Critical Essays On 1984 By George Orwell

         “No one is free, even the birds are chained to the sky.” Bob Dylan said this probably not knowing its profound connection with George Orwell’s novel “1984”, but the as well could be in “1984”. Orwell depicts a totalitarian dystopian world where there is no freedom and citizens are being brainwashed constantly. Without any sense of individual fairness, people work for the party just like the gear wheels in a machine. In order to achieve this, the politicians in “1984” suppress people’s thinking and eliminate their freedom by creating fear through propaganda, strict laws and incessant surveillances.

In “1984”, lies, myths and false information controls the thinking of the citizens. The Party uses propaganda as the deadliest weapon of control. Propaganda increases the citizens’ morale and makes them think that what the party tells them to do is always right. There are mainly two types of propaganda, one changes truth, so-called doublethink, and another creates fear. “Doublespeak” can be seen frequently in the world of 1984. The party’s big slogan “WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.” (George Orwell, 4) is an good example. The idea of the slogan is to convince the citizens that what they want, is what they already have. Only war can make peace and harmony, so peace is no longer peace, it becomes war; anyone who is slaved and wants freedom, he already has freedom; you can only strengthen yourself by not knowing things and being ignorant. The slogan changes truth and make the citizens believe that anything they want other than what their government wants can only make them unhappy, therefore, no one will consider rebellion because they believe the Party’s way of governing is the best and only way. “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” (George Orwell, 3) is another core slogan. It is nearly everywhere in the country and usually presented beneath the picture of Big Brother on a poster. It creates fear of obliterated privacy among citizens by alerting them that they are watched all the time. At the same time, the slogan also emphasizes Big Brother’s power to tells the citizens that they are indeed safe and protected. The party uses this to make them believe that within the party nothing can go wrong, and without Big Brother they will not have such lives. Everyone thinks he is safe in Oceania because of the Big Brother, but they are in fact in danger, all the time.

         The laws is another powerful tool for politicians in “1984” to limit citizens freedom. No parties, no dates, no love, no citizens walk on street after curfew, laws are everywhere in Oceania. Although these are strictly implemented, they cannot be called laws theoretically because they are not written in a system. There is no written laws in 1984, there is no such thing as constitution or court, but that is exactly how fear is created, as citizens are always living in uncertainty. For example, “And yet it was a fact that if Syme grasped, even for three seconds, the nature of his, Winston’s, secret opinions, he would betray him instantly to the Thought Police” (George Orwell, 30). There is no law that defines thoughtcrime However, Winston could be arrested any time for committing thoughtcrime by even a tiny facial twitch suggesting struggle, and his nervous system literally becomes his biggest enemy. Since there is no written law, the Party can change and adjust the strictness of laws freely as it wants, citizens never know if they have committed any crime, therefore no one is brave enough to defy the Party by any level, so fear is created. In addition, “Newspeak” is another law that is enforced to solidify the Party’s control. Humans use language to express their ideas, by eliminating words and replacing emotional words such as “excellent”, “wonderful” and “fantastic” by a single word “good” and its comparative degrees “plusgood” and “plusplusgood”. Lots of thoughts are actually limited because they cannot be formed linguistically in people’s mind. Citizens then cannot have their own critical thinking, and only do what they are told to do, they work just as computers, which surprisingly only have two words.*

         Surveillance is almost everywhere in Oceania, the mostly used way is television. There is a two-way screen, so-called television in every apartment and on street but they only serve the purpose of monitoring and propaganda, the Party gets simultaneous image of what its people are doing. Even facial expression can be detected. Only senior members of the Inner Party have the power to turn them off for a short period. Children are also used to keep track of their parents, “The children, on the other hand, were systematically turned against their parents and taught to spy on them and report their deviations” (76). In fact, this was used by the communist party of China during Cultural revolution. With extremely mighty surveillance, citizens cannot express their ideas towards the negative side of the Party at all, and even thoughts are controlled because the Party can “reeducate” people for an incorrect facial expression

         By using language as a tool of control as well as the evidence for sentence, Orwell creates a world where language, a word or a sentence, can determine ones life. Through language plays the key role in the Party’s propaganda, strict laws and surveillance, total physical control as well as phycological manipulation is achieved. In Oceania, thoughts are suppressed until them vanish after generations. In this world, nothing is free, even a bird.

