It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a meter wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black mustache and ruggedly handsome features. . . . It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.
As Winston enters his apartment building, Victory Mansions, at the beginning of the novel, he describes the poster that is tacked on a wall in the hallway. Readers soon learn that this image is omnipresent in Oceania. While Big Brother is meant to make Oceania’s citizens feel protected, readers might easily note Winston’s suspicion of the figure as he feels more like he is being spied on than kept safe.
At those moments, his secret loathing of Big Brother changed into adoration, and Big Brother seemed to tower up, an invincible, fearless protector, standing like a rock against the hordes of Asia, and Goldstein, in spite of his isolation, his helplessness, and the doubt that hung about his very existence, seemed like some sinister enchanter, capable by the mere power of his voice of wrecking the structure of civilization.
During the Two Minutes Hate, which occurs daily as the citizens of Oceania express their anger and hatred for supposed enemies of the state, Winston has no choice but to join in even though he does not feel loyalty to the Party. He initially uses his hatred for Big Brother and the Party to fuel his act, but eventually, and in spite of himself, he briefly finds himself on the side of Big Brother. The fact that such a ritual can stimulate adoration for Big Brother even in a skeptic such as Winston shows how powerful the symbol of Big Brother truly is.
Nobody heard what Big Brother was saying. It was merely a few words of encouragement, the sort of words that are uttered in the din of battle, not distinguishable individually but restoring confidence by the fact of being spoken.
At the end of the Two Minutes Hate, Goldstein’s face is replaced by Big Brother’s, and all citizens of Oceania are expected to feel relief and joy. However, as Winston notes, they do not pay attention to the actual words he is saying, instead taking comfort simply in his image. This reaction shows that Big Brother does not command respect because of any ideas, rhetoric, or leadership skills, but rather because the people in Oceania have been so conditioned to view him as a symbol of power.
He picked up the children’s history book and looked at the portrait of Big Brother which formed its frontispiece. The hypnotic eyes gazed into his own. It was as though some huge force were pressing down upon you—something that penetrated inside your skull, battering against your brain, frightening you out of your beliefs, persuading you, almost, to deny the evidence of your senses.
As Winston sits in his apartment, writing and considering why the Party controls people and history like it does, he looks at the image of Big Brother and begins to see the image itself as a form of mind control. Later in the novel, he will experience mind control via torture, which does end up “persuading [him] . . . to deny the evidence of [his] senses.” However, for most people, the idea of Big Brother himself is enough to exert mind control.
Big Brother is infallible and all-powerful. Every success, every achievement, every victory, every scientific discovery, all knowledge, all wisdom, all happiness, all virtue, are held to issue directly from his leadership and inspiration. Nobody has ever seen Big Brother. He is a face on the hoardings, a voice on the telescreen. We may be reasonably sure that he will never die, and there is already considerable uncertainty as to when he was born. Big Brother is the guise in which the Party chooses to exhibit itself to the world.
These sentences come from what Winston thinks is Goldstein’s book in the chapter titled “Chapter 1, Ignorance Is Strength.” Here, the author of the book explains how and why Big Brother serves as the face of the Party. Big Brother may not be an actual person, but because he is such a powerful figure in people’s minds, he exists in a way that regular people do not, as O’Brien later explains to Winston.
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