George Orwell’s anti-utopian novel 1984 paints a picture of a society in which the individual has no freedom, hope, or feeling. Three super states called Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia, divide and ravage the earth with perpetual war between them. The story takes place in Oceania, which consists of the Americas as well as Great Brittan. Nineteen-eighty Four chronicles Winston Smith’s struggle to fight against the forever-reining, oppressive social system called the Party. Throughout 1984 several central themes through which the Party controls its members unfold – the first theme is dehumanization, the second theme is encroachment of privacy, and third theme is subtle erosions of freedom.
Dehumanization, which clearly presides as the foremost theme in Orwell’s novel, occurs as the first theme. The ways in which the Party dehumanizes the people are the perversion of sex, the destruction of the family, and the deletion of human emotions. Big Brother despises sex. The Inner Party and Big Brother fear sex because sex causes extreme emotion. To destroy sex is to destroy emotions harmful to their rule. To complete this objective the Party conditions the women to hate sex: they completely pervert the natural emotion of sensual desire to something disgusting in nature. Orwell wrote, “The Party was trying to kill the sex instinct, or if it could not be killed, then to distort it and dirty it” (66). Starting when the girls are adolescents, they place them in classes such as the Junior Anti-Sex League and bombard them with lectures about the horrible implications of sex. The girls learn that sex is their duty to the party to produce children. Winston’s wife Katharine or “the human soundtrack” as Winston nicknames her, completely falls for all Party dogma (Orwell 66).
She shudders at the thought of sexual relations, swallows all of Party’s propaganda, and has her only loyalty lying blindly in the hands of Big Brother. Julia, Winston’s adulteress, views oppose Katharine’s views in all ways possible. She desires sex as a form of rebellion and doesn’t take anything the Party says for truth. Winston describes her as “a rebel from the waist downwards” due to her apathy concerning Party situations (Orwell 156). Secondly, the destruction of family values also causes the dehumanization of the people. By shifting loyalties from the family to Big Brother, the Party succeeds in destroying the family. Couples do not even feel love towards each other anymore. Destroying all emotional connections between family members centralizes as one of the Party’s goals. In the Parsons’ house lies a vision of how the Party wants the family to behave. Mr. Parsons, a Party drone, mutters down with Big Brother in his sleep and his daughter betrays him to the thought-police.
While being hauled off, he actually says that he feels proud of her for denouncing him. Denis Duclos wrote in his article “Dehumanization or the Disappearance of Pluralism?” that one of two forms of the inhuman was approached by destruction of the symbolic (1), and within the families of Oceania the symbolism of the family has been demolished. Finally, the Party achieves dehumanization by destroying emotions. While torturing Winston, O’Brien says to him, “In our world there will be no emotion except fear, rage, triumph, and self abasement” (Orwell 267).
Throughout the book almost all public events deal with hate. Repeated examples of hate occur in 1984 including executions, the Two Minutes Hate, and Hate Week. The Party wants to build a society founded upon hatred. In the Ministry of Love, O’Brien says to Winston that, “There will be no loyalty except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no Love except the love of Big Brother” (Orwell 267). The Party wants to have a governed body of no emotions, thoughts, or feelings, for one who does not possess any of these is one that will be easily controlled.
Encroachment of privacy takes place as the second theme in 1984. Keeping power in the hands of Party requires constant surveillance of its members in order to keep them in check with fears of thought-crime. They keep a close eye on everyone with a device called a telescreen. The telescreen simultaneously broadcasts propaganda and records all of the activities within its vision. It can never be turned off, only turned down, and it can be found in all the homes of party members as well as all public areas. It says in Goldstein’s book that “With the development of television, and the technical advance which made it possible to receive and transmit simultaneously on the same instrument, private life came to an end,” (Orwell 206). The telescreen keeps Big Brother in control. Without constant surveillance, the people would feel no outside pressure to act in an orthodox manner.
In “Bye-bye, Big Brother” Peter Huber writes, “Without the telescreen there can be no Big Brother, or at least none quite so totalitarian as Orwell imagined” (2). For remote areas such as forests and mountains, the party places sound recording devices to make sure no place goes unmonitored. The party also puts a social stigma on privacy. In Newspeak, the official language of Oceania, the word for privacy is “ownlife” (Orwell 84). The Party establishes social programs for all of the members so that they will never have any free time: “In principle a Party member had no spare time, and was never alone except in bed” (Orwell 84).
The Party even trains children to spy on their parents for symptoms of unorthodoxy. “Nearly all children nowadays were horrible. What was worst of all was that by means of such organizations as the Spies they were systematically turned into ungovernable little savages, and yet this produced in them no tendency whatever to rebel against the discipline of the party,” Orwell writes. “It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children,” (Orwell 24).
Subtle erosion of freedoms resides as the third theme of 1984. Through means of controlling the past via constant alterations to make the records reflect the Party’s propaganda, the Party can control what people think and believe. O’Brien says, “We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull,” (Orwell 268). The Party implements an ideal called doublethink. Doublethink requires believing the lie while still knowing the truth, or controlled insanity. To cite an example, midway through the Hate Week Oceania changed alliances from Eastasia to Eurasia, thus changing enemies as well. Mid speech, the orator changes the perpetrator from Eurasia to Eastasia as members of the Party run from rooftop to rooftop tearing down posters of Eurasians. The masses listening to the speech choose to mindlessly go along with what happened without questioning. Doublethink occurs in the Party’s slogan “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength” (Orwell 16).
How could war possibly be peace or freedom be slavery? It can only be true if one believes that war is peace and by doing so contradicting logic. The waging of perpetual war also subtracts from peoples’ freedoms. When a populace is engaged in war, the populace tends to give up freedoms for protection. Peter Huber writes, “Until recently there was only one efficient way for many people to cooperate, and that was to surrender their freedoms. . . . Information traveled one way only, from the rulers to the ruled” (2) By waging perpetual war and only sharing slanted information the Party keeps its citizens at bay with fear of being overrun by another country.
“How can people gauge risks to their lives and property if they are denied access to vital information about these risks?” writes Denis Duclos (3). Knowledge of the peoples’ situation in kept away from the citizens by the Party because knowledge is power. Newspeak is also a way of erasing thought. Syme, a craftsmen of the language, explains Newspeak to Winston when he says, “In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it,” (Orwell 52). Ceasing all actions of thought by narrowing the English language is Newspeak’s goal.
In 1984 Orwell paints a scary picture of what society could be like if we continue on a path of apathy. The themes portrayed in 1984 are dehumanization, evasion of privacy, and erosion of freedoms. These are all things that can be avoided by taking action now. While O’Brien is talking to Winston in the Ministry of Love, he says, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever,” (Orwell 267). Although this quote exaggerates how things are going for us at present, it gives us an idea of how it could be. Orwell’s message to us is to take control of our freedom and to abuse it to the fullest.
Duclos, Denis. “Dehumanization or the Disappearance of Pluralism?” Diogenes 49.195 (2002): 34-39. Expanded Academic ASAP. Gale. Maize High School Library, KS. 27 October 2004 .
Huber, Peter. “Bye-bye, Big Brother.” National Review. 15 August 1994: 48-51. Expanded Academic ASAP. Gale. Maize High School Library, KS. 27 October 2004 .
Orwell, George. 1984. 1949. New York: Penguin, 1971.