In 1948, George Orwell released his infamous novel 1984, as a satire to World War II and the upcoming Cold War. Orwell had visited many countries overrun with Communism and was especially horrified when he traveled to Spain. When visiting these countries, he was disturbed by the way in which the citizens were treated and controlled by the governments. All over the world, countries were experiencing a phenomenon known as the Red Scare, which was spreading rapidly. The Red Scare was the hysteria over the recognized danger posed by Communists, and this rage led to multitudinous actions that had long-lasting and profound effects on governments and societies all over the globe.
For example, within the United States, federal employees were investigated in order to determine their loyalty to the government, which led to massive examinations, especially all throughout the Hollywood film industry. When George Orwell wrote his novel 1984 in the year of 1948, the world was at its peak of fearing Communism. Many countries’ governments were being controlled by Communist leaders, such as in the Soviet Union, Spain, and Germany. These governments ruled by harshly suppressing their citizens’ freedoms and strictly controlling their actions. This leads the fictional novel to be overwhelmed with notions of starvation, slave labor, mass torture, and supervising the masses every movement. As a result of Orwell’s travels through Communist regimes, he created memories of suffering and torture for the main character of the novel, Winston Smith.
He incorporates many details from his travels into Winston and other characters, such as the leader, Big Brother. Orwell creates a type of “dystopia” throughout 1984, which is the opposite of a “utopia”, which can be defined as an idealistic society. He wrote 1984 just after the end of World War II, so it could serve as a warning to the readers of the novel by presenting the practices that developed this state were intensely and overwhelmingly present in Orwell’s time.
Tyranny happened to be an existence for many countries, where the government “kept an iron fist (or curtain) around its citizens, where there was little if any freedom….” (1984 Historical Background). The society presented in this novel, although in a fiction book, mirrored the political and social turmoil of the societies that surrounded Orwell, such as the oppression of human spirit, complete government control of citizen life, abiding hunger, and the thoroughgoing “vaporization” of citizens who did not abide by government precedents and guidelines. Big Brother, the overwhelming power, and dictator in 1984 is a coalescence of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, two tyrannical and cruel leaders.
Using many unmistakable details, George Orwell makes sure that the readers do not misinterpret his intention, which was to show how totalitarianism negatively affects the human spirit and how it is impossible to think freely under a totalitarian regime. The setting of the novel is in a place called Oceania, a huge country which contained most of the continents and its mainland is known as Air Strip One, which was supposed to be a mirror of England in real life. The story takes place in Oceania, where human spirit, freedom, and individualism are crushed and the state is constantly at war with one of the other countries. The main character, Winston Smith, grew up knowing nothing but hunger and turmoil within society, mirroring historical events which the citizens faced in wartime Germany and the Soviet Union. He based the war hysteria, the annihilation of the family unit, persecution of people who thought freely, and the adjustment of historical documents to suit the party’s agenda were all created from what actually happened as a result of the extreme governmental policies during those times (1984 Historical Background).
George Orwell uses his past experiences and the unrest throughout society around him as a basis to write a satire about an unwanted, futuristic society. Through his knowledge of Communism, Orwell creates a novel mirroring the use of manipulation and fear, propaganda, and control of the media, as means to control the masses. In 1984, there are three political realms: Oceania, Eastasia, and Eurasia. These geographical lines were drawn somewhat consistent with the political distribution of the Cold War era in Orwell’s life.
Each of these three states were controlled by totalitarian governments that were at war with each other constantly. In Oceania, Air Strip One, is where Winston Smith resides. One way this government controls its people is through manipulation and fear. One of the best ways to control people is by fear; through fear of violence, privation, disapproval, etc. It can be utilized to employ people into doing anything the manipulator wants. Physical intimidation can also be used in order to manage and control people, while playing on people’s fears. This reflected how Nazi Germany was controlling their citizens: through fear and oppression.
By creating a world at war, Orwell creates an awful and terrifying atmosphere, but he also eliminates the possibility of escape for any of the citizens, which means they are forced to live with their present circumstances, no matter how horrendous. The Nazis created a terror-state, where those residing within Germany were too afraid to disobey Nazi laws. This state was achieved mainly through intimidation and brutality. Similarly, a method of intimidation used in Oceania was the presence of the Thought Police, or Thinkpol, who were secret police sent out to discover and punish thoughtcrime, condemning personal or political thoughts that were not approved by the Party. These thought police were created to mirror the Gestapo in Nazi Germany.
They were the Nazi’s secret police who gathered intelligence on people living in Germany, searching for unloyal Germans, just as the Thinkpol did. The Gestapo had around 200,000 undercover informants throughout the country who would report any anti-Nazi sentiment, making friends turn to enemies and family turn on each other (Nazi Control of Germany). These Nazi police, analogous to the Thought Police, did not wear uniforms and therefore no one knew if they were present or not.
