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1984 Analysis

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1984: a literary analysis

It is not often we hear of a country that manages to brainwash most of its population, but North Korea is the latest example. Luckily they are not a large country, unlike Oceania, the totalitarian super state in George Orwell’s dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-four” where all free speech and individual thoughts are banned. With its public propaganda and all-round surveillance by so called Telescreens, the political party monitors and restricts what the people in Oceania can think about, and punishes anyone who might have thoughts that could harm their love towards the great leader and the Party. An analysis of the Party’s methods for more control combined with its propaganda shows not its strengths, but instead reveals its weaknesses and fear against a rebellion.

In the book, set in 1984, control is the main objective and is achieved via false, rewritten history and propaganda. By establishing a false background where all citizens are believed to have been saved from slavery by Big Brother, the main antagonist, the people of Oceania worships their leader and thanks him every day. In reality, one does not know if Big Brother even exists or if he is just a name created to personify the political party ruling in Oceania. The country has a ministry, named the Ministry of Truth, for altering the history books so that they align with the Party’s decisions on the “proper truth” and so that history is never questioned. The Party’s slogan at the ministry reads: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past” (p. 37, 2008 edition).

It is at the Ministry of Truth that Winston Smith, the main protagonist, works. While most employees do their work without asking questions, Winston is curious about the past and starts hunting for answers from the proles, who are considered to be the lowest class of citizens. At his job he discovers a woman, whose facade reveals nothing more than that of an ordinary Party worker. When handed a note by her with party-hostile words that reads “I love you”, he finds that she too shares the same interests as he does and they fall in love. In Oceania, love towards anyone but Big Brother is considered a crime, and they both eventually get caught. This is the climax of the story, as brainwashing and torture follows for the couple, and the tone of the plot becomes sad and gloomy. When what seems to be a plot where small ideas of one man living in a controlled society could become big, it instead defeats Winston halfway through and describes the painful torture and conversion that kills everything that he spends the first half building up, leaving him to only loving Big Brother.

While the reader gets to follow the first-person narrator it may be hard to see, but looking at it from a bigger perspective than Winston’s own thoughts, the Party’s actions demonstrates how it fears anyone with rebellious thoughts. If the rebels and lawbreakers were simply killed, they would be martyrs and further strengthen the rebellion. Instead the rebels are converted to loving Big Brother and to hate the rebellion instead. The protagonist describes this while being tortured: “To die hating them, that was freedom” (p. 294).

Another rather clear example of its fear is the introduction of a new language, newspeak, which is being enforced by the Party. The limited grammar and structure effectively limits the possibility of people expressing themselves, which makes the coordination of a rebellion harder to accomplish. With the Party controlling the language, words can be removed from existence, so that even the concept of a rebellion simply would not exist. Combined with the constant rewriting of history and books, the people will eventually have no idea that another language other than newspeak had ever existed. The effect of this is visible among the proles, whom the protagonist evaluates: “Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious” (p. 74).

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