“But always – do not forget this, Winston – always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.”
George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ is a dystopian novel with the purpose of warning the reader about the dangers of a totalitarian government. Orwell uses “Big Brother” within the novel to control the population through a few aspects which I am to explore in this essay, including; deceptive war propaganda, and manipulation of the population due to a lack of individuality and knowledge. ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ portrays the dangers of letting power slip into hands of a corrupt government.
In Orwell’s 1984 the party uses propaganda to control the population. Orwell uses the symbol of Big Brother as the public’s main propaganda, to turn them against Goldstein. Whilst Orwell does make it unclear whether Goldstein actually exists, in the novel Goldstein is portrayed as the main director of the enemy to Oceania. By having a general public enemy, the party is able to control the public, as they are forced to hate him through the daily ‘Two Minutes of Hate’. Regardless if they want to participate or not, by the end of the two minutes the collective outpouring of hatred consumes them, forcing them to give in. “The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear … like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.” Through doing this, the party is able to distract the general public from the party’s actual intentions as they become so consumed in the hate and aggravated towards Goldstein. They are unable to see through the propaganda, thus making them easier to control.
“War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength”
This slogan is inscribed in bold letters on the ‘Ministry of Truth’ pyramid. “War is Peace”. is a statement of paradox. By keeping the public believing the state is at constant war, the party is able to suppress the public. With television screens in each individual’s room, the public are always notified about the good and bad news regarding the war. War brings patriotism and loyalty to one’s country. Therefore, the party is able to manipulate the population as they become distracted in the false belief of a war. “Freedom is slavery”. According to the party, the man who is independent will fail. Thus, this manipulation forces the public to rely on and blindly follow the party as they are told they will fail without. “Ignorance is Strength”. The public’s inability to recognise the party’s true intentions keeps the party in full power and control. The public are slaves to the party, and are forced to believe what Big Brother says is true. They are told what to believe and what to think. Winston says, “In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it.” It is a manipulation scheme, the characters are slaves of the media, eg. propaganda and war propaganda.
“War is Peace” is a paradoxical phrase. The party implies that the state is constantly at war in order to maintain peace for Oceania. The party forces the people to believe that constant war is the only way to maintain peace. War brings patriotism, devotion and loyalty to one’s country. To many this phrase may have little significance, however it is very relevant in today’s world. We see the use of the phrase in our lives today. For example, we look at New Zealand and it’s involvement in the Syrian war crisis. We are engaged in a preemptive war against ISIS. Effectively, we are fighting war with war. Thus, we can relate the phrase “War is Peace” to our everyday lives, as we are proclaimed to be a country at peace yet we have soldiers fighting war in Syria. Without this war, we are told there is no peace or security. Our government is able to control the public through the sacrifices made by those in war. The same way that the party does. The party has created this contradictory phrase to control and manipulate the public.
“Freedom is Slavery” because with freedom and independence the party believes man will fail. Therefore by enslaving man, the party believes that together they will succeed. This phrase is also a paradox. People need freedom to know what freedom is. Freedom is the power or right to act, speak or think as one wants. If you are a slave, you do not have an identity, or the right to act or speak, you are given an identity. With total freedom, the party says man will become a salve to his own senses and weaknesses. Therefore, the party gives the public the impression that they are given what they need and their life is better than before. Winston says, “Not a word of it could ever be proved or disproved. The Party claimed, for example, that today 40 per cent of adult proles were literate: before the Revolution, it was said, the number had only been 15 per cent. The Party claimed that the infant mortality rate was now only 160 per thousand, whereas before the Revolution it had been 300 – and so it went on. It was like a single equation with two unknowns. It might very well be that literally every word in the history books, even the things that one accepted without question, was pure fantasy”. The people are unable to remember what life was like before, as the party has erased and rewritten history, therefore this makes sense and seems like a good idea.
“Ignorance is Strength”. The party can reign and have full control, due to the ignorance of the people. If they were aware of the situation, they would have understood Big Brothers true intentions, and would therefore make Big Brother nonexistent. Thus, the strength of the part relies on the ignorance of the people. Winston adds, “There was no knowing how much of this legend was true and how much invented. Winston could not even remember at what date the Party itself had come into existence”. This can be applied to today’s world as people are not expected to question the government and their objectives. For example; the education system, authorities, and the media. The contradiction in this quote can be seen in today’s world, the more knowledge you gave the more powerful you are. Thus, the government decides what to educate youth on. As we become ignorant and choose not to question the system, the government is able to rule and teach how and what they want. For example; those who are too ignorant to vote in the general election are slowly losing control of that ability to vote. Thus, the ignorance of the people is strength for the ones in power.
The ‘Ministry of Truth’ where Winston works, is responsible for News media, entertainment and educational books. The Ministry’s purpose is to re-publish the past in order to fit the parties current thoughts and actions. “He who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past”. Winston is involved in rewriting what Big Brother says, to make it true. Winston quotes, “And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth”. This relates to the world today as we are constantly mislead by the media and ‘news’ that we are supposed to trust. Orwell looks into how the media shows the public the side they want them to see. Therefore, giving the public the wrong idea toward the event. This leads to the public becoming distracted as they miss the point and focus on smaller logistics such as protesting against the media. This is similar to 1984, as ‘Minitrue’ produces only the information the public want to see, in order to keep them distracted from the real events occurring. In 1984 the “Ministry of Truth”, also known as ‘Minitrue’ in Newspeak is ironic. Perhaps Orwell is hinting at the irony that very little of what is produced at the ‘Ministry of Truth’ is true, hence the name ‘Minitrue’?
Nearing World War 2, Joseph Stalin made his rise to fame, and governed the Soviet Union. He was able to manipulate the population through fear, and rewriting history books to make himself look better. Stalin was well known for ruling through fear with a totalitarian grip, in order to exclude anyone who opposed him. Therefore, Joseph was able to manipulate the population through fear. He had many killed or sent to forced labour camps, for opposing his thoughts and actions. Stalin also encouraged the civilians to spy on each other, similar to how children in 1984 are encouraged to spy and expose their parents, all for the ‘greater good of the party’. Thus, Orwell manipulates the children from a young age by keeping them distracted. Stalin is also well known for rewriting the Soviet history books. Stalin rewrote the history books in order to give himself more important roles within the government, to become more appealing to the public, seen as a figure to idolize. This can be seen in 1984, as the party rewrites the past, in order to coincide with what Big Brother says. Winston says, “The messages he had received referred to articles or news items which for one reason or another it was thought necessary to alter, … It was therefore necessary to rewrite a paragraph of Big Brother’s speech, in such a way as to make him predict the thing that had actually happened”. Thus, if the population sees that what Big Brother says is true (but not necessarily correct), they will follow and preach those words. Therefore, Big Brother and Stalin share similar views towards manipulating the public, through changing the past in order to gain power and followers. It is also important to note that Orwell was alive during this time.
In the novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, Orwell warns the reader about the dangers of totalitarianism. Orwell is portraying the results of giving power and control to the wrong hands, through showcasing the inability of the people to realise the situation. Orwell is reaching through the book, gripping the reader by the collar and telling us to preserve our independence and individuality, in order to not end up like the mindless slaves in the novel. Orwell portrays how propaganda can be a vital tool for controlling the population, similar to what he would have experienced during the Joseph Stalin era. By showing the reader the fictional results of losing control of our government and free will, Orwell warns us about the dangers of doing so in real life.