1984: a study in power (By Dr Jennifer Minter, English Works)
In the Big Brother’s world in George Orwell’s 1984, the Party is determined to trample on an individual’s happiness and freedom so as to control them completely. Winston refuses to submit. He values his individual freedoms and seeks to cling to what he believes is important – his individual and collective memories, a belief in an external reality and the ability to chose who he loves.
Winston is a man from “the past”, living in the oppressive world of Big Brother. Its attitude towards power is that “it is an end in itself”. It is not interested in improving the lives of its citizens; rather it simply wants to use power for its own sake. Accordingly, the party rules by absolute fear and uses a range of tactics to ensure complete control of an individual’s thoughts and feelings.
Winston rebels against the party because he wants to stay human.
- He wants to cling to his own thoughts and feelings.
- He wants to have the freedom to think for himself and he also wants to cling to memories of his past. For this reason he writes his thoughts in his diary which could lead to death or 25 years imprisonment.
- He wants to maintain a record of the past, because he knows that this is the only way that members of the party will be aware of how Big brother is destroying their freedom.
- The party wants to keep changing the past and alters historical documents so it can prove that the Party is always right.
Julia and Winston want to have a relationship and choose their partners which is against the rules of the party.
The Party believes that love should only be shown towards Big Brother and therefore does not support love or sexual relationships.
They seek to control family ties. Control of procreation – Winston’s wife, Katharine, adheres (sticks) to the Party’s rules. She shows horror of personal attachment and only thinks about having children for the sake of the Party.
Is Winston a hero?
- Winston’s goal is to “stay human” which leads to a confrontation with Big Brother
- Winston knows from the beginning that a rebellious act such as writing in his diary will lead to death.
- Orwell deliberately portrays a human side to Winston to show his courage. Although Winston has got his shortcomings, he is courageous to try to rebel.
knows from the beginning that “you might dodge successfully for a while even for years but sooner or later they were bound to get you.”
- Winston knows that “sooner or later they always get to you”, but he seeks to maintain his independence. He wants to have the freedom to think for himself.
Winston and the past
- Winston wants to cling to memories of his past. Winston knows that “who controls the past controls the future”
- He is intent on recovering his childhood memories and wants to know “whether London had always been quite like this”.
For this reason he writes his thoughts in his diary which could lead to death or 25 years imprisonment. (Chapter 1) Books are now only found in junk shops and the pen is an “archaic instrument”. He knows that to mark the paper is a “decisive act”. Orwell presents Winston’s desire to record the past as an act of rebellion.
- Standards of comparison: He wants to compare present standards with the past. This will help him work out if life is getting better or worse.
- Winston dreams of his mother and sister. These relationships are connected with his past.
- Winston rebels against the Party’s control of the past. Winston wants to maintain a record of the past, because he knows that this is the only way that members of the party will be aware of how Big Brother is destroying their freedom. The party wants to keep changing the past and alters historical documents so it can prove that the Party is always right.
- Winston realises that if people do not remember what the past was like, then the Party could also maintain that life had never been better. If we have no records of the past then we have no standards of comparison. People had to accept this claim, because “there did not exist, and never again could exist, any standard against which it could be tested” (97)
Standards of truth: He wants to hold the party responsible. He wants to prove that the party is not always right, and that the party is often wrong.
- He clings to some documents to prove that the party is being deceptive. He knows that Jones and Aaronsen were not traitors.
When he was working in the Ministry of Truth 11 years ago, there was a photograph showing that Jones and Aaronson were not traitors. The photo shows that they were party members at a function in New York and could not have been in the Eurasia doing acts of sabotage.
He had seen “unmistakable documentary evidence” to prove that their confessions were false. (258)
In Room 101, O’Brien wants him to believe that there was no such photo or article. They were always traitors.
Winston wants to believe in an objective reality. He wants to believe that 2+2 = 4. If there is no external reality then the party can force us to believe anything.
He also rebels against the concept of Newspeak, which is the official language of Oceania. Its aim is to delete words from the dictionary. By reducing language, Orwell shows that this narrows people’s range of thought. This means that they will not be able to think certain concepts like freedom and independence. It is called “cutting language down to the bone” to worship Big Brother. This is a way to control people’s emotions.
Winston wants to have a relationship with Julia because he loves her. They meet in the countryside and then later in Mr Charrington’s shop.