*0 and 1, Binary numeral system

Bibliography: Orwell, George. 1984. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984. Print.

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George Orwell (1903-1950)


Orwell's press card photo, 1943. Public domain image


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introduction & biography

Anthony, Andrew. "Orwell: The Observer Years."The Guardian 10 May 2003.

Ash, Timothy Garton. "Orwell in 1998." A review of The Complete Works of George Orwell, ed. Peter Davison. The New York Review of Books 22 Oct. 1998 [preview only].

Ash, Timothy Garton. "Orwell for our time." Orwell was the most influential and prescient political writer of the 20th century, Garton notes, but does he still have relevance after the collapse of the Soviet Union? The Guardian 4 May 2001.

Atwood, Margaret. "Orwell and Me." The novelist Margaret Atwood on the influence of Orwell's novels on her and on The Handmaid's Tale) The Guardian 15 June 2003.

Breton, Rob. "Crisis? Whose crisis? George Orwell and liberal guilt." Orwell's take on the failure of middle-class liberals to connect with the working class. College Literature 29, 4 (Fall 2002) pp 47-66 [free at jstor].

Cavendish, Richard. "Publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four."History Today 49, 6 (1999).

Crick, Bernard. "Blair, Eric Arthur (George Orwell)." Biography of Orwell by his major biographer, Sir Bernard Crick, for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Crick, Bernard. "George Orwell: Voice of a Long Generation." A briefer biography of Orwell, also by Sir Bernard Crick, this one for the BBC's British History, includes a few illustrations.

Crick, Bernard. "Orwell as a comic writer."Orwell Prize.

Gessen, Keith. "Eternal vigilance." On Orwell as an essayist and stylist. New Statesman 28 May 2009.

Hitchens, Christopher. "George Orwell Turns 100"; also "Nineteen Eighty-Four 60 Years Later." Audio files from NPR.

Hopkins, Chris. "George Orwell." A substantial introduction to Orwell's writing. At the Literary Encyclopedia, a subscription service which publishes newly written essays by subject specialists, available to the general public for a reasonable cost. On Burmese Days; on Animal Farm; on Nineteen Eighty-Four [subscription service].

Kerr, Douglas. "Orwell, Kipling, and Empire."Orwell Prize.

McCrum, Robert. "The masterpiece that killed George Orwell." The circumstances of Orwell's writing Nineteen Eighty-Four. The Guardian 9 May 2009.

Orwell, George. "Orwell Diaries, 1938-1942." From 2008 to 2012, Orwell's diaries were posted on this blog daily for the corresponding day 70 years earlier. The entire sequence can be accessed through the archive. The Orwell Foundation.

Orwell, George. Orwell at the BBC. Letters and memos from Orwell from the years when he worked at the British Broadcasting Company. BBC Archive.

Owen, Paul. "Nineteen Eighty-Four thoughtcrime? Does it matter that George Orwell pinched the plot?" The source of Nineteen Eighty-Four in We, a novel by Soviet Union writer Yevgeny Zamyatin. The Guardian 8 June 2009.

Paxman, Jeremy. "The genius of George Orwell." Orwell as an essayist and prose stylist. Introduction to Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell (Penguin Classics).

Pimlott, Ben. "Introduction to Nineteen Eighty-Four."Orwell Prize.

Pritchett, V.S. "The most honest writer alive." Extract from Pritchett's original 1949 review of Nineteen Eighty-Four in The New Statesman.

Rae, Patricia. "Mr. Charrington's junk shop." On modernist influences in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Twentieth Century Literature Summer 1997 [free at jstor].

Saunders, Loraine. "George Orwell, A Master of Narration."Orwell Prize.

Stansky, Peter. "Utopia and Anti-Utopia: William Morris and George Orwell."The Threepenny Review 10 (Summer 1982) pp 3-5 [free at jstor].

Taylor, D.J. "A brief life," by Orwell biographer D.J. Taylor, at The Orwell Foundation.


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