George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 is known to be a thrilling suspense story, a heartfelt romance, and a mysterious tale of life in the future. However, beyond mere entertainment value, the novel also contains a very serious and somber message, making it take on some rather grave subject matter. Published in 1949, the novel also served as a warning against the totalitarian government style, displaying its terrible consequences in a variety of ways. Orwell’s 1984 represents a great example of the danger of totalitarian control by demonstrating its dehumanizing effects through government thought control and domination over people’s emotions along with a limitation of their pleasures.
The novel begins by discussing a typical day at work for the main character, Winston Smith. Right away, Orwell begins to paint a picture of his surroundings which clearly demonstrate the more than obvious oppression toward the citizens by the government. He begins by mentioning a poster with an “enormous face” that was posted all over the city. He describes it as “one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran” (5). One could easily imagine that these posters were meant to strike fear into the citizens in order to make them conform and obey the laws.
But this was not the only horrifying threat they had to deal with. They also faced what were called “telescreens”, large televisions that were set up on every corner, in every room, and in every apartment of the city. Orwell writes that they “could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely” (6). He continues to say that “any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard” (6). In other words, these screens could be used to monitor the activities of every person, making the poster caption a literal truth.
The party’s slogans also shed some light on the tyrannical ways of the government. Posted in the Ministry of Truth, they read: “WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, [and] IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH” (7). It is as if the government is trying to convince the people that what they believe to be true is, in fact, false. This can be referred to as mind control. The posters of Big Brother, the telescreens, and the slogans all serve to control the minds of the people through fear and repetition. The government also uses other ways to control the minds of the citizens. For example, Winston’s work colleague, Syme, goes into great detail about “Newspeak”, a language that is being created by the government that reduces the amount of words in the English language in order to limit the people’s thoughts as much as possible. This is just another way the government is controlling them. Syme says to Winston, “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it” (46). This leads us to our final example of government control, among many others, that can be found within the novel 1984.
Thoughtcrime meant that a person could be punished for merely thinking negative thoughts about the government. These thoughts were monitored by what Orwell called the “thought police”. He writes, “It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself—anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide” (54). Thoughtcrime was enforced by the tremendous fear of being “vaporized” or punished in extreme ways, which we see at the end of the book.
In this novel, it is clear that the government uses every source it can get its hands on to instill fear and subjugation into its citizens, including mind control through posters and slogans, monitoring by telescreens, the creation of Newspeak to reduce language, and taking control of each person’s thoughts.