This created colossal tension and fear that ran throughout the country, making friends and family turn on each other and making the masses easier to control. In Oceania, you would be detained, questioned, and most likely tortured if you had any unauthorized thoughts against the Party, just as you would be in any totalitarian regime. The Party in Oceania also uses mass psychological manipulation, such as totalitarian regimes use through nationalistic and subconscious messaging.
It overruns its citizens with psychological stimuli constructed to overpower the mind’s capacity for independent thought. This eliminated the threat of free thought which could eventually lead to thoughts against The Party. Every citizen’s room consists of a giant telescreen which roars a constant surge of lies and propaganda created to make the failures and shortcomings of the Party appear to be triumphant successes, also allowing no room for free thoughts. These telescreens also initiate fear into the citizens by monitoring behaviors and tracking their every move and thought, nothing was private.
The infamous saying “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” is plastered everywhere and instills fear in the citizens because it makes them aware that they are being watched with their every move. It also works to destroy family structures by inducting children into the Junior Spies, which mind controls them and encourages them to spy on their parents and report any instance of disloyalty to the Party. In the Soviet Union, children would turn on parents and family members all the time, immediately being praised by the state, not realizing the harm they were causing. This sense of insecurity destroys all personal relationships that might exist, which is the purpose because they might threaten the state.
In addition to the manipulation of the mind, the Party also controls the bodies of the citizens. The Thought Police constantly watched for any physical signs of disloyalty, to the point where even a microscopic facial expression could lead to an arrest by the Thought Police. The Party forces its members to go through a morning exercise called Physical Jerks, and then tires them out even more by forcing them to go work long hard days at government agencies, keeping everyone in a state of exhaustion, unable to rebel in any way. Anyone who defied them was punished and reeducated through the use of brutal torture, just as they would conduct in Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union.
They would punish citizens for defying the system until they were physically and mentally broken, and if they did not comply eventually, they were erased from all records. After Winston was arrested and put in solitary confinement, he was tortured for weeks until he came to the conclusion that nothing was more powerful than physical pain, not even his love for Julia. He betrayed his partner by wishing his punishment on her, and that is when he realized the system had broken him and he was released back into the public. George Orwell used real-life examples of control through fear and manipulation through totalitarian governments and put them in his book as a warning of what their future could become. Psychological and physical manipulation can be an effect of the use of propaganda. During the peak of their Fascist regime, Orwell spent some time in Spain as a correspondent for the BBC. During his time there, he had felt that their media was a huge propaganda machine, constantly concealing the truth and maximizing half-truths in order to disillusion citizens. In 1984, Winston Smith is employed with the media agency, most likely to give the readers knowledge of how severely the Party effects and controls all public knowledge.
The reader is also able to see the constant deletion of paper that holds information that was once true but the Party now proclaims false. The Party does this in order to make sure the citizens have complete faith in the government because they are made to seem perfect and never have any mistakes. They used propaganda to control its citizens and took it “to totalizing limits in its project of political control over not just everything that people do or say but everything they think or believe” (Yeo). Every type of communication in Oceania is filled with politically charged messages and there is no way to avoid the intrusive propaganda. Winston Smith works in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, destroying old records as they become inconsistent with new Party values. Each day when Winston leaves his apartment room, he sees Big Brother posters everywhere, reminding him that he is constantly under surveillance and that he must remain loyal to the Party. Similarly, in Nazi Germany, there was a man named Josef Gobbels who was appointed the Minister of Propaganda in 1933 and his main goal was to brainwash people into obeying the Nazi regime and idolizing Hitler (Nazi Control of Germany).
He had control over the media and the arts, making sure Germans were filled with Nazi ideology while censoring other, potentially threatening information. They held rallies called The Nuremberg Rallies, which glorified war and the military and the 1936 Berlin Olympics were intended to showcase the superior athleticism of the “Master Race” (Nazi Control of Germany). During this time period, they lowered the price of radios, allowing more people to purchase them and tune into the broadcasts given by the Nazi Party administration.
Just as Big Brother’s picture was everywhere, so were Adolf Hitler’s, reminding people that he was everywhere and constantly watching. Immutable messaging and propaganda leaves citizens with absolutely no time for independent thoughts, working in favor of the government. Their propaganda left the citizens believing that the Party was thriving and that it was a necessity in their life, meanwhile, they would have been better off without it. The government constantly provided Oceania with information, most of it is lies, only meant to occupy their time.
Winston Smith’s job of forging old records made the party seem unable of making mistakes, and this destruction of old documents can also be seen in the Stalinist era throughout the 1930s. After Joseph Stalin rose to power, the leaders of the Russian Revolution who were once honored were deleted from all historical records. Stalin had their names removed from history books, their faces destroyed in historical photographs, and articles written in encyclopedias were removed and new pages put in place. Propaganda “is the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person” (Manzaria). Propaganda is extremely effective, which is why it was used so heavily in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, and why George Orwell thought it was important enough to put into 1984. The first and most important step of control of information is control of the media and of other technologies. Although many Western cultures accentuate the importance of individual human rights, Communism is much more quiescent on these issues.