However, this goes against the Party because the party wants to control people’s feelings. The Party believes that love should only be shown towards Big Brother and therefore does not support love or sexual relationships.
Winston wants to resist and places his hope in the Proles : It is Winston’s hopes of an uprising through the Proles that makes him a target for the Thought Police. While writing in his journal, Winston develops an idea that the only hope for the overthrow of the Party lies in the Proles. However, it is unlikely the proles will stage a rebellion. It occurred to Winston that ‘until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious’ (p. 74). The proles were allowed to wear scent and be sexually provocative.
- Julia’s rebellion is different from Winston’s because she is only interested in her emotional and sexual feelings. She wants the freedom to make personal choices. Unlike Winston she is not interested in party doctrine. She does not cling to the past or intellectual freedom as Winston does.
“With Julia everything came back to her own sexuality.”
- Rebellion is more of a game for Julia. To her, “the clever thing was to break the rules and stay alive all the same.” (138/152) For this reason, she is a member of the Anti-Sex League and is the first to march and carry the banners.
- She is realistic and believes that “any kind of organised revolt against the Party, which was bound to be a failure, struck her as stupid.” Her philosophy is that you “broke the rules as best as you could”.
- She realises that the sex instinct created a world “of its own” which was outside the party’s control and it “therefore had to be destroyed if possible”. In its turn, “sexual privation induced hysteria” which could be transformed into “leader-worship.”
Charrington’s room (CHAP 8 and 9) It is significant that Julia and Winston enjoy their romance in Mr Charrington’s room. There are many links to the past: wine, chocolate, , silver box of cigarettes, paperweight are all symbols of the vanished past. . .. “it belonged to the vanished, romantic past, the olden time as he liked to called it in his secret thoughts’ (… 198) He reads Goldsteins’ book (… 213)
POWER FOR POWER’S SAKE
The purpose of the Party is to enjoy power. “The party seeks power entirely for its own sake”. It is not interested in improving the life of its citizens in any way.
It wants to control people’s minds and emotions so that they follow Big Brother. The party controls people through fear.
THE PARTY CONTROLS ITS CITIZENS THROUGH FEAR
“BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.”
- As Winston states, there was ‘no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment.’ (p. 4-5).
- Big Brother is the dictator of Oceania.
- There are posters everywhere that state: “Big Brother is watching you”.
- In Winston’s flat the poster of the enormous gazing face gives the impression that the eyes “follow you about when you move” (3)
- Winston knows from the beginning that “you might dodge successfully for a while even for years but sooner or later they were bound to get you.” All the attacks happen swiftly at night. “You were abolished, annihilated, vaporised was the usual word.”
The use of telescreens
- Right from the outset, Orwell builds a sense of fear by showing that it is impossible to escape the telescreen. Winston knows that he can only hope to dim – never shut off the telescreen. (4)
- The telescreen is the main instrument of control in Oceania. It is a two-way television set stationed in all houses and public places.
- The telescreens are monitored by the Thought Police, who are searching for a sign of unorthodoxy or independent thought (“thoughtcrime”).
- The sets may be turned down, but are never shut off completely. There was ‘no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment.’ (p. 4-5). This creates a sense of fear in people.
- Winston knows that the Thought Police can plug into people’s every movement. “It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time.” (5)
Control emotions through marriage : Katharine is the perfect party member
- The party controls family ties and procreation and so channels people’s loyalty and trust towards the party.
- Marriage becomes an institution only to serve the party.
- Woman are brainwashed and are conditioned to see sexual intercourse as a “minor operation” which was unnatural and “dirty”.
- Children were born through artificial insemination and brought up in public institutions.
- “The aim of the party was to prevent men and women from forming loyalties which they could not control.”
- Many party members joined the Junior Anti-Sex League which “advocated complete celibacy for both sexes”.
Winston’s wife, Katharine, adheres (sticks) to the Party’s rules. She shows a horror of personal attachment and only thinks about having children for the sake of the Party. However, she and Winston cannot have children and they separate. Separation is allowed by not divorce. He has not seen her for about 9 years. As a “human sound track”, she despises sex and is completely brainwashed by the party. She has a “stupid, vulgar, empty mind” and swallows all the party’s slogans. “The only recognised purpose of marriage was to beget children for the service of the Party.” (68/75) “Desire was thoughtcrime”
Falsification of the past
One of the party’s slogans is: “Who controls the past controls the future” (p 37/.. 40)
Winston works in the Ministry of Truth and has to rewrite historical records and documents to make sure that the party is always right. (Chapter IV)
The alterations took place “almost minute by minute”. They were also done is such a way that it was not obvious that details had been altered.
