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Big Brother, Social Classes, and George Orwell's 1984

Updated on April 16, 2015

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Big Brother Holding Social Classes in Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”

George Orwell was born in 1903 in India. Orwell served in the Imperial Police and through serving it turned him into a literary and political rebel. When he returned to Europe he lived in poverty thus turning him into a socialist. During the Spanish Civil War Orwell went to report on it, and then stayed and joined the Republican militia. From the experiences he had in war, he had a fear of communism. The two works he is most famous for is his story Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four (Britannica).

In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell tells a frightening story of how the world might be in the future. The story takes place in Oceania where anything you do, think, or say is being watched by Big Brother. Among the things Oceania’s government “The Party” is already doing they are even creating a new language called Newspeak which eliminates the meanings of words to help the Party stay in control of the people.

Throughout the story you follow Winston Smith, who hates the Party and does things they consider to be illegal. As the story progresses, he continues to break the law in increasing severity. The story begins with Winston writing in a diary he illegally purchased, so he can begin to write down his thoughts about the government. Slowly throughout the book Winston starts doing other things that are against the Party’s laws that can get him in trouble, he meets a woman named Julia and begins a romantic affair with her, and he even “joined” or so he thought a rebellion against the Party the worst crime you can commit. When Winston is finally captured by the thought police he is brought to the Ministry of Love. He is tortured and finally taken to Room 101 where he faces his worst fear rats but instead betrays Julia so he does not have to face his fear. But no matter what Winston does he or the people of Oceania cannot seem to break free of their social classes. There are three social classes in Oceania, Inner Party, Outer Party, and the Proles. The Inner Party is the upper class, they have a lot more freedom than the Outer Party and the Proles. They also get better food, coffee, and cigarettes. The Outer Party is the middle class; they live in bad neighborhoods, and barely get any food. They are constantly watched by telescreens and can’t turn theirs off like the Inner Party can. The Proles are the lower class they do all the manual labor work they aren’t as watched by the Party as the Outer Party because the government doesn’t see them as a threat.

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Winston works for the Ministry of Truth. His job there is to alter the history to make it seem like the government is always right. One day he was tasked with changing a prediction of Big Brother’s speech that was given the previous day, which stated, “Had predicted that the South Indian front would remain quiet but that a Eurasian offensive would be shortly launched in North Africa” (Orwell 40). However, the opposite happened, and as Winston said, “It was therefore necessary to rewrite a paragraph of Big Brother’s speech in such a way as to make him predict the thing that actually happened” (Orwell 40).

Thanks to the Party’s ability to alter history on a moment’s notice they are able to keep the social classes in a status they find agreeable to themselves. When the Proles “lower class of Oceania” were told from the Ministry of Plenty that the “Forecast had estimated the output of boots for the quarter at a hundred and forty-five million pairs,” but in actuality, “The actual output was given as sixty-two millions” (Orwell 42). Because Winston works for the Ministry of Truth he altered history to show the forecast said “Marked the figure down to fifty-seven millions, so as to allow for the usual claim that the quota had been overfilled” (Orwell 42). This makes the Ministry of Plenty appear to be more capable than they actually are because, not only did they make quota, they went over quota by five million pairs. By using these methods the Party will always be on top of the social class because the Proles are fed lies, and history is always shown to prove Big Brother “right”. Since the Proles are always fed lies about the past from the government there will always be a false “proof” available to ensure the Party’s power.

Orwell had many predictions that came true after his book was published. The government in Nineteen Eighty-Four was a totalitarianism state. The Party had complete control of the people and nothing could stop them from taking even more freedoms away from their citizens. Some of the tools they used to make sure they stayed in power were Newspeak, Doublespeak, the Ministry of Love, and the Ministry of Truth. Each of these tools had a way to keep the people from revolting and allowing the Party to do as they please.

For example, there is a real life example of the Ministry of Truth. Vitaliev, Vitali referred to the KGB as a “real-life version of the Ministry of Truth” while he lived in Russia during the Soviet Union Era. Vitali recalls the Glavlit which would release a manual stating all books that needed to be confiscated from libraries. “Each week, Glavlit released a constantly updated thick instruction manual listing books to be confiscated from all libraries and bookshops of the USSR” (Vitaliev 1). The books that were being confiscated were against the USSR’s agenda. Of the books that were banned many of them had something to do with the previous Russian leaders that were no longer liked by the mass population. Even some of Orwell’s works had been removed from libraries. These real world versions of the Ministry of Truth show how governments are both capable and willing to use this tactic to keep the lower classes in the dark. If there is no truth, people can't possibly revolt against something that always appears to be right.