In a Communist society, the individual’s best interests are the same as society’s best interests, which makes individual freedoms nearly impossible because they are always placed below the society as a whole. Communism allows for the complete control of the media and all other forms of incoming information. When Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, he eliminated the multi-party political system which brought the demise of many newspapers which were produced by outlawed political parties (The Press). Months after that, Nazis gained complete control over all press organizations. In the mid-1930s, the Nazi regime deployed the radio, press, and newsreels to put to rest the fear of an uprising. The Propaganda Ministry aimed to control the content of news and editorial pages through messages distributed in conferences in Berlin.
This is extremely similar to what Winston Smith does in the similarly named Ministry of Truth. He falsifies old records and makes sure that the Party always is right, no matter what past information states. In the beginning of the Nazi regime, the Nazis orchestrated a massive campaign to win the faithfulness and cooperation of the Germans, while The Nazi Propaganda Ministry took control of all forms of communication in Germany, just as the Ministry of Truth did. Viewpoints that were in any way threatening to Nazi beliefs or to the regime were censored or eliminated from all media (Nazi Propaganda and Censorship). The Nazi regime also used schools in order to spread Nazi ideology, by educating them to be blindly obedient to the party and teaching them to love Hitler. Children would turn against family members and friends because of their obedience to Hitler. They would, in turn, get rewarded by the government, just as children did in Oceania when they reported seeing their parents do something against party values.
In Oceania, there was a ritual known as the Two Minutes Hate, where pictures flashed of enemies of the party and all the people watching screamed and got extremely riotous. Even if you did not hate these people, it was nearly impossible not to join in. The main purpose of this ritual was to make the people lose their individuality by creating an environment where they all show the same emotions at the same time. This makes them feel that they and everyone else all feel the same and it is because of what the Party wants them to feel. By doing this, the Party eliminates individual thought and instills the idea of the group rather than the self.
The Party controls every source of information, managing and rewriting the content of all of the newspapers and histories for its own reason. The Party does not allow individuals to keep documents of the past, such as photos or other records. As a result, the Party is able to control the memories of the citizens, creating false histories and causing the citizens to put their complete trust in the party. Through its manipulation of the past, the party is able to control and justify all of its present actions. Through means such as telescreens and hidden microphones throughout the city, the Party is able to monitor its members all of the time. The authorities in 1984 also have complete control over the language, which is detrimental to individual identities because language is the central importance of human thought. Limiting language limits the ideas that individuals are capable of formulating and expressing.
The idea of Newspeak, which replaces English in the novel, is utilized in order to alter the structure of language, making it impossible to even have disobedient thoughts once they finished altering the dictionary. Many of Orwell’s ideas about language as a controlling force have been altered 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 instituted their own language and customs. Hitler made sure to censor any anti-Nazi ideas or ways of life, completely controlling the flow of information in Germany at the time.
Censorship of newspapers, radio, cinema, and the theatre were heavily enforced and many books were burned (Nazi Control of Germany). In order to gain power and keep control, the first step is getting control of the flow of information. George Orwell recognized this similarity throughout many totalitarian regimes, and this is why he situated it as a theme in 1984. In George Orwell’s 1984, many aspects of the novel were influenced by outside events that were persistent in Orwell’s life. In the 1940’s, Communism was on the rise, especially after World War II, creating a perfect undertone for the novel. Orwell uses a dark spin on the reality of the decade, creating a dystopian future, creating a world that would occur if Communism continued to grow at the rate it was.
Orwell did this to scare the readers of the novel, fearing such a future that was filled with Communism. 1984 utilizes methods such as propaganda and totalitarian control in order to create a society that reflected the communist countries and their mass control. Many countries’ governments were being controlled by Communist leaders at the time, and these governments did everything they could in order to control their citizens.The novel is overpowered with themes of starvation, slave labor, mass torture, and monitoring the masses by authorities. The leader in the novel was an idea known as Big Brother, which the citizens were following blindly. He can be described as a combination of Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, two very strong dictators. During the Nazi regime, there was very little opposition because those who spoke out would face intimidation and threats, imprisonment, and even execution.
This mirrors the society found in Oceania because there was very little opposition to The Party, and if you did defy them, you would face imprisonment, intimidation, or even death. Orwell makes sure that readers are unable to misinterpret his intention by making these societies have so many similarities. George Orwell uses his past experiences and the turmoil within society around him as a basis for writing a satire about an unwanted, futuristic dystopia. Using his knowledge of Communism, Orwell creates a novel mirroring the use of manipulation and fear, propaganda, and control of the media, as a means to control the masses both physically and mentally.
George Orwell was able to take a satirical outlook on the dark events that he experiences throughout his life involving Communism and dictatorships. He traveled to Spain and was very disappointed with the way in which the governments treated their citizens, so he wrote a fictional novel hoping to warn the world of the evils of Communism.