1984 by George Orwell illustrates a dystopian society and political prophecy in which Big Brother is always listening in, and high-tech devices eavesdrop in people’s homes. 1984 takes place in a world of endless war, where fear and hate are used as weapons against foreigners. It is a world that has the government insisting that reality is not “something objective, external, existing in its own right” — but rather, “whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth.”
Winston Smith is a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in London, within the great nation of Oceania. Everywhere Winston goes, even his own home, the Party watches him through numerous telescreens that constantly dispense propaganda in favor of Oceania’s triumphs over rival countries. Everywhere Winston looks, he sees the looming face of the Party’s seemingly omniscient leader, a figure known only as Big Brother. The Party controls everything within Oceania, even the people’s fragile history and language. In the current time period that the novel takes place in, the Party is forcing the implementation of a newly invented language known as Newspeak, which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating all words related to it. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is deemed illegal by the state. Such thoughtcrime is, in fact, the worst of all crimes within the law of the Party.
In 1984, Orwell portrays the ideal totalitarian society, which is the most radical depiction imaginable of a modern-day government that holds absolute power. The title of the novel was meant to show its readers in 1949 that the story represented a grim possibility for the near future: if totalitarianism was not confronted or challenged, some variation of the world as described in the novel could become a terrifying reality in only thirty-five years. Orwell portrays a tyrannical state where the government monitors and controls every facet of human existence to the extent that even having a disloyal thought is against the law. As the novel progresses, the apprehensively rebellious Winston Smith sets out to challenge the limits of the Party’s all-seeing power, only to discover that its ability to control and influence the population subverts even his most paranoid conceptions of their reach.
The Party barrages their citizens with psychological stimuli designed to overwhelm and destabilize the mind’s capacity for independent thought. The giant telescreen in every citizen’s room blasts a constant stream of propaganda designed to alter the failures and shortcomings of the party to make them all appear to be triumphant successes. The telescreens also monitor the behavior of their citizens. Everywhere they go, the population is constantly reminded through the omnipresent signs reading “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” that the authorities are scrutinizing and observing their actions and beliefs. The Party undermines typical family structures by influencing children into joining an organization called the Junior Spies, which brainwashes and encourages them to spy on their own parents and report any instance of disloyalty to the Party. The Party also channels the restrained and unassuming emotions of their citizens into intense and savage displays of hatred against the Party’s political enemies, displaying animalistic primal rage that the Party is able to exploit among the people in order to demonize the Party’s political opponents. Many of these hated enemies have been invented by the Party themselves solely for this purpose.
‘1984” is a defiant and bleak political statement to its readers. It contains no prophetic declaration, but a clandestine warning to governments all over the world. Orwell did not believe that 35 years after the publication of his book, the world would be ruled by the omnipresent figurehead of Big Brother, but he often proclaimed that 1984 could happen if people did not become self-aware of the assaults on their personal freedoms and did not defend their most precious right, the right to have unbridled thoughts and opinions within society.
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