Even more frightening than the idea of banning books had to be the Party’s new language, Newspeak. What the Party was doing with Newspeak was changing the meanings of words and their uses, or just removing words entirely. These were words that they no longer wanted in the Oldspeak language. In Oceania Newspeak’s purpose was to replace Oldspeak and in doing so make it literally impossible to go against the Parties agenda. In Orwell’s Appendix The Principles of Newspeak he mentions how Newspeak works by saying “A thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc-should be literally unthinkable, at least as far as thought dependent words” (Orwell 310). The use of Newspeak literally makes it impossible for free thinking: the Party was making it so that if they were against the Party they wouldn’t be able to even express what they were feeling in words.

Newspeak has also happened in Soviet Russia. From Vitali’s story he said the moment the USSR rose in power they began to tear the Russian language to pieces, that they were, “meticulously destroying the Russian language by simplifying its grammar and littering it with thousands of meaningless neologisms” (Vitaliev 1). What is a little nerve racking as well is the fact that this is even happening in the United States. When the NSA was found to be spying on the United States citizens illegally, NSA director James Clapper was asked to talk about the testimony he gave to congress. He responded with “I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful manner” (Vardi 1). What Clapper says has no meaning, he is basically using his own version of Newspeak. Because the Party controls the language that Oceania uses, the citizens are slowly starting to lose their voice. They are getting stuck in a social class that can not speak their mind about the government.

The Party’s main way of being able to keep the citizens under control in Oceania is the Thought Police. The Thought Police use the telescreens, deception, and fake rebellion operations to keep the masses in check so they can continue to control them endlessly. telescreens were everywhere throughout Oceania no matter where you were you were being watched. The Thought Police even had agents walking around as normal people watching the citizens. But the biggest operation they had was one that ultimately led to the demise of Winston. Winston falls into a trap that begins with O’Brien telling him that he is in a group that is against the Party, Winston wants to be a part of it and unfortunately learns that O’Brien is a part of the Thought Police.

In John Frodshams work he talks about how China had their version of the Thought Police. But instead of using telescreens and spying on them, they just used their own citizens. People would watch their neighbors and children would watch their parents, and at the end of the week it is reported to the neighborhood revolutionary committee (Frodsham 144). These people have completely lost their privacy, whatever they say or do is reported by the people around them. Frodsham says “The individual has no right to personal life; each of his actions is subject to rigorous surveillance. Everything he does at home... where he goes, what he talks about, what he eats, what he reads, what he listens to on the radio, all this is immediately learned by those around him and reported” (Frodsham 145). Even though this may not be a telescreen it basically serves the same purpose. Because these people are watched constantly if they do anything that the government does not like it is immediately taken care of.

Big Brother is talked about a lot now a days. He’s always watching, and listening to you. Throughout Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, three slogans were seen frequently and they were “War is Peace”, “Freedom is Slavery” and “Ignorance is Strength”. Even though these slogans are not used now, people can apply them to real life scenarios that are happening. War is Peace happened during the Bush Era, Bush told us “That we must fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here” (The Herald). This is a perfect example of War is Peace. War is not peace because people are dying and killing others, this goes against what peace really is. “Freedom is Slavery” is also happening as of right now, when we went to war with the terrorists we were told that we must give up our freedoms to fight the terrorists (The Herald). Some of our freedoms are slowly disappearing before our eyes because the government uses an excuse to take our freedoms away at the cost of fighting terrorists for us. The last slogan “Ignorance is Strength” is everywhere in our society. The news and media is all watered down and not giving us the true news (The Herald). Even the educational system is worsening; the stuff we teach kids is all dumbed down requiring almost no thinking (The Herald). If kid’s educations are worsening they will not be able to move out of their social classes they were born in.

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Big Brother is even showing up in workplaces according to Ed Quillen. People are getting fired for things they do off the job now. One lady Janice Bone was promoted to a higher position, they made her take a urine test and from the results discovered she was using tobacco products and was fired (Quillen). Many other places such as U-haul even fine employees for off hours smoking and being overweight (Quillen). Even though this is not as extreme as the other examples. It fits in with the “Ignorance is Strength” the people are allowing this to happen and not fighting back. The employees are basically stuck, if they fight they will most likely be jobless.

All of these slogans can happen to us if we let it happen. In article in the New York Times, talks about how Orwell’s book is not a prophet but rather a warning to mankind (New York Times). “1984 could happen if man did not become aware of the assaults on his personal freedom and did not defend his most precious right, the right to have his own thoughts (New York Times). If the citizens of Oceania realized earlier what was going on in the Party’s agenda maybe there would be no Big Brother in Oceania.

