Exploring the Concept of Freedom in George Orwells “1984”
Freedom’s Erosion: Totalitarian Control and Deprivation in 1984
The classic novel 1984 by George Orwell evokes the reader with several emotions that play a part in depicting exactly what Orwell portrays through the characters and settings in the novel. The topics of power, freedom, the use of technology, and gender roles make the characters uniquely relatable to the reader in such a way that it may be different from the way another reader connects to the book. The topic of freedom, in particular, will be analyzed in this essay to further understand the message George Orwell relays through the novel.
The idea of freedom in 1984 is merely a thought for the characters of the novel. The main character, Winston Smith, understands that the citizens of Oceania have been suppressed from freedom for as long as after the Revolution. Winston also knows the people of Oceania, particularly the Party members, are constantly monitored by the government through the omnipresent telescreens, where a slight twitch or looking at no particular object for a second too long could have one imprisoned.
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Even dreams and thoughts are rendered a crime and are given their own offense, ‘thoughtcrime.’ The reader can comprehend that the Party members of Oceania have been stripped of their willpower, freedom, privacy, and even the use of common household items when Orwell states, “At any given moment there was some necessary article which the Party shops were unable to supply. Sometimes, it was buttons; sometimes, it was darning wool; sometimes, it was shoelaces; at present, it was razor blades.
Psychological Stripping and Control in 1984
You could only get hold of them, if at all, by scrounging more or less furtively on the ‘free’ market” (p.48-49). Orwell was relating this to the limitations that took place in totalitarian government-run countries such as Russia and Spain after the Cold War. The author was somewhat warning the American and English societies that one day, their governments would follow in the same footsteps. Though the American government hasn’t gone under totalitarianism or communism or has been completely suppressed from household items, the quote relates to modern-day society because there are occasional cutbacks on items that people may find useful.
The Party members of Oceania are not only physically stripped of their freedom, but they are psychologically stripped of their sovereignty. The reader can infer this when Winston says, “In the end, the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy” (p.80).
Winston says this when he is seemingly astonished at how much control the Party has over the mind.The reader can comprehend that since reality is controlled by the mind and the Party controls the mind, then the Party controls what is reality. The reader can understand this when O’Brien explains to Winston, ‘We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull” (p.249). The psychological war is continued by O’Brien later in the book when O’Brien asks Winston, “For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable?
Doublethink and Truth Manipulation in 1984
If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable—what then?” (p.81) The reader now knows that the people of Oceania have no way of independent thinking because the thoughts of what Big Brother would do or say are pervasive in one’s mind. Orwell illustrates how manipulating the government can be without one being fully aware that they are slowly conforming to what exactly the government wants them to be. This relates to American society because, with recent encounters with North Korea, the citizens are set to believe that America will go to war with the country when, in reality, there may never be a war.
“Freedom is Slavery” (p.4) is one-third of the Ministry of Love’s slogan. The reader is introduced to the process of ‘doublethink,’ which is the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts simultaneously while believing both of them to be true. The people of Oceania cannot believe one thing or the other, especially if it negates the Party, so they have to believe both of the conflicting thoughts are correct. This restrains one’s true thoughts and takes away the act of having opinions while also rendering things to be true that are, in fact, false.
Orwell is telling the reader that there will be moments when they are told information that will negate each other. For example, when the inauguration was still in effect, there was a moment when the president’s representative called what was said about his promises’ alternative facts.’ Since there is only one truth, there cannot be an alternate form of it because then that truth would become falsified. This led many Americans to believe that the U.S. government had been lying, confusing many citizens in the process. This is closely relatable to Oceania and its slogans and propaganda. It got to the point where no one knows what is true and what is not true, and they just accept what is presented.
In conclusion, George Orwell’s 1984 illustrates different forms of oppression that occur in “life after the Revolution” in such a way that it is still valid to one’s self and could be placed in the setting of today’s society.
- Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. Secker & Warburg, 1949.
- Lutz, Catherine A. “Doublethink in 1984.” The English Journal, vol. 74, no. 7, 1985, pp. 32-37.
- Peters, John Durham. “Orwell’s 1984 and the Internet.” Dissent, vol. 57, no. 2, 2010, pp. 44-49.
- Zwerdling, Alex. “Orwell and the Left.” The Nation, vol. 245, no. 16, 1987, pp. 550-553.
- Rai, Alok. “George Orwell and the Politics of the Literary Establishment.” George Orwell: A Centenary Celebration, edited by Laurence Brander, Macmillan Press, 2003, pp. 39-58.
- Chomsky, Noam. “Language and Politics.” Cognition, Vol. 19, No. 1-2, 1985, pp. 59-68.