1984: the individual takes on the state

Orwell: A champion of individual rights by Dr Jennifer Minter (English Works articles)

In George Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother survives by wielding absolute power and by suppressing individual happiness and freedom.  Because of his rebellious desire to think for himself and chose whom he loves, Winston becomes an obvious target of the Thought Police who watch his every move and monitor his every thought.

Using an array of state-sanctioned techniques, Big Brother has oppression down to a fine art. As O’Brien tells Winston, its rigorous system of control is best understood in terms of a boot trampling on the human face.  It is impossible to maintain one’s individuality; it is impossible to escape detection.  Everything is forbidden in Oceania because the party seeks “power entirely for its own sake”.   However, this does not stop Winston from trying.

Winston earnestly believes, “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 impossible rebellion.

“Staying human”: Winston’s heroic struggle to remain “human” 

Quite simply, Winston wages a battle to protect the “truth”. He wants the freedom to say 2+2 = 4.  He also wants to believe in the authenticity of memories – both on an individual and on a collective level. He wants to believe that the “past has real existence”, and this battle for the past, according to Orwell, is also a battle for the present and a battle for the future.

Personal past: Winston writes in his diary which constitutes an attempt to cling to personal memories.  He wants to maintain a record of the past, which is to assert the validity of his own lived reality.  Recording his own thoughts, is an act of treachery. It is illegal and an executable offence or at the best 25 years of hard labour. p. 8. The omnipotent gaze fuels a heightened sense of anxiety as he writes surreptitiously in his diary. Winston knows that it is inevitable that BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU. Images of oppression abound as Winston’s paranoia mounts: there’s the telescreen, the thought police like the KGB in communist Russia, Parson’s kids, who resemble the Hitler Youth in Nazi Germany: the kids are “ungovernable little savages” and child-heroes if they love Big Brother.

Collective past; history: Winston wants to believe in the validity of the past and documents of the past. He wants to believe that a photo of Jones and Aaronsen exists, that is, the photograph showing that Jones and Aaronson were not traitors.  The photo shows that they were party members at a function in New York and “proves that their confessions were false.”

  • Winston’s room contains symbols of the present and the past showing how he is living in two worlds at once. The “Victory Gin” that tastes like medicine and the “Victory Cigarettes” are generic products of the new world. However, Winston’s obsession with books and the pen reflect his dangerous preoccupation with recording past memories and individual thoughts.  Winston carries the book “guiltily home” and once he starts writing he feels a “tremor had gone through his bowels” (9) “To mark the paper was a decisive act”. Symbolically, the pen is an “archaic instrument” of the past (10) – ink becomes a sign of Winston’s forbidden desire to record his past memories… and give existence to his life prior to the party.  The  book had not been manufactured for the past 40 years.

Relationships and love

Winston is determined to pursue his rights to love, sex and happiness. His relationship with Julia, their escapades into the countryside, and secret rendez-vous in Mr Charrington’s shop present a threat to the party’s control.

Hope for future

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).

Although the proles formed 85% of Oceania’s population, they live squalid lives in the poorest neighbourhoods but are subjected to less scrutiny and surveillance. While writing in his journal, Winston develops an idea that the only hope for the overthrow of the Party lies in the Proles.

However, the impossibility of a proletarian uprising continually presents itself to him. 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). It is Winston’s hopes of an uprising through the Proles that makes him a target for the Thought Police.

Room 101 and torture – p 296 – 300

The ultimate fear tactic is to subject the individual to their worst nightmare.   Winston is completely converted in Room 101 through his fear of the rats. Significantly, he betrays Julia, which shows his acceptance of his defeat. He is now free to love Big Brother.

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. 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 can’t care what you dot to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones.  Not me! Julia. Not me!” 300
  • Winston’s rebellion is over. He becomes emotionally and physically dead.
  • He is now free to love Big Brother. When he sees Julia after his release he does not feel any emotion. Both tell each other that he betrayed each other.

At the end, Winston is emotionally and physically dead. His spirit is destroyed. Stripped of emotion, he tells Julia that he betrayed her. 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”. 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.

Julia’s rebellion

Julia’s rebellion consists of the freedom to make personal choices and the freedom to explore happiness and attachments. (pp. 138 – 139)  For her, rebellion is more of a game hence her connection to the Anti-Sex League. “The clever thing was to break the rules and stay alive all the same.” She pragmatically realises 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”.

The instruments of control: 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.   (275)  It wants to control people’s minds and emotions so that they follow Big Brother.  The party controls people through fear.

Telescreens:

The main instrument of control in Oceania is the telescreen, the two-way television sets stationed in all residences and public places. Telescreens are monitored intermittently by the Thought Police, who are searching for the least sign of deviation (error). 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).

