The Troubles Of Totalitarianism

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With the start of the Cold War, Soviet and Western superpowers raced to implement their respective communist and democratic ideologies in as many nations as they could. While the war was still in its infancy, many American politicians and intellectuals strongly supported communism, and the national press claimed the Soviet Union as great in its exercise of this system. However, having witnessed firsthand the cruel lengths communist governments would go to bolster and maintain their power, George Orwell wrote 1984 to warn the Western communities of totalitarianism’s destructive and oppressive capabilities, especially with the use of advanced technologies to monitor and control citizens.

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In this political novel, Orwell describes a relatively young Winston Smith, an Oceanian citizen and Outer Party worker whose job is to alter historical documents so they line up with the Party’s, or government’s, inconsistent needs. Living under Big Brother’s “perfect” totalitarian rule, all Oceanians are under constant government watch and control, so much so that having a disloyal thought will result in unimaginable torture and execution. As the story progresses, Winston begins to secretly rebel against the regime, only to discover that he tremendously underestimated the Party’s power. Through the government’s psychological manipulation, physical control, and continuous propaganda, it is evident that unchecked, absolute power can and will pulverize all things civil and righteous in humans because it eradicates all individual thought.

To start, the Party psychologically manipulates its subjects, erasing their minds’ capabilities for deep thought and snowballing the Party’s totalitarian power. For example, the noticeable telescreen in every citizen’s room forces people to “live-from habit that became instinct-in the assumption that every sound. . . made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every moment scrutinized” (Orwell 3). These instruments, as well as the omnipresent hidden microphones and large “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” posters, allow the Party to monitor everyone around-the-clock and require them to act in their best behavior at all times. Any suspicious or subconscious acts of thinking, like talking to oneself or whispering during sleep, will ultimately end in execution.

As a result, Oceanians, out of fear, are forced to suppress their individual thoughts. Moreover, Big Brother extinguishes familial values through his youth organizations, like the Junior Spies, in which children are “systematically turned into ungovernable little savages, [but] in them no tendency whatever to rebel against the discipline of the Party. On the contrary, they [adore] the Party and everything connected with it” (Orwell 24). The Junior Spies is one of the ways the government terminates privatized love for the family and replaces it with undying loyalty for the Party. These children are encouraged to rat out their parents if they were to show any suspicious activity, hinting at the government’s goal to trounce the human heart. Not only does the Party further its power by using the young generation as extra surveillance tools, but it also ensures that when these children mature, they will be cold-hearted, emotionless patriots at Big Brother’s disposal. Clearly, the Party’s continuous psychological manipulation of citizens bolsters its power and produces a world of heartless humans.

In addition to manipulating their minds, the Party controls its citizens’ bodies, which in turn destroys their souls. For example, during the Physical Jerks one morning, Winston had to have the “look of grim enjoyment which was considered proper…[and] was struggling to think,. . . [which] was extraordinarily difficult” (Orwell 32). The Party requires every Outer Party citizen like Winston to participate in the Physical Jerks, an every-morning physical exercise where a trainer appears on the telescreen and leads the movements. Just as Winston was struggling to think during this activity, the Party’s purpose for the Physical Jerks is not to make sure its citizens are healthy, but to control their bodies and prevent them from having spare time alone to think. The Physical Jerks is another indicator of just how pervasive Big Brother is and how individuals in this society are always being controlled. Furthermore, the Party uses physical pain to reeducate and transform Winston into a “perfect” thoughtless human. After being subjected to weeks and possibly months of intense torture, Winston lets go of his moral and logical reasoning, leading him to believe that “two and two [can be] three just as easily as five” (Orwell 258). Although he strongly claimed that two plus two equals four before his treatment, the Party was able to use pain to make him defy his judgement. Through physical torture, the Thought Police can control reality by steering their subjects’ realities, convincing them to believe that a straightforward math equation such as two plus two can indeed equal anything and everything. Evidently, the Party’s ability to physically control its people greatly contributes to the hollowing out of humans.

Lastly, the Party’s never-ending flow of propaganda weakens human nature and highlights totalitarianism’s destructive power. Winston works at the Ministry of Truth, which is contradictory in that his job deals with rewriting historical documents and filling them with lies so they can match with the Party’s lines. Files that state information the Party wants to edit or erase is “recalled and rewritten again and again, and [are] invariably reissued without any admission that any alteration had been made” (Orwell 40). The Party is always making predictions about the future, from the availability of pots and pans to the amount of chocolate rations. However, because the future is always unpredictable, the Party can alter their past forecasts to make it seem like they always hit the bullseye in the present. Additionally, with the prevalence of propaganda, human memory becomes obsolete. When trying to remember when he first heard of big brother, Winston struggled greatly, for no one can “establish even the most obvious fact when there existed no record outside [his or her] own memory” (Orwell 35). The Party does not allow individuals to keep personal records, like photographs or journals, so they have to rely on their own memories to recall past information. Still, when the government starts sharing false data, people begin to doubt their memories as the constant rewriting of history disables their ability to verify their judgement. Ultimately, the human ability to retain information turns obsolete, and individuals become perfectly willing to believe anything the Party claims. Big Brother’s use of propaganda unequivocally illustrates the destructive nature of totalitarian rule.

In essence, there are many notable reasons why unchecked totalitarian power will destroy everything human in a human. The Party was able to mentally manipulate its citizens through constant monitoring and implementing adolescent brainwashing organizations. It also used Physical Jerks and torture to physically control society. The Ministry of Truth’s forever flow of propaganda renders individuals’ memories obsolete. In the mid-1900s, Orwell wrote this novel sound the alarm for those who supported communism. To eternalize his message, society needs to always be aware that absolute totalitarianism is possible and must never be exercised, for the sake of current and future generations. In the end, Orwell opens readers’ eyes to the power of totalitarianism and the devastation it can wreak to those who live under it.

31 October 2020

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