Goldstein: the enemy
The party uses Goldstein as the enemy and scapegoat. He is presented as the person who is responsible for the party’s woes.
Goldstein is the “primal traitor, the earliest defiler of the Party’s purity”. He organises all the attacks on the party. Many spies and traitors acting on his behalf were eventually “unmasked by the Thought Police”. (15)
Goldstein is in charge of the Brotherhood, the opposition. Nobody knows whether it really existed.
Emotions and 2 minute Hate sessions: (control of relationships)
- The Party despises any personal feelings or instincts that are outside its control.
- Accordingly, people’s emotions are controlled through the hate sessions.
The Two Minutes Hate is a form of brainwashing. People gather in front of a telescreen for two minutes. People are encouraged to show their love towards the Party by demonstrating disgust for Goldstein, the Enemy of the People.
- Their emotions often reach fever pitch. As Orwell states, 16 – 18 Hate Week is also “sex gone sour”
- This means that feelings of love and sexual instincts are channelled into leader worship. p 139
- People’s anger and rage towards Goldstein transforms into love and adulation for Big Brother.
- Often the hate sessions make people very excitable. They reach a “hideous ecstasy of fear”.
- People end up loving Big Brother totally. Big Brother is transformed into an “invincible, fearless protector”.
During the Hate sessions, the figure of Big Brother merges with an enemy soldier, who is large and threatening. It makes people thankful for Big Brother who looks after them. They have confidence in Big Brother who protects them from these terrible enemies.
Control of procreation
- Winston’s wife, Katharine, adheres (sticks) the Party’s rules. She shows horror of personal attachment that is not geared towards child-rearing. She appears frigid (138)
- The Party believes that love should only be shown towards Big Brother and therefore does not support love or sexual relationships. It does not support people development relationships with each other, such as Julia and Winston.
- They want to control relationships and they want to control family ties. (Chapter VI)
- The Parsons’ children are typical of those who are completely brainwashed. As Hitler’s Youth army, they become spies for the party.
THE PARTY CONTROLS PEOPLES’ THOUGHTS
The party controls people’s thought processes through the control of language and thinking. It controls language.
Language is constantly reduced. This reduces the ability to think certain concepts. It is “cutting language down to the bone” eg. Syme p 54. (Chapter 5)
It seeks to control external reality.
“Orthodoxy means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” (56)
- “Doublethink” is one way that the party controls people’s thought processes.
- It uses this process to tell people what to think about external reality.
- By the process of doublethink people like Winston can accept that 2+2=5.
- Double think is the ability to think two opposite thoughts at once. It is “to know and not to know”. It is to know the truth and yet to believe in lies.
- It is to believe in the truth and in falsehood at the same time and to be conscious of this contradiction (or conscious of this process). (p 37… 40)
- It is to forget something, but to remember it when needed.
The party controls people through language: Newspeak
Newspeak eliminates the ability to commit thoughtcrime. There will be “no words in which to express it”. ( 55… / 59/60 ))
- “Thoughtcrime” involves having unorthodox thoughts. These are thoughts that go against the party.
- The aim of Newspeak in the totalitarian state in 1984 is to reduce language.
- Every concept will be rigidly defined by one word in the dictionary.
- Its purpose is to narrow people’s range of thought.
- As language is reduced, this also reduces the ability to think certain concepts. Thus thought and consciousness is also diminished. It is called “cutting language down to the bone” eg. Syme p 54 “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”
War helps to control people
- The party also makes sure that there is a sense of deprivation. From the beginning, the “boiled cabbage”, the old rag mats and the broken lift give a sense of disorder. The party makes people dependent upon it through a sense of deprivation.
- The party controls people through constant war. There is no purpose for war. It is not a war about ideas. It is also not about resources. The three large continents have sufficient raw materials.
- War is about “continuous shortage of consumption goods”. It is about using up the surplus of goods. It is to use up the “products of the machine” without raising the general standard of living.