Thought Police: It is Winston’s hopes of an uprising through the Proles that makes him a target for the Thought Police. Mr Charrington, seems to be a kindly antique dealer but turns out to be a member of the Thought Police.  O’Brien is ambiguously both tormentor and saviour.

 The threat of war

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.

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. If people are hungry and deprived they are more dependent upon 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 BIG BROTHER who protects them from these terrible enemies.

Control of individual thoughts: the party controls language

The party controls peoples’ 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  It seeks to control external reality.

Newspeak

The aim of Newspeak in the totalitarian state in 1984 is to reduce language and narrow the range of thought. “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.” By eliminating unnecessary words such as adjectives and verbs and antonyms, there will be just six words to express say the notion of “goodness” and “badness”. With the reduction in language, comes the reduction in the range of consciousness which becomes “always a little smaller”. By 2050, the language will be reduced to such an extent that no one would be able to understand a typical 1984-conversation.

As language is reduced, this also reduces the ability to think certain concepts. Thus thought and consciousness is also diminished. It’s called  “cutting language down to the bone”  eg. Syme p 54

Doublethink: Doublethink is the ability to think two contradictory thoughts at once. (259).

The Party controls people’s thought processes through the notion of double think. It is “to know and not to know”.  It is to know the truth and yet tell lies. “To hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out”. 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)  It is to forget something, but to remember it when needed. The contradictory purpose of each of the Ministries are a fine example of doublethink.

Collective memory and the past

Winston wants to believe in the validity of the past and insists that it can be objectively documented. For example, he wants to believe that a photo of Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford exists. Winston believes that when he was working in the Ministry of Truth 11 years ago, there was a photograph proving that Jones and Aaronson were not traitors.  The photo shows that they were party members at a function in New York.  Winston also believes that they were not guilty of the crimes of sabotage. He had seen “unmistakable documentary evidence” to prove that their confessions were false. (258) O’Brien wants him to believe that there was no such photo. They were always traitors who were “executed for treachery and sabotage after making the fullest possible confession” (258). Winston wants to believe in his personal memory. “It exists in memory.”

The party seeks total control over the past.  It alters the past so that the Party is always right. This also means that it controls personal memories. The process of “continuous alteration” proves that the Party is always right. Winston rewrites news stories at the party’s whim eliminating references to people who have been removed from society for crimes against the party of Big Brother.  “Continuous alteration” of the past is applied to any document that has political or ideological significance. These include newspaper items, films, cartoons, photographs, leaflets and so on. Expression of opinion and any contradictions were deleted. 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. This process was regarded as a necessary amendment or a misprint “in the interests of accuracy” (43) The Party systematically destroys all objective or credible witness to past events.

Without documents to disprove its version of past events, the party is always right, proving the Orwellian maxim, “who controls the past controls the future”.  By owning the past, and proving itself infallible, the party also destroys an individual’s purpose to rebel; party members will automatically accept the party’s claim that it has improved the standard of living.

Winston realises that if memories fail and written records are continually falsified, then the claim of the Party that life had never been better had to be accepted, because “there did not exist, and never again could exist, any standard against which it could be tested” (97).

Double think : “it also follows that though the past is alterable, it never has been altered in any specific instance”.

O’Brien challenges Winston to apply double think — a doctrine that Orwell specifically devises to show the party’s method of complete control. The photograph does and does not exist and O’Brien places it in the vanishing “memory hole”. Such an oxymoron appropriately conveys Orwell’s message that the party manipulates memory so as to entrench its rule.

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.” (280)  The case of Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford foreshadows Winston’s downfall. Eleven years ago they were party members and a photograph shows them attending a party function. However, Winston must now admit that the photograph does not exist and that they were traitors. O’Brien states that they were humiliated during their “conversion” process; before they were shot, they confessed their love of big brother. They were “shells”; there was nothing left by sorrow and love of  Big Brother. (268). Their fate foreshadows Winston’s. Winston must realise that the photo does not exist.

A warning: Orwell’s comment on power for power’s sake

The Party wants to control individual feelings. They want to channel their feelings into love for Big Brother and hate for Goldstein. 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.

Family ties  and Hate Sessions

Control of procreation – Winston’s wife, Katherine, adheres (sticks) the Party’s rules. She shows horror of personal attachment that is not geared towards child-rearing. She appears frigid (138)

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.  People are taught to hate the enemy, like Goldstein or Asia. This gives an emotional outlet, which often reaches the frenzied heights of hatred. 16 – 18 Hate Week is also “sex gone sour”. Love, feelings, sexual instincts are channelled into war fervour and leader worship.  p 139

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 BIG BROTHER who protects them from these terrible enemies.

Big Brother is a constant threat to everyone. Discuss.

