Before discussing the themes of this paper and in order to provide the proper context for our analysis of George Orwells chilling novel 1984, it is necessary first of all to provide a brief overview of the plot. The story is set in a despairing city and a frightening nation where the food is bad, the alcohol is awful, and sex is suppressed, but no one dares to even think about it because the Thought Police are everywhere, and Big Brother is always watching. The protagonist, Winston, is a man in lethal danger because his memory still functions.
He is aware that the Partys official image of the world is a complete fiction, and knows full well that the Party controls the people of Oceania by lying constantly to them and limiting their imaginations through a process of bewilderment and brutalization that alienates individuals from one another and deprives them of every worthwhile human pursuit from reasoned inquiry to romantic love. (Gardner 76) Falling into a forbidden love affair, Winston finds the courage to join a secret revolutionary organization called The Brotherhood, which is intent upon the destruction of the Party.
Together with his beloved Julia, he risks his life in a deadly confrontation against the powers that be, who in reality are pursuing power for the sake of power and nothing else. (Schellenberg) Winstons struggle occurs against the backdrop of Oceanias eternal war against one or the other of its rival superpowers Eurasia and Eastasia. At any moment, depending upon current alignments, all existing records show either that Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia and allied with Eastasia, or that it has always been at war with Eastasia and allied with Eurasia. (Meyers 187)
Winston Smith is one of the select few in Oceania who knows this, because his work at the Ministry of Truth involves the constant correction of such records. These frequent political corrections are necessary because the Party understands that he who controls the past controls the future, and that he who controls the present controls the past. (Weksberg) In practical terms, the necessity in the Partys eyes for correcting the past is demonstrated by a situation in which Big Brother had estimated that the production of shoes would be one-hundred million in the next year, and it turned out to be only twenty million.
In order to preserve the image of infallibility of Big Brother, the Ministry of Truth would change the original prediction to say that Big Brother estimated the production of shoes to be fifteen million. This would allow The Party to say that it made more shoes than it had previously thought it would, overfilling the quota. This of course is incorrect, there were probably none produced at all. However after the Ministry of Truth has finished changing the past, there is no way for anyone in Oceania to ever prove that the statement of one-hundred million shoes had ever been made.
So real history is suppressed and peoples memories of the past are manipulated, for the Party knows that if it fails to define the past, it cant control the future, and if it isnt perceived by the people as able to control the future, they will start to wonder what good the Party is to them, and if they wonder what good the Party is to them, the Partys control of the present is threatened. In order to correctly interpret the Partys strategy it must be understood that at the apex of the pyramid of power in Oceania is Big Brother. Big Brother is infallible and all-powerful.
Every success, every achievement, every victory, every scientific discovery, all knowledge, all wisdom, all happiness, all virtue, are held to issue directly from his leadership and inspiration. (Orwell) The problem for the Party of course is that Big Brother is not infallible and all-powerful. If Big Brother were invincible and all-knowing Oceania would have conquered Eurasia and Eastasia long ago. Big Brother makes mistakes all the time. That is why history must be constantly corrected and peoples memories suppressed, for if they truly remembered the past they would get rid of Big Brother in short order.
Another main theme in Orwells 1984 was that if language can be controlled, thought can be controlled. This is vital for totalitarian governments, for controlling thought allows the authorities to control public attitudes and inhibit rebellion. In other words, the world-view of the Party was expressed in language most people in Oceania couldnt readily grasp. As George Orwell put it in the novel, the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it.
They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. (Orwell) This was an instinctive defense mechanism, for by lack of understanding they remained sane. They simply swallowed everything, and what they swallowed did them no harm, because it left no residue behind, just as a grain of corn will pass undigested through the body of a bird.
The Party also was determined to stifle individualism and imagination. Imagination was dangerous to the monopoly of power the Party held, for one of the main props the Party relied upon was its control of peoples thoughts. They pursued this control through constant propaganda and their control of language, but this approach isnt as effective against people with well-developed imaginations, for they can too easily conceive of alternatives to Big Brother.
So the propaganda was relentless. Every day and every night the telescreens of Oceania broadcast statistics proving that people today had more food, more clothes, better houses, better recreations, that they lived longer, worked shorter hours, were bigger, healthier, stronger, happier, more intelligent, better educated, than the people of fifty years ago. (Orwell) Double-think was also an essential element of Oceania politics. Double-think involved knowing and not knowing.
To practice double-think was to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, and to hold simultaneously two opinions which canceled out, while knowing them to be contradictory and still believing in both of them. In other words, double-think used logic against logic, it repudiated morality while laying claim to it, and believed that democracy was impossible, yet that the Party was the guardian of democracy. To use double-think was to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again.
Above all, in double-think, to apply the same process to the process itself was the ultimate subtlety, for it required one to consciously induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis one had just performed. Even to understand the word doublethink involved the use of doublethink. In conclusion, George Orwells novel 1984 was first published in 1949 as a warning about the menaces of totalitarianism. The novel is set in an imaginary future world that is dominated by three perpetually warring totalitarian police states, Oceania, Eastasia, and Eurasia.
The books hero, Winston Smith, is a minor party functionary in London, the largest population center in Airstrip One, a part of Oceania. His longing for truth and decency leads him to secretly rebel against the government. Smith has a love affair with a like-minded woman, but they are both arrested by the Thought Police. The ensuing imprisonment, torture, and reeducation of Smith are intended not merely to break him physically or make him submit but to root out his independent mental existence and his spiritual dignity.