1984 by George Orwell is arguably the first piece of dystopian fiction to truly influence the world. It served as a warning against Communism, Fascism and the necessity of not smothering individual thought. In fact, it still holds relevance today, and is regaining popularity again, topping bestseller lists as people realise what an ominous warning it is, and may well be as long as society exists. Control of citizens is a theme that comes up again and again throughout the novel. In 1984, The Party achieves compliance from their members through several methods, including removing familial bonds, and using propaganda as both the carrot and the stick, reinforcing the national pride people feel and making life seem comparatively better by telling of the evil of any other form of society, as well as propagating fear and hate.

The method that may seem most shocking to us nowadays is children spying on their own parents. With today’s modern family values, the idea of young children betraying the people who we think should be closest to them in the name of the impersonal state is abhorrent. But by using the character of Parsons and his children as an example of this, Orwell emphasises just how all encompassing the control The Party has over its constituents is, despite age or relationships between members. Parsons is a typical sort of bloke, not smart, but loyal to his ideals and a fervent supporter of The Party. Just how subservient he is comes to light when he’s been arrested by the Thought Police, denounced by his own 7 year old daughter, a fact about which he carries a ‘doleful pride.’ “‘Of course I’m guilty,’ cried Parsons with a servile glance at the telescreen. ‘You don’t think The Party would arrest an innocent man, do you?” Parsons knows he’s committed thoughtcrime, a certain path to death or a lifetime of forced labour, yet he still cannot show any defiance whatsoever, his brainwashed mind compelling him to accept his own sacrifice in the name of The Party. We only meet Parson’s children once, early on in the book, and their feature that comes across the strongest is how enthusiastic they are about their country. When we’re introduced to them, they’re messing around playfully, but there’re hints of what they will grow up to be, yelling death to Eurasian war criminals. “It was still somehow slightly frightening, like the gambolling of tiger cubs who will soon grow up to be man eaters.” This description foreshadows how deadly the way that children of 1984 have been raised will be to their parents. Additionally, Orwell’s making a comparison between tigers, animals incapable of thinking critically or with empathy, and Party members, whose human qualities have been stripped away to make them easier to control. O’Brien, arguably the novel’s primary antagonist, explains why The Party removes the link between kin. “We have cut the bond between child and parent and between man and man and between man and woman. No one dares to trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends.” If there is no one to trust, people must put their trust in the state, because humans need to be able to trust something. The Party realises that they can’t remove the bond between parents and children, so they morph it, detaching everything they can, twisting the child’s priorities away from their parents and making them love and trust their country instead, ensuring more and more control throughout the generations, until they reach their ultimate aim of “all children to be begotten by artificial insemination (artsem, it was called in Newspeak) and brought up in public institutions,” an idea we find callous and disheartening as readers today.

However, the Party know that they can’t guarantee absolute submission through solely positive reinforcement. They understand that hate and fear are vital human emotions, ones they can make use of. Consequently, the constant surveillance, lack of trust and Two Minute Hate are used to twist emotions and provide people an outlet to express a healthy range of emotions and direct negative emotions towards enemies of the state. “The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in.” It’s almost impossible to resist getting swept up in the fervour, which gets everyone unconsciously thinking against the Party’s enemies every single day. As long as everyone in Airstrip One is turning their hate towards the traitor Goldstein or Eurasia/Eastasia, they release their negative energy on external sources, the Hate acting as a punching bag that instigates an anger of other people, and subsequently a love of the Party.

“From where Winston stood, it was just possible to read, picked out on it’s white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party: WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.” This slogan is an example of the fear that has been induced by propaganda. The citizens accept clearly contradictory statements, such is the breakdown of the individual’s independence and strength. Fear and breaking down emotions is another indispensable part of the Party’s control. Room 101 is legendary, and although no one admits it, a factor in why rebellion is rare that people are not willing to do anything to risk being exposed to their greatest fear. An arrested man demonstrates this by saying “I’ve got a wife and three children. The biggest of them isn’t six years old. You can take the whole lot of them and cut their throats right in front of my eyes, and I’ll stand by and watch it. But not Room 101!” The fear breaks past loyalty, love, anything that doesn’t demand unconditional allegiance to the Party.

Additionally, the lack of written legislation means that no one has any clue what laws exist, therefore there’s no clarity about what people can and can’t do, This leads to uncertainty and fear about doing anything not wholly supportive of the Party. Doublethink/Newspeak reinforces compliance through it’s confounding of logic. “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” The destruction of logic is the main factor towards people not being able to think for themselves, because if they can’t draw logical conclusions, they don’t clearly know what’s going on in their own heads, so they can’t formulate independent thoughts against the Party. Moreover, anyone to question a different existence is classified as insane, but “insanity is merely being in a minority of one,” so anyone who thinks differently to the status quo is targeted and made to become sane again, through torture and breaking of body and mind. This crushes any sort of critique of one’s own livelihood, leading to beasts that can be controlled with ease.

Another signal of a totalitarian rule exerting it’s authority, featured in 1984, is ensuring an abundance of reminders of who’s in charge. This method is frequently employed in fascist dictatorships, including Soviet Russia, which Orwell based a lot of the state in 1984 on. For example, the propaganda Stalin employed had much in common with the propaganda of Oceania. Said historian Alan Bullock: “No one understood better than Stalin that the true object of propaganda is neither to convince nor even to persuade, but to produce a uniform pattern of public utterance in which the first trace of unorthodox thought immediately reveals itself as a jarring dissonance.” However, as O’Brien explains to Winston, they took the Soviet method one step further, so their propaganda both convinces and catches unorthodox thoughts out. “The Russians persecuted heresy more cruelly than the Inquisition had done… the confessions that they [the victims of the Russians] had made were obviously extorted and untrue. We do not make mistakes of that kind. All the confessions that are uttered here are true. We make them true.”

In conclusion, George Orwell used the theme of controlling citizens in a number of ways, and uses methods such as propaganda and breaking family bonds. He used it to effectively demonstrate how a totalitarian government shows power over it’s citizens.

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  1. I’m all for your starting with a general overview of the novel and its impact on Western society. What I’d encourage now though is for you to base your further commentary in initial deep analysis of the text itself. Go to the part where Parsons’ wife, son and daughter are introduced to us. What does Orwell actually say? How does he say it? What kind of language is he using? What does this infer? Then widen to putting this moment in the context of the novel as a whole (where will it lead?) and only then make the references to how a contemporary world might respond to this.

    I think it’s interesting to pursue the line of inquiry that this is the most shocking today. As in Orwell’s time it would be the surveillance, manipulation of history, war for profit and torture that shocked a lot more. This might be a comment on what we’ve come to accept as ‘normal’ in 2017.

    I look forward to watching this as it progresses.

    CW

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