The All-Mighty Big Brother
An exploration of the Party’s mechanisms of ensuring absolute power in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four
Maximilien Robespierre said, “the secret of tyranny is keeping them ignorant.” A tyrannical state blinds their constituents with fake truths and preserve a strict system to limit their consciousness and individuality in society. George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, projects his horrifying visions on the future by depicting the dangers of an autocratic regime. The protagonist, Winston Smith hates the Party and its leader Big Brother who governs Oceania. Winston is determined to rebel and after trying to join the resistance movement known as the Brotherhood, he is captured and brainwashed into believing the Party’s ideology. The aim of the essay is to explore the mechanisms the Party exerts to keep its dictatorial supremacy intact. Through analyzing their techniques, it is clear that the Party holds absolute power by ensuring that anyone who defies them is destined to fail.
Through advanced surveillance, the citizens of Oceania are carefully observed, restricting their ability to overthrow the governing force. The Party’s use of telescreens city-wide enables them to monitor their citizens’ behaviour impeccably. The telescreens serve as an effective surveillance network that acts to detect their actions as “there was no way of shutting it off” (Orwell 5). Their rigid control and use of telescreens instill fear as any “dangerous thoughts.. could give one way.. and in any case, to wear an improper expression” can be seen as a sign of rebellion (Orwell 65). The citizens lack freedom and privacy in Oceania as it is impossible to avoid the existence of the telescreen. Orwell’s envisioned totalitarian state drew parallels to Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon; which is a tool designed to keep a number of people under close inspection. The telescreens act as “the perfect use of power because the Party does not need additional discipline, surveillance exerts control because people limit themselves” (Bentham and Big Brother: The Power of Surveillance in 1984). The Party effectively impedes one from rebelling as they are reminded that everything they do or say is watched. There was “no way of knowing whether you were being watched” and therefore, citizens with hopes of overruling the Party can be easily captured for their treacherous acts or ideas (Orwell 4). With their masterful surveillance, the Party makes it simply impossible for one to rebel without failing.
Surveillance is seen effectively in Oceania by employing children spies to observe their parent’s disloyal actions. This ensures that anyone who tries to rebel will fail as a result of the Party indoctrinating children in their society. At a young age, children are brainwashed and taught to prioritize the Party over their family members. The Party has changed the dynamics among families by “organizing Spies that would systematically turn into ungovernable little savages” (Orwell 24). The Party persistently intensifies their power by “producing children that have no tendency whatever to rebel against the discipline of the Party” (Orwell 24). The Party instills fear by creating a society “for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children.” (Orwell 139). The Party has programmed children to observe their parents and confess to the Party if they were acting treacherously.
The thought police are a force who maintain strict control in Oceania by arresting citizens who harbour contrasting beliefs. Their job is to expose opponents of the Party, upholding the Party’s regime (George Orwell 1984: Dystopian Science Fiction or Grim Reality). The thought police “were bound to catch anyone”, limiting the population’s ability to act out of conduct. (Orwell 27). Bentham’s devised method highlighted how an “authority’s gaze exerts discipline” (Bentham and Big Brother: The Power of Supervision in 1984). The citizens are imprisoned as their “lives from birth to death are under the eye of the Thought Police” (Orwell 219). The population is consistently scrutinized, which makes it difficult to challenge the authority. Those who partake in thoughtcrime; the act of doubting or thinking against the party, will always be caught. Those with rebellious thoughts threaten the Party’s power and can never remain hidden from the Party’s surveillance.
In Oceania, the Party has refined the existing language and suppressed sexual relations to ensure absolute power. Natural impulses are repressed as a mechanism to deter any hostile feelings towards the party. However, many reject Party’s prohibition of sexual affairs by rebelling. The Party seeks to quell all desires to prevent anyone from forming thoughts that differ from them. The Party represses any desires to such extents that Winston “hated Julia because he wanted to go to bed with her” (Orwell 13). The Party convinced their citizens that “mere impulses, mere feelings, were of no account, while at the same time rob them of all power over the material” (Orwell 165). Despite their persuasions, many cannot repress their inclinations. Therefore, the Party can impede their mutinous actions. Winston and Julia’s love affair “was a blow struck against the party.. a political act” that posed to act against the Party (Orwell 133). Although Winston achieved his human inclination and with effort hid “a heretical mind beneath an appearance of conformity”, their love affair was short-lived (Orwell 293). Winston is eventually caught by the thought police as his actions threaten the world order. Thus, the Party’s repression of human desires provokes one to rebel and fail.
The way citizens think and communicate is limited as the Party constantly narrows the range of thought and language available. This has been designed to prevent anyone from conceptualizing on rebellion, which can threaten the Party’s influence in Oceania. The Party has developed Newspeak with the purpose to “provide a medium of expression for the world-view … and also to make all other modes of thought impossible” (Orwell 312). “Orwell was well aware of the political power language possesses” and therefore “developed the ideal archetype of a political language” (62, George Orwell 1984: Dystopian Science Fiction or Grim Reality). By simplifying the language in Oceania, the Party has deceived their citizens into thinking less critically about their power. Newspeak has become a “political tactic” to “misguide their citizens” (65, George Orwell 1984: Dystopian Science Fiction or Grim Reality). Thus, the manipulation of thought and language has prohibited one from defying the Party’s power successfully.
