Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Dangers of Totalitarianism
The Party barrages its subjects with psychological stimuli designed to overwhelm the mind’s capacity for independent thought. The giant telescreen in every citizen’s room blasts a constant stream of propaganda designed to make the failures and shortcomings of the Party appear to be triumphant successes. The telescreens also monitor behavior—everywhere they go, citizens are continuously reminded, especially by means of the omnipresent signs reading
In addition to manipulating their minds, the Party also controls the bodies of its subjects. The Party constantly watches for any sign of disloyalty, to the point that, as Winston observes, even a tiny facial twitch could lead to an arrest. A person’s own nervous system becomes his greatest enemy. The Party forces its members to undergo mass morning exercises called the Physical Jerks, and then to work long, grueling days at government agencies, keeping people in a general state of exhaustion. Anyone who does manage to defy the Party is punished and “reeducated” through systematic and brutal torture. After being subjected to weeks of this intense treatment, Winston himself comes to the conclusion that nothing is more powerful than physical pain—no emotional loyalty or moral conviction can overcome it. By conditioning the minds of their victims with physical torture, the Party is able to control reality, convincing its subjects that 2 + 2 = 5.
Control of Information and History
The Party controls every source of information, managing and rewriting the content of all newspapers and histories for its own ends. The Party does not allow individuals to keep records of their past, such as photographs or documents. As a result, memories become fuzzy and unreliable, and citizens become perfectly willing to believe whatever the Party tells them. By controlling the present, the Party is able to manipulate the past. And in controlling the past, the Party can justify all of its actions in the present.
By means of telescreens and hidden microphones across the city, the Party is able to monitor its members almost all of the time. Additionally, the Party employs complicated mechanisms (
Language as Mind Control
One of Orwell’s most important messages in
Interestingly, many of Orwell’s ideas about language as a controlling force have been modified by writers and critics seeking to deal with the legacy of colonialism. During colonial times, foreign powers took political and military control of distant regions and, as a part of their occupation, instituted their own language as the language of government and business. Postcolonial writers often analyze or redress the damage done to local populations by the loss of language and the attendant loss of culture and historical connection.
Resistance and Revolution
Winston’s most concrete hope for actual revolution against the Party lies with the social underclass of the city, called the proles. He observes that the proles already have far greater numbers than the Party and that the proles have the strength to carry out a revolution if they could ever organize themselves. The problem is that the proles have been subject to such serious poverty for so long that they are unable to see past the goal of survival. The very notion of trying to build a better world is too much for them to contemplate. All of these observations are set against the backdrop of the Party’s own identity as the product of revolution. According to Winston, the Party was created during the mid-1960s during a revolution that overthrew the existing British social order. The Party claims that the Revolution has not yet ended and that it will be fulfilled once they have complete control.
Independence and Identity
While the Party’s primary tool for manipulating the populace is the control of history, they also control independence and identity. For example, the basic traits of establishing one’s identity are unavailable to Winston and the other citizens of Oceania. Winston does not know how old he is. He does not know whether he is married or not. He does not know whether his mother is alive or dead. None of his childhood memories are reliable, because he has no photos or documents to help him sort real memories from imagined ones. Instead of being unique individuals with specific, identifying details, every member of the Outer Party is identical. All Party members wear the same clothing, smoke the same brand of cigarettes, drink the same brand of gin, and so forth. As such, forming a sense of individual identity is not only psychologically challenging, but logistically difficult.
Most of Winston’s significant decisions can be interpreted as attempts to build a sense of identity. His decision to purchase a diary and begin recording his thoughts is an attempt to create memory and history. His decision to purchase the paperweight is driven by a desire to have something of his own that represents a time before the Party. Winston’s sexual relationship with Julia and their decision to rent an apartment where they can spend time together represent dangerous crimes in the world of
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