1984: Big Brother is Always Watching
1984 takes place in Oceania, one of the three world powers alongside Eastasia and Eurasia that are perpetually at war, where the citizens are ruled over by the oppressive Inner Party. The citizens of Oceania are subjected to constant video and audio surveillance through devices called telescreens, and the imposing face of their leader, Big Brother, is plastered everywhere. In order to control the masses, individuality, loyal relationships, and genuine displays of emotion (other than fear, hatred, and pain) have been eliminated. Families are only extensions of the Thought Police, a law enforcement agency (though there are no laws in Oceania) that targets people who have subversive thoughts. Everyone in Oceania refers to each other as “comrade” but this, like pretty much everything else in the dystopian society, is nothing more than a lie.
The story of 1984 follows Winston Smith, a 39-year old man who holds a deep resentment towards Big Brother and the Party. He feels that he is the only one in the world who is aware of the totalitarian society they are living in. In Part One of the book, we watch Winston proceed through his life with a scrutinizing mind. He makes note of how the Party openly lies to the public, how even the slightest facial expression can get you arrested, then presumably tortured and executed. The only real hope that Winston has is with an Inner Party member named O’Brien, who he believes is a member of a resistance group called The Brotherhood.
1984 in-depth Review
As Winston continues to alter records of the past and witness bombs being casually dropped on the poorer communities, he becomes suspicious that a woman named Julia is spying on him. Eventually, she reveals that she was only interested in him romantically, and the two start up a secret relationship. The fact that Winston was unable to notice her signs shows just how bleak and fearful life in Oceania could be. Love is outlawed in this society, replaced with fear and hatred, so Winston’s only conclusion was to think that she was a member of the Thought Police.
Julia is just as opposed to the Party as Winston, and he comes to find life more enjoyable when he’s with her. Eventually, it is revealed that O’Brien is a member of The Brotherhood, and recruits Winston and Julia to join their ranks. Winston receives a book detailing the principles of the party and begins to read it, but he and Julia are shortly caught by the Thought Police in rebellion against the Party. They are both taken to the ‘Ministry of Love’, where they are tortured by O’Brien and forced to betray one another. At the end of the story, they are both allowed to live, but no longer feel any connection for one another, and Winston proclaims his unconditional love for Big Brother and the Party.
The most integral parts of 1984 are the concepts of Newspeak and Doublethink. It is these two concepts, along with the Party’s surveillance and alteration of facts, that allows them to remain in control. There is an entire section explaining Newspeak at the end of the book, and it is surprisingly fleshed out and linguistically sound. The basic premise of Newspeak is that language is dumbed down so that people become incapable of expressing subversive thoughts (or anything of substance). Changing the language in this way allows for the Party to carefully select what kinds of discussions they want people to have. Eventually, speech would occur without any kind of thought at all, something referred to as ‘Duckspeak’, literally meaning “to quack like a duck”. A society of obedient citizens all quacking like ducks is precisely what the Party wants.
1984 Doublethink is Today’s Reality
Doublethink, the other primary concept of 1984, refers to the process of knowing that something is a lie, but accepting it as truth nonetheless. In essence, it is the Party’s main method of reality control. Doublethink is the reason why the citizens of Oceania don’t seem to care about their squalid living conditions, or how the Party seems to contradict itself every week; they accept two realities at once, and choose to focus on the one that is most beneficial for them. It is quite paradoxical when you first think about it, but it turns out to simply be a form a willful, gleeful denial. All becomes perfectly clear once you take a look at the Party’s slogan:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
1984 Ralph’s Wrap Up
No one in their right mind would ever believe these statements…unless, of course, they are a practitioner of Doublethink. Big Brother and the Party have arrested Oceania’s citizens in a purgatory of sorts, a world in which they know of the evils that they are subjected to, but at the same time, they are glad to receive them. Such a world is truly one without any real happiness, yet they have nothing to do but thank Big Brother as he “kindly” watches over them.
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