Big Brother is a threat because it seeks to control the way people think. The party discourages independent thought, which, as Orwell shows is a very dangerous situation.  Newspeak is the official language of Oceania.  It deletes a lot of words from the dictionary. The remaining words are rigidly defined. By reducing language, Orwell shows that this then 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”  eg. Syme p 54  As Syme states sarcastically, “it’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”  It eliminates “thoughtcrime” which is the ability to “know the truth” but believe in lies. AS Orwell states, the party knows that it is better that people do not have the ability to think two opposing thoughts.

Furthermore, Big Brother is also a constant threat to the citizens of Oceania because it seeks to control the past. One of the party’s famous slogans is “who controls the past controls the future”. As Orwell demonstrates, the party realises that people will not challenge them if they know that the party is always right. For this reason, the party constantly changes historical records to prove that “whatever was true now was true for everlasting”. Winston is also part of this process because he works in the Ministry of Truth which is responsible for changing all the documents.  Winston is so horrified that he is determined to keep a diary. He wants to record his thoughts about the present. He knows that it is important for people to be able to make comparisons in the future. For this reason, the telescreen constantly watches him. He knows that he is committing a dangerous act by writing in his diary. It is a direct threat to the party.

Big Brother is a constant threat to people because it controls people’s emotions, loyalties, trust and relationships.

The Party despises any individual or personal feelings or instincts that are outside its control. People’s anger and rage towards Goldstein transforms into love and adulation for Big Brother. Peoples’ 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.  People are taught to hate the enemy, like Goldstein or Asia. This gives an emotional outlet, which often reaches the frenzied heights of hatred. 16 – 18 Hate Week is also “sex gone sour”. Love, feelings, sexual instincts are channelled into war fevour and leader worship.  p 139  Often the hate sessions make people very excitable. They reach a “hideous ecstasy of fear” . People end up loving Big Brother totally. BB is transformed into an “invincible, fearless protector”.

People are reduced to robots like Katharine. Frigidly, she shows horror of personal attachment that is not geared towards child-rearing. (p 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 the development of personal relationships or family ties, such as that between Julia and Winston.  (Chapter VI)  Katharine and Winston are permitted to separate because they cannot have children. (They cannot 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 Parsons’ children are typical of those who are completely brainwashed. As Hitler’s Youth army, they become spies for the party.

Most alarming of all is that the Party seeks to “cure” people of any thoughts or emotions that exist outside its control. O’Brien explains to Winston that it does not want to shoot traitors as the Russians did during the purges. It must ensure that heretics genuinely love the party, “heart and soul” (267).  The Party wants to ensure that the heretic is “one of ourselves”. It wants to reshape and remodel the individual in the party’s image.  This ensures that the dead victim does not become a martyr to an opponent’s cause.  Big Brother ensures that all confessions are “true”. To this end, the Party courageously realises that it is using power for power’s sake. The object of power is “power”.

TYPICAL ESSAYS

  1. Winston’s awareness of what society has lost sets him apart from      every one else, even Julia. Discuss..

Introduction: Winston is acutely aware of what he is losing. He clings to his memories of the past, both personal and political, and realises that he is cannot choose a partner whom he loves.

This sets him apart because Big Brother completely controls mind and body of its citizens. It denies them the freedom to think and feel and Winston is portrayed as a lone rebel. Apart from Julia. Winston becomes according to his saviour and enemy, O’brien, a “most difficult case”. Eventually, though , Winston becomes just like everyone else. (Explain.)

Winston is aware that he is losing his ability to choose his lover or partner for enjoyment and satisfaction. This connects him with Julia, because she also wants to rebeal against the party’s doctrine of love and partnerships… The fact that he wishes to choose his lover also sets him apart from the population in Oceania. He wants to have an intimate relationship with a woman based on choice and mutual sexual and emotional satisfaction. He is aware that this is an ideal that is elusive. The party determines a person’s partner based on procreation and he is married to Katherine. Hence his rebellion with Julia (explain).

Although Julia and Winston both rebel and have the courage to choose their own sexual partner, Winston’s rebellion differs from Julia’s because it is politically based. He wants to find a way to overthrow the party – at least to find a means or the possibility. This is why he turns to the Proles. The proles don’t interest Julia, nor does Winston’s interest in the past. Julia is only interested in breaking the rules of the game. For her, it is the game that becomes an end in itself. Winston is interested in the future and how people can find a way out of their oppression.

Above all, Winston is isolated because he cherishes the truth, personal memories and understands the importance of a nation’s collective history (explain. For this reason, his rebellion is about “staying human” at all cost.  This sets him apart from everyone else in the world of 1984, even Julia. Perhaps, Julia is simply too young to recollect life before the Party. This also sets him apart from the proles because they lack consciousness. He has his memories and knows that life was better because they were free.

