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Analysis of George Orwell's 1984
Since the rise of Sumer in the 4th millennium BC, numerous civilizations have developed and evolved throughout the world with various types of cultures, laws and governments. Some of the most influential nations in history including Russia, China and the UK have the potential to reach superpower status, allowing them to dominate various industries that would send those in power to a position of overwhelming prosperity. Because history is written by the victors, the means by which powerful countries have or will reach such accomplishments remains hidden from the public eye. This is especially evident in dictatorships, where rulers maintain absolute power over the people of their states, censor unflattering political news and manipulate the beliefs of the people in order to suppress any opposition that challenges their authority. George Orwell’s novel 1984 serves as a terrifyingly realistic example of this potential in totalitarian and authoritarian governments, by exaggerating a fictional fascist nation into a dystopian setting reminiscent of real world societies. His story investigates the physical and mental limitations of those who conform to such leaders. Big Brother employs first and second world technology to maximize governmental supervision over all aspects of the masses private and social lives. Government surveillance was utilized as a tool for operating this conformed society and its manipulation of accepted beliefs is a theme used in 1984 to warn people of the capabilities that actual dictatorships can utilize to threaten freedoms of the real world.
The theme of 1984 is reflected by the people’s lack of freedom and privacy and from political organizations. From the early exposition of his story, Orwell alludes to the plaguy telescreens managed by Big Brother to spy on the people, explaining:
There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live- did live, from habit that became instinct- in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every moment scrutinized. (Orwell 3)
The Thought Police is an organization that pressures human thought under the domain of dictatorship. It is the fist that Big Brother clenches individuality with so tightly that it crumbles. There are many methods of surveillance introduced early on which amplify the sense of anxiety that characterizes the mood of the story, which Orwell takes advantage of to make Winston’s motive for defying Big Brother even more understandable. The telescreens are extensions of the government, so no matter where a person eats or sleeps, Big Brother watches them. Psychological manipulation of large groups, with an emphasis on negative emotions like anxiety, is an effective way to control people’s beliefs. In a 2017 study of social influences, a group of scientists conducting the research explained:
In the highly complex human social environment, our opinions and behaviors can be affected by social information. In current study, we used a modified dictator game to investigate the effect of social influence on making an equitable decision. We found that the choices of participants in present task was influenced by the choices of peers. However, participants' decisions were influenced by equitable rather than inequitable group choices (…) The neural responses in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, rostral cingulate zone, and insula predicted subsequent conforming behavior in individuals (...) This suggests that a disadvantageous inequity influence may decrease the functional connectivity among brain regions that are related to reward processes. Thus, the neural mechanisms underlying social influence in an equitable decision may be similar to those implicated in social norms and reward processing” (Wei, Zihao, Zheng 1).
Each participant in the experiment would make a decision based on information they knew about their group, forming a type of idealism that oppressed individual ideas and skewed reactions in favor of the mentality of the whole group. In addition, participants who made decisions that aligned with the values of the group were most content with their choices. They lost consideration of their personal values, implying that social interference affects one’s ability to continuously make independent decisions. Negative emotions are also key factors in the study. Results revealed that participants found it comfortable to side with their peers in unpleasant situations, and compliance strengthened when fear and disappointment were applied to those situations. Participants took advantage of the satisfaction of conformity to cope with distress. These findings can be easily compared to the ambitions of the government in 1984 because the sense of anxiety, established through a lack of security, forces the people of Airstrip One to unite under a single collective value under one powerful leader. Dictators strip their people of basic human needs and desires so that they will accept offers from the state in desperation, even if those offers actually grant inadequate amounts of assistance.
Not only are the needs of the people not being met, but their comprehension of reality has been tainted due to information deprivation. The Proles, especially, whose collective grasp of history is incapable of answering any of Winston’s questions, cannot even begin to fathom Big Brother’s origins, nor life before his takeover. Orwell’s introduction of elderly party members makes clear their absence of genuine historical knowledge. As described by the author:
“In effect it was unanswerable even now, since the few scattered survivors from the
ancient world were incapable of comparing one age with another (...) They were like the
ant, which can see small objects but not large ones. And when memory failed and written
records were falsified- when that happened, the claim of the Party to have improved the
conditions of human life had got to be accepted, because there did not exist, and never
again could exist, any standard which it could be tested” (Orwell 93).
