Oceania, the setting for 1984, is a state under the cruel rule of the dictatorship of “the party” and its leader, Big Brother. The intricate system employed by “the party” to ensure its grip on the control of the Oceanic population is one which involves manipulation, deception and the use of mechanisms of oppression. One of the major mechanisms of oppression used by the Oceanic regime is psychological manipulation and torture. The bombardment of psychological stimuli by the party is aimed at overwhelming the individual’s freedom of independent thought. The telescreens, square metal screens, are found throughout the city of Airstrip One including the houses of party members, and are utilised by the party not only to constantly monitor the behaviour of its citizens but also to blast streams of propaganda to disguise the failures and shortcomings of the party as apparent triumphs. The Party exploits the family structure by inducting children into the junior Spies, and indoctrinating them with Party doctrine. These children are then encouraged to spy on their parents and report any atypical behaviour to the Party. The psychological manipulation of the Party is further extended to its suppression of the sexual desires of the individual. Sex is treated as a mere instrument for procreation while eroticism, passion and love are all eradicated. The junior Anti-Sex league is an organization for young people advocating for complete celibacy for both sexes. They promote artificial insemination and children growing up in institutions. This plays into the hands of the party in that it further deteriorates the family structure and the sexuality of the people. The Party then channels its citizens’ anger and any pent-up emotions into an intense and fierce display of hatred for the Party’s enemies. Hate week, a week-long festival involving banners, posters, speeches, demonstrations and films, is aimed at exhausting all excess emotions and frustration, which could have possibly otherwise been used against the Party.
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One of the major themes of the novel and another important aspect of oppression by the Party is that of physical control. The Party controls the bodies of its subjects through constant surveillance. Any sign of disloyalty or unorthodoxy. The smallest act of deviation, such as a facial expression, could lead to arrest. One’s nervous system becomes one’s greatest enemy as can be seen with Winston’s relentless paranoia. Party members have to work long, gruelling hours as well as undergo the morning exercises known as the Physical Jerks, in order to be kept in a continual state of exhaustion by the Party. Furthermore, party members are expected to go to community centres after work for communal games, drinking and lectures. The Party ensures that it occupies the majority of the time and energy of its members and through this it is able to largely prevent any sort of resistance to its existence. For those who do manage to defy the system, a precise and brutal system of “re-education” through physical and emotional torture is used to condition their minds to the point where the Party is able to control their reality. The protagonist of the novel, Winston, is subjected to this form of intense treatment and even his resolute idea of reality is twisted as the Party is able to make him believe that “2+2=5”.
The Party further controls the society by managing and rewriting the content of all forms of media as well as its history. Individuals are not permitted to keep records of the past and thus the Party is able to manipulate history for its own ends. Winston works in the records department of the Ministry of Truth and his job of altering historical documents gives the reader an insight into the manner in which the Party controls all information and history of Oceania. The photograph of “Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford” and the continuous shifting of war and peace with Eastasia and Eurasia are prime examples of the deception of the Party with regards to past events. The Party successfully creates enough doubt and uncertainty in the minds of its members their memories can be altered according to what the Party wishes. Through the control of the present, the Party is able to manipulate the past and in turn it justifies its control of the present with the accomplishments of its past.
As a result of George Orwell’s passion for language and communication, both are an integral part of the novel. (He despised those who used language to falsify reality and conceal truth.) In 1984, Orwell expresses this frustration through the Party’s construction of their own language, known as “newspeak”. This new language was intended to supersede the existing “oldspeak” or English to further control the minds of its subjects. By altering the structure of language and its vocabulary, the Party limited the ideas that the minds of individuals were capable of formulating. Ultimately, through a process of refining and perfecting “newspeak”, the Party would be able to prevent any sort of dissident or rebellious thought from being born. This would ensure absolute power for the party because no one would be able to conceptualise anything that would not fall under party doctrine.
Symbols in 1984 play a central role in establishing the ever present mechanisms of oppression in Oceanic society as well as the possibilities of freedom and liberation. Scattered throughout Airstrip One is the image of Big Brother, representing the party and everything it stands for. “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” symbolises the constant scrutiny by the Party of its members. (Big Brother is the face of the Party symbolizing it in its public manifestation) Paradoxically he is a symbol of protection for the brainwashed majority but at the same time a threat as one cannot escape his gaze. Big Brother further symbolises the elusiveness of the highest ranks of the party as there is no clear information about the rulers of Oceania. A figment of Winston’s dreams, “the place where there is no darkness”, is the imagined meeting place of Winston with O’Brien. Winston’s dream comes true as he does meet O’Brien in a place where there is no darkness but it is in a cell not quite as Winston had imagined or hoped for. “The place where there is no darkness” represents Winston’s nonchalant approach to the future, believing that he is doomed regardless of his actions, he trusts O’Brien amidst his doubts that O’Brien might be a part of the “Thought Police”. In contrast to these symbols which signify the evils of Oceanic society, three important symbols which represent the struggle for freedom are the glass paperweight, St Clements’s Church and the red-armed prole woman. The glass paperweight which Winston buys in an antique store symbolizes his attempt to reconnect with the past. His struggle to retain his own memories and historical view of the world is one of Winston’s outlets of rebellion against the Party’s objective of weakening people’s memories, flooding their minds with propaganda and ultimately instilling their own version of the past. Similarly the picture of St Clement’s Church is another symbol of the past as well as the song which Winston pieces together which ironically end with the words “Here comes the chopper to chop off your head.” Symbolically the telescreen which leads the Thought Police to arrest Winston is hidden behind the old picture signifying the Party’s corruption of the past and at the same time the paperweight shatters on the floor when the Thought Police arrest Winston. The last symbol of the struggle for freedom is the singing of the red-armed prole woman which Winston and Julia hear from their rented room above Mr Charrington’s antique store. Her continued singing in spite of her circumstances strengthens Winston’s belief that hope for a better and bright future lies within the ranks of the proles.
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The story of Winston Smith, a man living in the dystopian society of Oceania, is a protest of the author himself against totalitarian regimes and the freedoms which they deny their citizens in order to retain power. By painting a very grim picture of a London struck by urban decay and deterioration combined with the extreme forms of control in the society, George Orwell voices his disapproval of the (potential abuse of power and public manipulation by corrupt governments). Although a glimmer of hope is found in the form of the novel’s tragic hero, Winston, it is short-lived with his untimely demise. 1984 is a dystopian, pessimistic novel detailing the bleak and inhospitable life in Oceanic society.
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