- If people are hungry and deprived they are more dependent upon Big Brother.
Machines have the ability to raise the standard of living and get rid of human boredom and inequality. However this does not suit the purpose of Big Brother.
- During the Hate sessions, the figure of Big Brother merges with an enemy soldier. Who is large, threatening and terrible. It makes people thankful for Big Brother who looks after them. They have confidence in BB who protects them from these terrible enemies.
Ultimate use of fear – the worst thing in the world. (Room 101 and torture – p 296 – 300 (Part 3 )
O’Brien: the three stages of conversion: learning, understanding and accepting
- In Room 101, O’Brien tortures Winston. He uses methods of fear etc. to suffocate his free thoughts and free emotions. p 296. “The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.”
- Winston hates rats more than anything. (Foreshadowed Charrington’s room.) In Room 101, Winston goes insane. He becomes a “screaming animal”. There is only one thing that will save him. He must put a person between himself and the rats. That person has to be Julia. This form of torture works and Winston betrays Julia.
- He screams frantically, “Do it to Julia. I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia. Not me!” 329 (300) Winston’s rebellion is over. He becomes emotionally and physically dead. As O’Brien, “what happens to you in here is for ever” (334)
- Winston is now free to love Big Brother. When he sees Julia after his release he does not feel any emotion. Both reveal that they betrayed each other.
HOW DOES O’BRIEN USE JULIA TO CRUSH WINSTON’S SPIRIT
Winston’s conversion proves that, despite one’s personal struggle, the Party will always triumph over an individual.
Finally, Winston does not succeed despite a tremendous struggle.
He is defeated in the infamous Room 101. There he scores a victory over himself in the name of Big Brother. He is confronted with his very own worst fears. These are the rats. He betrays Julia thus betraying his own humanity. “He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.” During the process he comes to “accept”. This is to believe that the photos of the traitors at the New York function never existed. It is to believe that 2+2=5. This means that the party can tell you anything and you will believe it. This is a dangerous situation, but after so much fear Winston now gives in.
In the end
WINSTON is emotionally and physically dead. His spirit is destroyed. He tells Julia that he betrayed her. He does not feel any emotion. He is haunted by memories of his childhood but has convinced himself that these feelings and memories are false. He thought back to the sole meeting with Julia after they had been released. Neither of them felt love but both confessed their betrayal of each other.
Finally, he comes to love Big Brother. “He had won the victory over himself”. This is an empty victory, but it is a necessary victory if he is to “survive”. This shows that Winston, despite all attempts to preserve his knowledge of reality, finally gives in and accepts that the Party controls all thoughts and emotions. Awaiting his execution, he realises how pointless it was to resist. He could only feel love for Big Brother. This is Orwell’s attempt to show the triumph of the totalitarian state over the free will of the individual.
Winston’s rebellion: “They can’t get inside you”?
This sentence sets out the horror at the core of the book – that there is no part of the self that can be preserved from invasion. Winston had hoped that the ‘inner heart’, whose workings were mysterious even to him, ‘remained impregnable’. His betrayal of Julia in Room 101 and his ultimate profession of love for Big Brother demonstrate that his thoughts and will could be impregnated and altered.
Orwell’s comment on power for power’s sake: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.” (280)
“In the end, whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six worlds – in reality only one word.” (60)
The party’s mechanisms of control have a profound impact on the inhabitants of Oceania. To what extent is this true?
In Orwell’s 1984, the party of Ingsoc is a totalitarian government that tramples on individual freedoms. Critical to its success is the total power of its leader, Big Brother. In order to maintain complete power, the party uses a variety of tactics to ensure each party member’s total submission. These tactics have a profound impact on all party members, although many, like Parsons, blindly accept party rules and regulations. It has the biggest impact on the courageous citizens who refuse to submit. They pay a heavy price. Winston and Julia suffer both physically and psychologically. The party’s mechanisms of control do not extend to the proles because they are not aware of their oppression. They are not considered a threat in the same way that party members challenge the party’s absolute grip on power..
Party members like Winston and Julia rebel against the Party. They try to keep their freedom and pay a heavy price. They suffer both psychologically and physically.
However, the mechanisms of control do not have the same impact on party members, like Parsons, who blindly accept their rule.
It does not have an impact on the proles because they are unaware of the party’s oppression.
Return to : 1984: the individual takes on the state