It is as pitiful to watch a person live in ignorance as it is to watch them die in loneliness. The only bridge between the past and present that Winston can find has been demolished by the Party’s various forms of censorship. However, this is not only a demonstration of news filtration, but a reflection of real political actions made by those with high military status and influence in actual history. As explained in a 2006 article by an educated historian and political researcher:
“there has been a considerable increase in military historical publications where plenty of military historical events are falsified and distorted and, according to the authors of these publications, ‘only the most essential’ of those are actually considered (...) Therefore, the following conclusion could be made here. We believe that both analysis and reflection of the historical process are of subjective character, and this tends to reduce the trust to the historical science in general. Complexity, versatility and ambiguity of real social events tend to essentially facilitate their distortion” (Ageev 1).
Studies in military information distortion reveal that it is not rare to come across misrepresented news regarding powerful and noble figures. This is especially true when reporters of history are biased against those who oppose their idols. Because most historical accounts are generated by those in favor of great political, economic and military elites, documents possess narrow perspectives that do not consider all of the deeds and misdeeds of each side of a story. Present-day influencers are now charged with the task of correcting falsified news, either by studying stories of the past or by inventing stories that subtly expose historical liars with different literary and artistic mediums.
The theme of 1984 is comparable to another dystopian work in which the characters have lived the majority of their lives under the supervision of political entities. Kaiu Shirai’s The Promised Neverland, is a Japanese animated series and adaptation of the comic book thriller of the same name. In Shirai’s story, the young protagonists live in a peaceful, remote orphanage with thirty siblings and a caretaker who they call “Mother”. The childrens’ lives are nothing but blissful until the main characters discover that their home is actually a human farm in which children are raised as livestock and, rather than adopted, sold off to be slaughtered and eaten by demon-like creatures. Upon learning that they live in a world where human children are the equivalent of free range cattle, Emma, the protagonist, ponders “The delicious feed, the white clothes where dirt can easily stand out, the well-regulated life… this is all to maintain our quality as merchandise. The only thing we can do is to wait as we are shipped out indiscriminately. Mom… is an enemy” (“131045” 3:22) . With every episode the children who know the secret of Grace Field House uncover another mode of surveillance set by Mother and the demon aristocracy to prevent them from successfully escaping. These include tracking devices implanted in the children, a giant concrete wall that surrounds the entire house, a cliff on the other side of that wall, an assistant caretaker who keeps her eye on the orphans at all times, and a spy among the children who relays information to the plantation’s headquarters. Unlike 1984, the protagonists of The Promised Neverland spent most of their childhoods in a paradise, albeit a false one. However, this does not undermine the magnitude of oppression shared by the characters of both stories. Similarly to Orwell’s novel, the characters in The Promised Neverland devote themselves to changing the world’s system of political and economic practices, all while being monitored by a seemingly countless number of devices and political pawns. Every new piece of information only makes the protagonists’ situations seem all the more hopeless. They want to decide for themselves what freedom is without a larger entity telling them how to behave. It is also worth noting that both stories included a hidden spy in the main group that captured enough trust from the heroes to manipulate their plans from the inside. O’Brien from Orwell’s story gained Winston and Julia’s full support from the early on, met with them in his home, and temporarily redirected his loyalty from Big Brother to them. He revealed his true colors later on, with Orwell explaining:
“The boots were approaching again. The door opened. O’Brien came in. Winston started to
his feet. The shock of the sight had driven all caution out of him. For the first time in many
years he forgot the presence of the telescreen.
‘They’ve got you too!’ he cried.
‘They got me a long time ago,’ said O’Brien with a mild, almost regretful irony. He stepped aside. From behind him there emerged a broad-chested guard with a long black truncheon in his hand.
‘You knew this, Winston,’ said O’Brien. ‘Don’t deceive yourself. You did know it- you
have always known it’” (238-239).
Traitors do not expose the plans of those they cooperated with without any reason. O’Brien used betrayal as a means of keeping his life secure under the government’s watchful eye. Whether or not he finds satisfaction in pleasing Big Brother is irrelevant; his actions are justified by the simple fact that slavery is the only way to maintain freedom. This lifestyle is lamentable yet not completely uncommon in societies ruled by authoritarian dictators.
Conclusively, George Orwell’s 1984 novel is deserving of praise for its uncannily accurate representation of life under the influence of harsh rule and high surveillance. Due to the telescreens and spies, anxiety is enhanced to the point that it becomes a tool for controlling every waking day of the characters’ lives. Similar themes are not exclusive to Orwell’s story, they are also conveyed in the works of creators around the globe because of their need for international attention. This society was developed to explore a side of the real world that many people tend to ignore; to demolish the boundary between ignorance and knowledge and to warn the world of one remnant of the past that humanity is doomed to resurrect.
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