‘In what ways is the world of ‘1984’ a totalitarian state? How does Big Brother organise society?’

A totalitarian state is one that has a centralised government. The dictator leading the state requires all those within it to be subservient to the state. This dictator can also be seen to be an autocratic figure, as they are a ruler who has absolute power. An example in our history of a totalitarian state can be seen in Stalin’s Russia, which collapsed in the early nineties. This form of harsh dictatorship can be seen in the world of ‘1984,’ as the Party demands total commitment from all those living within the state, of which “Big Brother” is the “guardian” and unanimous “leader.” Big Brother’s thick “moustache” is also reminiscent of that of Stalin’s, as is the policies and rules of Oceania. Big Brother maintains control over society, and organises it by effectively using propaganda to unite the population. Their ability to create and “vaporise” people also helps Big Brother organise society, with help from O’Brien. The Party’s response to emotion and feelings coupled with Newspeak also helps Big Brother organise society, as rebellion seems to appear even more impossible. 

Big Brother uses the tactic of propaganda, much like in World War one and two, to organise society and unite those within the totalitarian state of Oceania. Orwell himself understood the affects of propaganda as during the Second World War he worked on propaganda for the BBC. It is already established, with the opening of the “diary,” that Winston is not like all the other people in Oceania, and that he is a sentient being. He can see through the regime enough to rebel against the Party, making him appear daring and heroic. However, Big Brother’s deployment of propaganda during the “Two Minute Hate” proves to ensnare everyone, even Winston, which makes him appear fickle, even though the audience knows that he is not. The fact that Winston finds it “impossible” not to get up in the hate demonstrates how effective this simple use of propaganda is, as it allows Big Brother to organise society by uniting it against a common enemy, “Emmanuel Goldstein.” The power of propaganda is demonstrated here, as everyone and anyone, even those like Winston who are sentient, are caught up in the surge of “hatred.” Like Offred in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ in this instance Winston appears numbed by the common regime, and appears to be just another member of the mob. Big Brother effectively organises society by uniting the people of Oceania against one common enemy, which helps to bolster camaraderie, and a sense of general understanding among the people. While directing their hate at Goldstein, their “adoration” is absorbed by Big Brother, thus ensuring that the despotic figure on the posters is still regarded as the saviour of the nation.  The war with Eurasia is also the stimulus for much propaganda in Oceania, as demonstrated by Winston’s own job, and his creation of “Comrade Ogilvy.” Winston creates the perfect Party member, who served on the front line and has a “devotion to duty.” This is another effective use of propaganda, as Big Brother uses Winston to create the perfect Party member, and someone who all other people can aspire to, even though he had just been brought “into existence” by Winston. Given that the propaganda, the Hate and Ogilvy, aims to unite the people and provide them with figures to detest and aspire to, proves that the despotic Big Brother needs all people within the state to be subservient to him, leading one to believe that Oceania is governed in a totalitarian fashion, by which Big Brother maintains control. 

Big Brother also maintains control by creating and destroying different figures to affect the population. By controlling individual people, Big Brother can control the subsequent affects their actions will have on the rest of the state, and ensure that he benefits from it. O’Brien notes that who “controls the past controls the future,” and this can be seen in the example of “Aaronson, Rutherford and Jones.” Winston himself deduces that their “confessions were lies,” for the benefit of the Party. By making an example of these people, those within the state were clearly told that if they dared to rebel, they would be found out and tortured, then made an example of. By constantly making an example of others, the state ensures that this acts as a deterrent for others with “vague plotting’s against the Party,” such as Julia and Winston. To Big Brother, and the Party’s advantage, the past remains “alterable,” and by changing the past, the Party ensures that people know how to behave for the future, and can learn from the mistakes made by others, be them real or not. “The Chestnut Tree Café” also adds to this idea, as those who go there are labeled by other Party members as traitors. This places all traitors in one specific area, giving efficient Party members a place to avoid, and they understand why. By changing the past, and creating and destroying people, Big Brother ensures that people know how to behave, and also ensures that they understand the consequences if they defy “Party doctrine.”

O’Brien, along with the “Thoughtpolice” ensure that Oceania is well organised on behalf of Big Brother as they actively seek out those who intend to “rebel.” The group in the novel appear to allude to the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, or Stalin’s’ NKVD, who arrested and tortured those who spoke out against the authority in secret. In the novel, O’Brien causes Winston to incriminate himself, by fooling him into believing that he is a fellow rebel. Winston was convinced that O’Brien always thought the “same thing as himself.” In his trusting nature, Winston fell for O’Brien’s tricks, which is ironic, as Winston seemed to forget his own firm belief that the Thought police will “always get you in the end.” By using a secret group to infiltrate those rebelling against the Party, Big Brother ensures that rebellion is not common knowledge, thus restricting it as well as mass panic. As the group is a “secret organisation,” Big Brother ensures that all those within the state are solely focused on the Party and himself, and are not distracted by rebellious action, which allows him to maintain order.