The Party manipulates their citizens into believing that there is a possibility of successfully rebelling, but in reality, are caught and transformed into loving Big Brother citizens. Oceania is heavily constructed by elaborately lying to its citizens to achieve limitless power. The Party is aware of their corruption and provide the opportunity for rebellion through disguising their intended scheme. Emmanuel Goldstein is targeted as the internal enemy during the Two Minutes of Hate. While the Party succeeds in “redirecting their citizens attention and compelling support”, Emmanuel Goldstein also serves to guide rebellious citizens to join the Brotherhood (51, George Orwell 1984: Dystopian Science Fiction or Grim Reality). The Party creates an avenue for citizens to revolt by exposing the Brotherhood movement, whose sole purpose is to destroy the regime. O’Brien lies to Winston by telling him that Emmanuel Goldstein “is alive..with a book that reveals the strategy by which they shall destroy the Party” (Orwell 179;182). The Party members feed rebellious thoughts and ideas to their populace, trapping them with a ploy to ruin them. Despite knowing about Winston’s love affair, they allow him to maintain his relationship with Julia while harboring a deep hatred for the Party. Risannen concludes that “Winston’s rebellion has been instilled in him, through years of conditioning by the Party” (ADD). Party members have monitored Winston for years, and use their knowledge of his misconduct to effectively crush his hopes in succeeding. Thus, the rebellious pathway that is made available, solidifies the Party’s limitless power over Oceania.
Emmanuel Goldstein’s book illustrates the hope party members give to driven rebels by outlining the Party’s mechanisms to maintain their power. The Party members are aware of their horrifying power and write the book to give the hope people are desperate for. Emilie Brax comments that the Party “disempowers the people of Oceania, through the use of rhetoric” (6). Rhetoric is a technique the Party uses effectively to execute their power by persuading their citizens to commit thought crime. Goldstein’s book reveals that “all the beliefs, habits, tastes, emotions, mental attitudes.. are really designed to sustain the mystique of the Party and prevent the true nature of present-day society from being perceived” (Orwell 219). The fabrication of Emmanuel Goldstein is an effective tool to amplify their hope for insurrection
The Party’s designed mechanisms allow them to successfully brainwash their citizens after failure to rebel. The Party tortures their citizens with electric shock therapy to “tear human minds to pieces and put them back together again in new shapes” (Orwell 234). The physical torture inflicted serves “the same function as accommodative persuasion” (Brax, 13). The Party eliminates their individuality and humanity by breaking Winston into submission in order to embrace the Party’s system. The Party exhibits their power when Winston is faced with his worst nightmare and yells “do it to Julia!” (Orwell 300). Orwell showcases the Party’s dehumanization of their citizens by forcing them to betray their loved ones. The re-educating process O’Brien instates changes Winston forever by brainwashing him into loving the person he hated most, Big Brother. Winston “won the victory over himself” by confessing and accepting the Party’s ideological beliefs (311). The Party’s “single purpose for deferral or inevitable punishment is to deconstruct a heretic and transform into a believer” (George Orwell 1984: Dystopian Science Fiction or Grim Reality). The Party accomplished their primary objective, by transforming Winston.
The film Harrison Bergeron show similar aspects to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four as the protagonist, Harrison seeks to overthrow the secret society. In the film, the governors attempt to censor society by forcing citizens to wear headsets that decrease their intelligence. Harrison Bergeron is a highlight intelligent boy who is recruited into a secret elite that runs the government. When having a love affair with Philippa, and impregnating her she runs away. Harrison later learns that her brain was altered and can no longer be a member of the secret society. To combat this, Harrison is driven to rebel by controlling the TV network and encouraging viewers to take their headsets off and watch subversive films rather than their accustomed mind-numbing ones. Consequently, the secret society catches him and he must reveal his wrongdoings. In a TV interview, he shoots himself to show viewers he does not want to abide to their expectations and beliefs.
Both sources show the power the government has by eliminating all acts of rebellion. Love affairs were strictly prohibited in both the film and book and both protagonists have one. Both couples are punished and ruined. Both incorporate technological methods of establishing their power as a way to dictate their citizens. The telescreens are used to imprison the citizens of Oceania while the headsets are used as a mind-controlling machinery. Winston and Harrison both are driven to rebel and are later caught for their actions. Both regimes have ultimate power and anyone who rebels is designed to fail.
Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four depicts the dangers a totalitarian regime has in society by highlighting their techniques to achieve limitless power. The Party psychologically manipulates their inhabitants by carefully monitoring them through advanced surveillance. The Party employ thought police to spy and capture those who are acting unfaithfully and therefore, prevent anyone from successfully rebelling. Winston was desperate to overthrow the Party and through their constructed lies and guided rebellion, he was given a false hope. The Party brainwashed him, ruining his persona. Thus, Party members are aware of their corruption and uphold their power by designing tactics to provoke and identify members seeking to rebel.