In George Orwell’s ‘1984’, the Party controls its citizens in a variety of ways, one being by controlling some of their most basic physiological needs. Outer Party citizens in Airstrip One are given rations and regulation lunches, are forced to sleep during a certain period of time in less-than-ideal conditions, and are strictly forbidden from having sexual relations with one another. The management of the people’s physiological needs in these ways makes it easy for the Party to keep a tight grip on control of the state.
The Party regulates the food the people receive, the conditions in which they sleep, and their sexual needs. The canteen where regulation lunch is served is described as having “a sourish, composite smell of bad gin and bad coffee and metallic stew”, and one of the regulation lunches is described as consisting of things along the lines of “pinkish-grey stew” and “milkless Victory Coffee”. In this way, Orwell illustrates the food provided to the people and the environment of the canteen as distasteful and of little quality. Every morning one’s telescreen gives forth a thirty-second “ear-splitting whistle” to wake them, and the lights in the flats are cut off at the same time every night. This coupled with the ingrained fear of being arrested for unorthodoxy at night―as the arrests “invariably happened at night”―and the knowledge that your telescreen records you all night would make getting a decent night of sleep hard for anyone. The government also represses people’s sexual nature, making sexual relations between Party members an “unforgivable crime”. Any sexual relations were only to be had between spouses with the sole purpose of reproduction, and “permission [to marry] was always refused if the couple concerned gave the impression of being physically attracted to one another” as the Party’s intentions are to eradicate pleasure from the act of sex.
The Party hits some of the citizen’s most basic physiological needs in these ways―needs found at the very bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. As expected, the people’s general well-being is affected by these tactics of control. In the canteen, Winston ponders the conditions of life under the Party’s control, conditions that “one’s heart sickened” at, like the food with “strange evil tastes” that make him wonder resentfully if the food had “always tasted like [that]”. The feeling of always being watched—“asleep or awake, working or eating… in the bath or in bed”—affects citizens day to day as well as “hysteria” induced by sexual deprivation.
The feelings of discomfort felt by Party members such as Winston affect their ability to function properly. The frustration that comes from being sexually constrained can be used as a “driving force” to “war-fever and leader-worship” in an individual by the Party. This makes it an important area for them to regulate if they want to maintain power over the people. When someone is hungry or tired or lacking any sort of basic physiological need, “the issues that [they] are fighting for are always forgotten”, as the feeling of the absence of food, sleep, or whatever may take the forefront in their mind. If the Party can keep the people in this continuous “struggle against hunger or cold or sleeplessness”, then nobody will have the mental space or energy to conspire and revolt against the government. There is a point when Winston is trying to write in his diary, but because of his hunger “the dull ache in his belly made consecutive thought impossible”. This reinforces the idea that if the Party controls these needs of the people, they will remain successful in maintaining control over them.
Totalitarian governments similar to the Party in ‘1984’ can be seen throughout history and in our modern-day world. One instance is Cambodia during the Pol Pot period when it was referred to as Democratic Kampuchea (or DK). When interviewed, villagers in a number of provinces expressed outrage over the regime's policies such as communal eating and food provisions despite the abundance of rice harvested, and long work hours, none of which were explained to them in a way they could understand or appreciate. This is because the reasoning being these policies had more to do with establishing total control rather than reaching the ideals of a socialist society.