Party members within the state must be focused on the Party in all that they do. For example, the state sees that the only purpose of sex is to “beget” children. To ensure all thought is related to the state, the Party aim to eradicate emotions and feelings. In relation to sex, the Party means to remove the orgasm, to ensure that lust and desire do not cloud the judgement of Party members, and distract them from Big Brother. It is this action that Winston and Julia indulge in and use to satisfy their desire for love and “political” rebellion, which will inevitably lead to their downfall. Winston and Julia are both intelligent, and understand the Party enough to realise what the Party wish to deprive them of, making them a significant threat. They are able to think and to feel, and accept that they are “the dead” upon their promise that “only feelings matter.” They both realise that being caught is inevitable, but also appreciate that while they feel for each other and “love” each other, the Party has no control over them, and in this respect, they will always triumph over Big Brother. It is this attitude that worries the Party and O’Brien, leading them to try and “stamp” their emotion out. By ensuring that these feelings are eradicated, Big Brother ensures everyone’s focus remains on the Party, and nothing else. When torturing Winston with “rats” in “Room 101,” O’Brien has the soul objective of removing Winston’s love for Julia, and replacing it with love for Big Brother. O’Brien is successful, with Winston’s outcry of “Do It to Julia!” which is seen as the ultimate act of betrayal, by the reader and Winston and Julia themselves. In the play at the London Playhouse Theatre, excessive strobe lighting and loud noises, mark the moment in which Winston betrays Julia. It is perhaps the most distressing and disorientating moment of the play to emphasise the epic betrayal that has just occurred. It marks the end of Winston’s heroic arc, and leaves him with nothing by the end of the novel, and only the thought that he “loved Big Brother.” Winston has essentially been pacified, as his love for Julia, and therefore rebellious feelings, have been suppressed into nothing. This emphasises how threatening the idea of love and emotion is for the Party, as Winston and Julia are sentient beings, which do not think of the Party as the most important thing in their lives. 

Another focus for O’Brien, while torturing Winston is his memory, as he seeks to change it. Before Winston is tortured, he is seen in the novel, with O’Brien, to be drinking to “the past.” Winston was born in a time before the “revolution,” and can “remember” the past, much like Offred in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ It is this quality that makes the protagonists in each novel unique, as they have a cause to rebel against their respective regimes, as they wish to return to the days in which “they used to live,” as this time was associated with freedom. Winston becomes closer to gaining this freedom throughout the novel, as he actively rebels with Julia. O’Brien claims that, by manipulating the memory of Winston, he will become “perfect,” as he will cease to question Big Brother. By weakening his memory, O’Brien makes him pliable, and Winston becomes an empty Party member who will believe anything that he is told by the Party. If Winston is not sure of anything, he is unable to question the Party, as he will not know what truth truly is. This is clearly demonstrated in Winston’s turmoil over the answer of the simple mathematical sum, “2+2=4.” Mathematics is a fixed concept, and there is only one correct answer to the question. However, O’Brien tortures Winston so much that he becomes devoid of sense, and confesses that he doesn’t “know” the answer to this simple question. This proves to Winston that nothing is fixed, and that everything is “alterable,” as has been discovered throughout the novel. The destruction of Winston’s memory and emotions are described by O’Brien as the death of the “last man,” as no other Party member was like Winston. Winston and Julia appeared to be unique members of the state, as they understood the Party enough to rebel against them. In this respect, they can be seen as the last remnants of Human kind before the revolution, due to their sentient nature, but they too have been quashed by the Party and Big Brother. By altering people’s memory and making them pliable, Big Brother ensures that all those in Oceania will accept the facts of the Party and their doctrine, creating a totalitarian state in which the people are subservient to their dictatorial leader, Big Brother. 

The Party also uses a much simpler way to control people, by integrating “Newspeak” into society. Syme excitedly tells Winston that with the “destruction of words,” people won’t even be able to think about rebellion, as they will not have the vocabulary. Those in Oceania won’t notice this more passive form of control, as it is subtle. People such as Syme will be more excited about the new language and dictionary, but they will not notice that their freedom of speech is being taken away from them, for the benefit of Big Brother. By organising and creating the language in this way, Big Brother makes it difficult for those within the state to think about rebellion, and commit “Thoughtcrime,” thus maintaining peace within the state. Although Winston believes that “nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull,” this is not true as, with the growing use of Newspeak, the Party alter peoples’ thoughts with the language that is available to them. Without the words to fully express themselves, Big Brother ensures that they also do not have the thoughts to do so. Big Brother organises the state in this way, and ensures that he stops the thought of rebellion, and by extension the action of rebellion.

By using Newspeak, propaganda, the past and many other tactics, Big Brother organises the state in such a way that benefits him. People are reduced to robotic figures, whose emotion and focus is entirely directed onto Big Brother. They do not even realise that their autonomy is being destroyed by the state, as they are brainwashed by the Party to ensure that no thoughts diverge from the savior that is Big Brother. As Big Brother requires all people to be subservient to him, the state of Oceania can be seen to be a totalitarian state, organised to ensure that nobody has the capacity to think anything that goes against “the principles of INGSOC” or Big Brother himself. 

Published by harpalkhambay

I'm a third year English Literature and History student, and wanted a space to explore topics within those fields that interest me.

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