Rising communist nations plagued the world with manipulation and oppression as a method to secure complete control. In societies completely controlled by a totalitarian government, no one has freedom. 1984 is a political novel written by George Orwell in which it warns of what can result from a totalitarian government. Orwell took the observations made from existing communist countries in the 1940s and created this oppressed world set in 1984. The authoritarian society, Oceania, is created to be a possibility of what can be a reality. The Party rules over Oceania, controlling all aspects of language, expressions, and the actions of individuals. Winston Smith attempts to rebel against the Party and its ruler, Big Brother, but doesn’t realize the extent of the manipulation he receives. With the fight for freedom and liberation being increasingly difficult to reach, the nightmarish society critiques and sheds light on totalitarianism and tyrannical regimes.
In the dystopian future of the year 1984, Oceania is ruled by the Party. The Party maintains complete control over its citizens by heavily monitoring them with surveillance and by tapping into conversations. The main figure of the Party, Big Brother, is plastered all over the nation on posters and is a figure to remind citizens that they are being watched at all times. The standard of living and the quality of life in Oceania is frightfully low, causing people to have struggles getting necessities or adequate provisions provided by the government. While looking around the Party member canteen, he observes, “A low-ceilinged, crowded room, its walls grimy from the contact of innumerable bodies; battered metal tables… always in your stomach and in your skin there was a sort of protest…” (Orwell 59). The discomfort seen in the conditions that the citizens are living in show what little they have and how desperate they must be to have even a little bit more than what they are given. The more control the government has over its people, the more they will want to obey and adhere to all expectations, hopefully leading them to have a more comfortable life. The four ministries within the Party keeps Oceania orderly and able to stay in command. Although there are no laws in Oceania, many actions are punishable by death. Loyalty to the Party is a necessity for survival. The lifestyle of the society of Oceania is comparable to that of the current and past totalitarian regimes that obstruct the well-being of every individual living in that nation.
The entire novel is told through the point of view of Winston Smith. There is limited information from Winston’s eyes. The Party controls so much of its citizens’ lives that any information being told by them cannot be absolutely trusted. Winston was set up and trapped by the Brotherhood, thinking that the intentions of the organization in bringing down the Party and betraying Oceania was genuine. After all was revealed, “O’Brien silenced him by a movement of the hand. ‘We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is made inside the skull… There is nothing we could not do’” (Orwell 265). The betrayal and the reveal of the true motives of the Brotherhood and O’Brien delivers more of a shock factor, as throughout the novel, Winston has no idea that he’s being tricked into being disloyal to the Party. Initially, Winston looked down upon the others around him for not being able to see through the deception of the Party, but eventually learns that he himself was subject to the influence of them without even realizing it. No one can be trusted, including Winston, because he may be fed false information to mislead himself and others for the Party’s purposes. There is never a true story being told as there are different versions of what is occurring. People in totalitarian societies fail to have common sense because they are constantly being fed propaganda and the removal of all aspects that do not coincide with the ideals of the government. Totalitarian governments are skilled at taking advantage of their own citizens to further assert their dominance.
Orwell writes this novel in a very plain, direct way. The writing style matches the somber, depressing tone of the society. Everything is interconnected to emphasize the setting of the novel and the emotions that Winston or other supporting characters may be feeling. The tone and the word choice gives a better understanding of what it is like to experience life in Oceania and the thoughts and emotions running through their heads. The simple language can be seen when Winston “…was walking up a cobbled street of two-story houses with battered doorways which gave straight on the pavement and which were somehow curiously suggestive of rat holes” (Orwell 82). The tone gives light to the oppression faced by individuals living in a totalitarian society and how little they are able to feel and think on their own terms. There are limitations in what people are allowed to think and speak upon. The conversion of the old language to the new Newspeak fills people with the same simple words and phrases. The creation of this new language eliminates the worry of the government fearing that people will have too many of their own opinions to say, making the personalities and individuality of each person slowly merge into one. The controlling of the mind by the totalitarian government puts excessive limits on the ideas of freedom and what it is. The basic and plain language used shows the little variety and uniqueness people are allowed to have.
The hidden meaning behind objects and individuals within the novel signify aspects of a totalitarian society. The red-armed prole woman that Winston hears singing represents potential freedom and hope. Winston understands that proles “were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world. If there was hope, it lay in the proles!” (Orwell 220). Winston is holding onto hope that future generations may have the strength to take over the party and regain personal freedom. There is also an underlying idea that proles will give birth to a generation of people that can see through the regime and understand that poor conditions that they are living in may be improved through challenging the government. Oceania views women as objects used for reproduction and not seen as people to love or of extreme worth. Big Brother represents the authoritarian power of the party and the intrusion into one’s thoughts and actions. The image of Big Brother is embedded into people’s minds and is a constant reminder that they are being watched by the government in all forms. Authoritarian governments set universal image for what they want their nation to look like. In order for that to be played out, they effectively used Big Brother as a means to accomplish this goal. Winston went along with the other citizens and chanted along to the image of Big Brother. “To dissemble your feelings, to control your face, to do what everyone else was doing…” (Orwell 17). The citizens of Oceania chanting to Big Brother without even knowing if the figure exists shows just how much power and influence has over its citizens. It extends to the point where individuals begin to appear as a homogenous group of people the more they idolize and “bow down” to Big Brother. When the Thought Police arrests Winston and the paperweight shatters on the ground, it symbolizes how Oceania will never be able to get back to how the past was. In Winston’s fight against the Party, many items that he purchased, including the paperweight signify what little is left from the past and the efforts to restore the nation back to freedom and serenity. Once Winston is caught and arrested, all of his efforts are wasted and he is being forced one step back. The heavy use of telescreens show that technology is extremely powerful and is something that is abused by authoritarian governments. With the creation of surveillance and monitoring, comes the government that has complete specifics about everyone. The individuals that are disloyal or are doing something “illegal” are singled out and heavily punished for doing something that is considered to be a crime. Discovering that “by sitting in the alcove, and keeping well back, Winston was able to remain outside the range of the telescreen, so far as sight when. He could be heard, of course…” (Orwell 6). Winston has to go to extreme lengths just to simply write in a diary. By severely limiting the actions of citizens, the assertion of their power becomes more prominent. Technology poses a potential danger to society when misused, creating a distrust from its people.
In 1984, Orwell molds his created society into an unthinkable reality that gives society a warning of the possibilities that can result from increasingly dominating governments. Orwell’s use of setting to describe the discomfort of Oceania, the single point of view from Winston to emphasize the lack of information told to the public, the tone of the novel to further show the dull, conforming society, and symbolism within the novel worked together to show that authoritarian regimes will not only physically destroy a nation, but will also mentally destroy them. In this form of a society, people will no longer be able to have individuality, control over their minds, and personal ideas. Power fell into the hands of Big Brother, and just as in other totalitarian societies, it can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to be released its grasp and find freedom once again. The abuse of power and the desire to seek more will cause the world to be destroyed if not identified and dismantled.