Mind Control: Orwell’s Warning to The Modern Era in 1984
Totalitarianism is a form of government where the state has no limits to its power and strives to control the lives of its inhabitants, like pawns on a chessboard. The inhabitants have no civil or human rights and are often tortured or killed for a minor crime. George Orwell’s 1984, was intended as a warning to the readers about the dangers of living under totalitarian rule. This dystopian novel illustrates how the government is able to force its citizens to obey its leader, Big Brother, with methods of repression, censorship, brainwashing, and terror. Through the Party’s manipulation of the mind, of privacy, and of the past, Orwell warns the reader that the government has the power to manage every aspect of one’s life, even one’s ability to have individual thoughts.
In 1984, the psychological control placed on the citizens constrains them from having their own choice or belief. Not only does the party enforce their ideologies on sex, family, and loyalty to the Party into their minds, they also push their ideologies through groups such as the Junior Spies and the Junior Anti-Sex League. Winston tells the readers that the Party believes “sexual intercourse was to be looked on as a slightly disgusting minor operation… and it fitted in with the general ideology of the party, [which] was to kill the sex instinct” (Orwell 57).
The Party wants to control the state with their opinion, encouraging prostitution as an outlet for animalistic instincts, and destroying the meaning behind sexual intercourse, which was to show love between two people. By making sexual intercourse appear as something disturbing as well as disgusting, citizens would only do it as their responsibility to the Party. Also, the Party creates organizations for children to see and learn the Party’s values. The Junior Anti-Sex League, for instance, was created by the Party to expose young girls and boys on chastity for both sexes. Many children growing up will have this information drilled into their heads, and they will not be able to know the real meaning of sexual intercourse other than what was taught to them. In addition, the Party also teaches children at a young age to love and adore the Party and to do anything they are capable of to show their loyalty. The Junior Spies organization comprises young children who love everything about Big Brother and despise everything that turned against him. Oftentimes, children would “denounce [their] parents to the Thought Police” (Orwell 24) due to a minor comment that they’ve said. In fact, Winston’s neighbour, Parsons, had been denounced by his daughter for committing a thoughtcrime in his sleep. Through the constant exposure of the Party’s philosophy, they are able to brainwash the citizens to believe what they want it to be. The citizens grow to accept and support the government’s actions because they are regularly having the government’s beliefs engraved in their heads, reducing their freedom to express their opinions and beliefs.
The Party manipulates one’s privacy with the use of telescreens, posters, and microphones placed everywhere in the state. The telescreen, which is a large screen placed in every citizen’s house, was able to receive and transmit simultaneously while viewing the actions and movements of the person. The telescreen is utilized as a method for the Party to produce propaganda and monitor the citizens. It constantly broadcasts news that has been rewritten in the Ministry of Truth to demonstrate the Party’s effective actions against the enemy. For instance, the Ministry of Plenty would broadcast the increase or decrease of food, clothes and other supply rations, implying the state’s efforts in the war. They also broadcast their efforts against their enemy, and Emmanuel Goldstein, the enemy of the state.
Moreover, the telescreens had “no way of shutting off completely” (Orwell 6), meaning that the propaganda is consistently heard and that the Party can always monitor the person’s actions. Similarly, posters of Big Brother presented the citizens a visual of the propaganda that they have heard daily. Winston Smith, the protagonist, describes the poster of Big Brother as “one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. [The slogan] BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU [appeared on the bottom]” (Orwell 3). The image and the slogan on the poster are imprinted into their minds as a reminder that every movement or breath they take is seen, and it makes them scared to do anything in fear of displeasing Big Brother. In addition, microphones were used for the Party to hear the conversations between citizens. Even out in the countryside, there is always a chance of the party recognizing their voice. Evidently, the Party is placing microphones inside and outside of the city to ensure that there is no private conversation between two individuals. When Winston and Julia meet each other for their rendezvous in the countryside, the had to stray off the main pathway in case there was a microphone hidden there. Thus, the citizens are always wary of the Party watching them, making it impossible for them to escape and limiting their facial, physical and mental actions to a minimum. Just like the Party’s work to spread their ideologies to people, the telescreens, images and microphones serve as a method for them to control the population. As a result, by invading one’s privacy, the Party is able to monitor everything that they do, restricting their ability to do as they please as well as their right to free speech.
Sometimes, the Party is able to rewrite history to fit their ideologies and to manipulate the citizens. The workers in the Ministry of Truth had to write lies by changing the historical and original text to match with the Party’s laws. Any form of text or entertainment, whether it was a newspaper article, a fictional novel, a documentary or pornography, all could be rewritten at any given moment. Any published news that was printed for the citizens had to be rectified if there were a sudden change in the economy, the enemy, or if someone ceased to exist. There were many instances when Winston found proof that the Party is creating lies, or was told to create fake news for the people. One day, while he was working, he found a newspaper article that was to be rectified, which contained proof that relates to the rearrest of Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford, who were Inner Party members. Winston claimed:
It was a half-page torn out of ‘The Times’ of about ten years earlier… and it contained a photograph of the delegates at some Party function in New York. Prominent in the middle of the group were Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford… The point was that at both trials all three men had confessed that on that date they had been on Eurasian soil. They had flown from a secret airfield in Canada to a rendezvous somewhere in Siberia and had conferred with members of the Eurasian General Staff, to whom they had betrayed important military secrets. (Orwell 67)
Clearly, the confessions were lies that the Party forced them to say, as they were able to use its power and authority to do so. The Party’s slogan “Who controls the past… controls the future: who controls the present controls the past” (Orwell 32). The slogan implies that by altering the past, they are able to predict the future, and by rewriting the past, which exists in records and in people’s memories, they are able to control the present. Since most Outer Party members are only exposed to the rectified version of the news, and many of the proles are too old to remember what pre-revolutionary life was like, they have grown to accept anything that was told to them. There is no form of text to contradict the Party’s beliefs, or defies them in any way, which means that most of the people that read the text will not have any ideas of rebellion. As its main source is through the Party, the citizens have no outside information to compare it to. Therefore, they would continue to live in their oppressed and dystopian environment, thinking that their life is a utopian one.
The totalitarian form of government presented in Orwell’s 1984, shows the reader that even small attempts of a political act to receive human and civil rights are physically impossible due to the government’s control of one’s mind, of one’s privacy and of the past. This serves as a warning to the modern era, as many of the cautions he wrote and some of the methods that the Party uses to control the state can be seen today. Nowadays, due to surveillance in stores, airports, homes and many other public spaces, the government is able to monitor their citizens and know all about them. With the increase in social media sites and online stores, the government is able to monitor one’s actions. The media also changes one’s viewpoints on sexual intercourse and family. Through pornography and influence of media, abortions and divorce rates increase across the world. Not only that, but the entertainment industry often spreads false news and bias opinions. The reader can see that Orwell’s warning about totalitarianism strips the citizens from their rights with their ability to control one’s mind, one’s privacy and the past.
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