How does technology affect the Party’s ability to control its citizens? In what ways does the Party employ technology throughout the novel?
Of the many iconic phrases and ideas to emerge from Orwell’s 1984, perhaps the most famous is the frightening political slogan “Big Brother is watching.” Many readers think of 1984 as a dystopia about a populace constantly monitored by technologically advanced rulers. Yet in truth, the technological tools pale in comparison to the psychological methods the Party wields, which not only control the citizens but also teach them to control themselves.
To be sure, the Party uses technology in scary and effective ways. Its most notable technological weapon is the telescreen, a kind of two-way television that watches you as you watch it. Telescreens literalize the idea that Big Brother, the mysterious figure who represents the Party’s power and authority, is always watching the people of Airstrip One. Even the citizens’ most mundane actions are monitored by the telescreens, which must remain turned on at all times. When Winston performs his Physical Jerks exercises, for example, a voice from the telescreen criticizes his poor effort. When he is arrested, a voice from the telescreen tells him what’s coming. Another terrifying technology used by the Party is vaporizing, the means by which the government executes those who displease it.
Yet despite the power of the omnipresent telescreens and the terror of vaporizing, they are just two among countless methods of control. And the most powerful methods turn out to be non-technological in nature. Posters announce the watchfulness of Big Brother; mandatory daily meetings called Two Minutes of Hate rile up the citizenry, allow them to vent their emotions and solidify their xenophobia; public hangings make examples out of traitors; physical torture awaits those who commit thought crimes; and Junior Spies turn in any adults they feel are not sufficiently loyal to the party, even if those adults are their own parents. None of these methods involve technology. Instead, they rely on psychological manipulation. Together, these methods produce a complex mixture of terror, paranoia, groupthink, and suspicion that keeps the citizens cowed and obedient.
In addition to, and as a result of, these government tactics, the citizens of Oceania are constantly policing themselves. In order to avoid being jailed or vaporized they closely monitor their own actions, second by second. Most citizens would find it unthinkable, for example, to demonstrate such blatant misbehavior as enjoying a torrid love affair, as Winston does. But the citizens go even further than simply regulating their outward behavior: they also monitor their private thoughts. They have been manipulated into believing that any independent cognition is grounds for arrest by the Thought Police, so they try to keep their inward selves as loyal and unthinking as their outward actions. Because they have been conditioned since birth to accept whatever the Party identifies as truth, they are also able to use doublethink, a method of believing absurd contradictions such as “war is peace.” Again, self-policing and doublethink involve no technology beyond the human brain, but they are perhaps the most effective means of control available to the Party.
The Party maintains power primarily through the use of psychology, not technology. We get the sense that if no technology existed, the Party would find equally effective ways of controlling the populace. Orwell wants to warn us against more than the power of technology; he wants to suggest that the human mind is the most dangerous and advanced weapon of all, and that we should never underestimate the ability of people to control each other—and themselves.
Buy on BN.com and save!
1984 (SparkNotes Literature Guide Series)
“No one is free, even the birds are chained to the sky.” Bob Dylan said this probably not knowing its profound connection with George Orwell’s novel “1984”, but the as well could be in “1984”. Orwell depicts a totalitarian dystopian world where there is no freedom and citizens are being brainwashed constantly. Without any sense of individual fairness, people work for the party just like the gear wheels in a machine. In order to achieve this, the politicians in “1984” suppress people’s thinking and eliminate their freedom by creating fear through propaganda, strict laws and incessant surveillances.
In “1984”, lies, myths and false information controls the thinking of the citizens. The Party uses propaganda as the deadliest weapon of control. Propaganda increases the citizens’ morale and makes them think that what the party tells them to do is always right. There are mainly two types of propaganda, one changes truth, so-called doublethink, and another creates fear. “Doublespeak” can be seen frequently in the world of 1984. The party’s big slogan “WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.” (George Orwell, 4) is an good example. The idea of the slogan is to convince the citizens that what they want, is what they already have. Only war can make peace and harmony, so peace is no longer peace, it becomes war; anyone who is slaved and wants freedom, he already has freedom; you can only strengthen yourself by not knowing things and being ignorant. The slogan changes truth and make the citizens believe that anything they want other than what their government wants can only make them unhappy, therefore, no one will consider rebellion because they believe the Party’s way of governing is the best and only way. “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” (George Orwell, 3) is another core slogan. It is nearly everywhere in the country and usually presented beneath the picture of Big Brother on a poster. It creates fear of obliterated privacy among citizens by alerting them that they are watched all the time. At the same time, the slogan also emphasizes Big Brother’s power to tells the citizens that they are indeed safe and protected. The party uses this to make them believe that within the party nothing can go wrong, and without Big Brother they will not have such lives. Everyone thinks he is safe in Oceania because of the Big Brother, but they are in fact in danger, all the time.
The laws is another powerful tool for politicians in “1984” to limit citizens freedom. No parties, no dates, no love, no citizens walk on street after curfew, laws are everywhere in Oceania. Although these are strictly implemented, they cannot be called laws theoretically because they are not written in a system. There is no written laws in 1984, there is no such thing as constitution or court, but that is exactly how fear is created, as citizens are always living in uncertainty. For example, “And yet it was a fact that if Syme grasped, even for three seconds, the nature of his, Winston’s, secret opinions, he would betray him instantly to the Thought Police” (George Orwell, 30). There is no law that defines thoughtcrime However, Winston could be arrested any time for committing thoughtcrime by even a tiny facial twitch suggesting struggle, and his nervous system literally becomes his biggest enemy. Since there is no written law, the Party can change and adjust the strictness of laws freely as it wants, citizens never know if they have committed any crime, therefore no one is brave enough to defy the Party by any level, so fear is created. In addition, “Newspeak” is another law that is enforced to solidify the Party’s control. Humans use language to express their ideas, by eliminating words and replacing emotional words such as “excellent”, “wonderful” and “fantastic” by a single word “good” and its comparative degrees “plusgood” and “plusplusgood”. Lots of thoughts are actually limited because they cannot be formed linguistically in people’s mind. Citizens then cannot have their own critical thinking, and only do what they are told to do, they work just as computers, which surprisingly only have two words.*
Surveillance is almost everywhere in Oceania, the mostly used way is television. There is a two-way screen, so-called television in every apartment and on street but they only serve the purpose of monitoring and propaganda, the Party gets simultaneous image of what its people are doing. Even facial expression can be detected. Only senior members of the Inner Party have the power to turn them off for a short period. Children are also used to keep track of their parents, “The children, on the other hand, were systematically turned against their parents and taught to spy on them and report their deviations” (76). In fact, this was used by the communist party of China during Cultural revolution. With extremely mighty surveillance, citizens cannot express their ideas towards the negative side of the Party at all, and even thoughts are controlled because the Party can “reeducate” people for an incorrect facial expression
By using language as a tool of control as well as the evidence for sentence, Orwell creates a world where language, a word or a sentence, can determine ones life. Through language plays the key role in the Party’s propaganda, strict laws and surveillance, total physical control as well as phycological manipulation is achieved. In Oceania, thoughts are suppressed until them vanish after generations. In this world, nothing is free, even a bird.
*0 and 1, Binary numeral system
Bibliography: Orwell, George. 1984. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984. Print.