All of these tactics Big Brother used on the people of Oceania, made it so they could not move social classes, Proles to Outer Party and so forth. The top social class in Oceania the Inner Party held all the power and made sure their agenda was strictly followed. The Ministry of Truth made it seem as if the Party was always right, and since the Party has this false “proof” they will always be in power. The Ministry of Love brainwashes the people with torture and pain to love Big Brother. If people disagree with the Party and the Party does not seem it fit, they will get tortured and be back right where they started only this time brainwashed to love Big Brother. The Thought Police used telescreens to make sure people did their job correctly and that they were where they were supposed to be, when they are supposed to be there. Not only that kids were taught to turn in their parents to the Thought Police if they heard them speaking badly of Big Brother. Newspeak was making it impossible to express what they meant in words. All of these tactics are used to make sure the Inner Party stays at the top, the Outer Party stays in the middle, and the Proles stay in lower portion of the social chain. The citizens of Oceania can not do anything at this stage of the Totalitarianism government because it has taken complete power over the people.

What makes this story so terrifying is the fact that other governments, although not nearly as successful as the Party they used all these tools in real life. The KGB had books removed that went against their agenda, China was using people to be their telescreens, having everything people said and did listened to by their neighbors and reported later to the government. All of this shows that this can happen anytime and anywhere. But like the New York Times said, Orwell was not trying to be a prophet, he was giving a warning to us. He is letting us know what can happen if society lets their rights slowly be chipped away. And now that people have seen that this stuff really happens in real life society needs to take this more seriously. The warning Orwell gave us is already happening and only society can make sure they do not let a real life Nineteen Eighty-Four happen.

Annotated Bibliography

Frodsham, John David. “The New Barbarians: Totalitarianism, Terror And The Left Intelligentsia In Orwell’s 1984.” World Affairs 147.3 (1985): 139. Academic Search Complete Web. 26 Nov. 2013.

John talks about one of his trips to China, and how closely 1984 resembled it. He talks about how the Chinese government would destroy anything that was against its beliefs, and if you protested against what the government was doing death was almost guaranteed to be your punishment.

This article has a lot of good evidence showing how Orwell’s 1984 are already happening in other countries. World Affairs is known for its arguments on international affairs. Their bias is that they support socialism and see capitalism as the starting point for totalitarianism.

"The Message For Today In Orwell's '1984'." New York Times Jan 01 1984. ProQuest. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.

In this article that takes place in 1984 the author talks about how Orwell believes that if mankind allows anyone to take away our free thought Orwell’s book 1984 will happen. This article tells us that although Big Brother may not exist, he is in the news managing in taking the free thought away from people.

Because this is a news article and they are stating that the news is being managed it shows that they are a reliable source. Their bias is that this article is from a capitalist government and anything to do with communism is wrong.

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: Penguin, 2003. Print.

"Orwell's Warnings are Coming True." The Herald May 18 2011. ProQuest. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.

The author of this article talks about George Orwell’s three slogans that Orwell uses throughout 1984. For each of the slogans he uses a real life example to prove Orwell’s point. All of his real life examples are spot on how Orwell uses the slogans.

This author is a reliable source because he gives great examples on how Orwell’s slogans are slowly coming into our real world. Although his bias is his strong dislike of Republicans and the Bush Era.

Quillen, Ed. "Orwell Missed by Only Seven Years." Denver Post (pre-1997 Fulltext): 4. Apr 14 1991. ProQuest. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.

This newspaper talks about how Orwell was only off by 7 years on his prediction for 1984. He talks about how in 1991 companies started taking our rights away. He talks about how your rights are vanishing in the work place and if it happens there it can happen anywhere.

This article gives good facts and has dates to show their evidence. The bias he holds is a statement he says that is pretty general and about money, “When they tell you they're doing something for your own good, keep your hand over your wallet. It isn't your good they're worried about.”

Vardi, Moshe Y. “The End Of The American Network.” Communications Of The ACM 56.11 (2013): 5. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Nov. 2013.

Reports that details of the National Security Agency (NSA) are spying on citizens through phones and internet are becoming more known. Also speaks about how the grammar the NSA director used and how it closely fits in with Newspeak.

This organization is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society. It is known to provide publications that are new and relevant. Their bias is that they want internet restriction to be free or freer from the government control.

Vitaliev, Vitali. “Big Brother Made Real.” Engineering & Technology (17509637) 3.9 (2008): 18. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Nov. 2013.

Vitali describes in detail how the book made him feel about living in the USSR. The book fits the USSR perfectly almost; they even had their own version of the ministry of truth the “KGB”. The Russian language was becoming Newspeak because their government was making its words meaningless.

Vitali lived in a totalitarian government, by reading his story of what happened during his life in the USSR it shows a horrifying realistic version of George Orwell’s 1984. His bias is the fact that he lived through a very similar government that Orwell portrayed in 1984.

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