As part of the erosion of his humanity, he is acutely aware that he is losing his personal memories and he desperately tries to record his memories in his diary. He hopes to maintain a record of his past so that he can talk to the future. By keeping his memories he thinks that the future may be able to rectify the present problems.

This sets him apart from everyone else, because most people are either too scared or intimidated by the Party to do this, or they simply do not value their past. The Party forbids independent thoughts and memories and uses Telescreens and Thought Police to suppress individuality… If detected, “it was reasonably certain it would be punished by death”  (8)  Clinging to his individual memories is important, but so is maintaining independent records. This also sets him apart from many of his co-workers, who also take part in the constant falsification of history.  Most importantly, Winston realises that it is very important to assert one’s independent reality, because otherwise the Party will continue to completely control the individual’s spirit. He knows that 2 + 2 = 4 and does not want to surrender this belief…  O’Brien insists during torture that Winston must show “acceptance” towards Big Brother and he must do this by accepting that there are 5 fingers.

Despite his hard-fought battle he becomes like everyone else. Even like Julia. He betrays her because of the rats and this signals his death as an individual. His spirit is destroyed. 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.

When O’Brien says “You have failed in humility and self discipline he is correct. W S causes his own suffering. Do you agree?

Winston does violate the Party’s doctrine of complete control. He is aware that his obsession with individual rights and freedom is dangerous and that he lacks “self discipline”.  Therefore in a simplistic way he is responsible for his own suffering.  However, 1984 is  complicated text, and Orwell presents a Party that is so hell-bent on destroying the individual and “stamping” on one’s humanity, that readers must question the nature of Winston’s suffering. In many ways, he is extremely noble and his rebellion against the Party is heroic. It is the Party’s fault in many ways that causes his suffering because he so courageously fights against their dictatorial rules and regulations.

Winston’s refusal to follow Party doctrine leads to O’B’s accusation  that he lacks the requisite “self discipline” to be an ideal Party Member. According to O’Brien, such discipline involves submerging one’s own identity with the Party’s. It is to think and feel as the Party dictates and suppress “erroneous thoughts” – such thoughts are those that insist on an external reality, and that seek to verify one’s personal past. The party insists on complete control so as to perpetuate its system of ruthless power that seeks “power for power’s sake” or sees power as an “end in itself”.

He understands that a person must break free from the party if they wish to maintain their humanity. …

In a simplistic way he is responsible for his own suffering because he lacks the humility to follow party guidelines.  He is determined to think for himself, record his personal past as well as oceania’s collective past – but this is an action of thought crime. He knows that whoever “controls the past controls the future”… This is because he knows that it is imperative for people to have a standard of comparison with the past so that they can evaluate the level of oppression.  The party is determined to suppress such standards so that people fallaciously believe that their standard of living has never been better and that the party is infallible. for this reason, he records his own personal thoughts in his diary.. investigating his family history so as to cling to the memory of times that may have been better, because people were not so oppressed…

Again he lacks self discipline by developing a loving relationship with Julia. This is dangerous because individual emotions and sexual feelings are outside party control. The party insists on channelling these towards the worship of Big Brother. Winston also knows for a person’s wellbeing and emotional stability and happiness they should choose their partner and be free to love whomever they like.

Winston’s “rebellious” nature creates his own suffering which leads to acute pain and suffering in the torture room, Room 101. He brings the misery on himself because of his refusal to follow O’Brien’s rules. All he has to do is accept that the party controls external reality and rid himself of “erroneous thoughts”. O’Brien wants him to say that the photo of the traitors never existed and that 2+2=5. He suffers enormous pain because of this.

However, this is a fine example of where Winston is also being courageous because he insists on the discipline of maintaining his own freedom.  He is fighting for his own survival and the right to “stay human” for everyone’s sake. The Party is so unrealistic that Winston is so determined not to bend to O’Brien’s wishes. He hates rats more than anything and this becomes his downfall. Ironically it also becomes the source of his “humility” and “self-discipline” and makes him “accept” the Party’s doctrine. Winston simply cannot bear the odour and the thought of the rats tearing his flesh apart. He betrays Julia which is to betray the humanity he has been fighting for.

Winston finally shows the right sort of “humility” and “self-discipline”. He loves Big Brother and sacrifices himself for this higher cause. He also loves O’Brien and has no feeling for Julia. It’s a victory to the Party but a loss for humanity, which shows just how noble Winston was.

It is the Party’s fault in many ways that causes his suffering because of their dictatorial rules and regulations. They are stamping on a person’s humanity and this is treacherous to Winston. In contrast Winston is a very courageous person and fights for the survival of his and others’ humanity. He knows it is important to maintain individual thoughts so that people can withstand oppression.

See 1984: some easy-to-follow notes

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