowly being erased from Oceania. Newspeak, the local news station on the telescreen, aims to reduce the number of words in the English language. The plan continues with the reporters using fewer and fewer words to decrease thinking in the brain, eventually dissolving one’s imagination. “In the end, we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it” (46) If the environment in which 1984 is situated continued, then there would soon be no need for the Thought Police because there would be a diminutive amount of words left in the English language.
History and the control thereof also contribute to the development of a stable society. Winston works for the Ministry of Truth, where his job is to modify history constantly so that “day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date.” (36) There was no way of proving this wrong either because all the records were changed, there is no written proof that a certain event occurred. Every day, through control and brainwashing, the people living in Oceania changed their perception of their history and re-wrote it in their memories.
In conclusion, the perfect state that Orwell wrote about (whether it satirical or not) remains dystopic when a lack of familial bonds, the sacrifice of human identity, and the lack of creative and artistic desires try to create stability in the society. The main, if the only thing holding this society together is stability. It reinforces the control and power of the elite class and allows them to manipulate the lower classes.
The Outer party in 1984 paid the price of their family bonds, their human individualism, and their creativity and ability to think for the good of the whole community. But through the loss of these things, through the loss of all that makes us who we are, both societies remain dystopic.
The story 1984, by George Orwell, is set in the fictional country Oceania, in what is thought to be the year 1984, which consists of the Americas, the British Isles, Australia, and part of Africa. The part of Oceania in which 1984 takes place is referred to as Air Strip One and is formerly England. Winston, the protagonist of the story, is faced with a conflict of extreme hatred against the ultimate antagonist, Big Brother. Big Brother is the leader of the political party of Oceania who controls not only actions but also thoughts through the thought police and what are called “telescreens.”
Winston falls in love with a girl by the name of Julia, and the two of them must decide on who to trust and who not to trust and eventually realize their ultimate fate for their unorthodox acts punishable by death. The two of them decide to trust a mysterious character by the name of O’Brien, who turns out to the agent of Big Brother and betrays the both of them by pretending to be their allies in an organization against Big Brother called the Brotherhood.
Winston Smith is the protagonist of the story in 1984. Winston is a man who seems to be an ordinary man in a world filled with corruption and evil. Winston is a round character in that he is a very fearful and ordinary man that the reader can relate with easily. Yet Winston is strong-willed enough to try to make his situation better in a totalitarian society. In comparison to Winston’s outlook on life at the beginning of the story, his character traits are developing, changing due to torture by the Party to force him to conform to the system of totalitarian government lead by Big Brother. At the beginning of the story, Winston strongly opposes the Party and their anti-memory tactics used to better control the population.
Although Winston opposes the Party, he is still fearful of their power and this causes him to view the world from an extremely paranoid point of view, suspecting everyone and trusting no one. Upon seeing a particular girl, who later becomes his lover, he thinks of her, “… that she even might be an agent of the Thought Police. That, it was true, was very unlikely. Still, he continued to feel a peculiar uneasiness… whenever she was anywhere near him.” By the end of the story, Winston has been completely brainwashed and is now a strict conformer of the Party and, “He loved Big Brother.” Winston was no longer concerned with the unseen injustices of Big Brothers leadership, and to him, “everything was alright. The struggle was finished.”
There are a number of ironies in the story of 1984. One example of irony is who turns out, in the end, to be trustworthy and who is eventually going to betray Winston and lead him to his ultimate fate. Winston does not in any way trust Julia. When she is first introduced as a “girl he often passed in the corridors. He did now know her name, but he knew that she worked in the Fiction Department,” Winston is very suspicious of her and sees her as “being more dangerous than most.” A little bit into the story, Julia slips Winston a note saying “I love you,” and their ultimately crushing love affair begins. Another ironic thing in the story is not another situation, but rather the language of Oceania, Newspeak, is ironic in itself.
Newspeak is the official language of Oceania, and thus the basis of communication throughout the people. But Newspeak is unique in that it is the only language that regularly loses words rather than gains them. The Party has formed this language in order to decrease the amount of brain activity, thus narrowing the range of thought. Sociologist, Dr. Murphy, continually says, “We think as we speak, and we speak as we think.” This suggests that language, which is also the basis of communication, is directly related to the thought processes in the human mind. So, ironically, Newspeak ultimately brainwashed the citizens rather than, as all other languages do, increase the amount of expression and creativity.
Throughout the story, 1984, there are a number of different items and occasions that either existed or occurred with significant symbolic meaning. For instance, the room in which Winston is tortured, room 101, is symbolic of the fearfulness and helplessness a person experiences when faced with their greatest fear. To the characters of the story even, room 101 is symbolic to them as being the one thing that person fears the most. O’Brien explains to Winston, “The thing that is in room 101 is the worst thing in the world.” Another symbolic object in the story 1984 is the chess game. The game is symbolic of the political game throughout the story. The white pieces are a representation of the Party and are shown never losing, thus suggesting, in themselves, ultimate power and control.
There are quite a few themes within the story 1984, but one, in particular, seems to recur throughout. This is the theme of the horror of a totalitarian society. The story suggests that under a government of complete control, all human understanding is lost. In this story, the suppression of language as communication is recurring throughout the story.
This creates a less thoughtful society which makes the people more easily influenced and through this narrowing of the mind, the people are easier to control due to ignorance. One of the Party’s slogans is “Ignorance is strength.” This slogan is written from the viewpoint of the Party itself. It ultimately suggests that the more ignorant the people of Oceania are, the easier it is for the Party to remain in control and continue to withhold its extreme power.