The Individual Vs Big Brother


The Individual Vs. Big Brother Essay, Research Paper

?That is what has brought you here. You would not make the act of submission which is the price of sanity. You preferred to be a lunatic, a minority of one. Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. [?] Reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party.? This is how O?Brien, a high-ranking official of the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four, describes the worldview forced into the minds of its citizens. Demonstrated by Winston Smith?s nonconformist thinking, his unorthodox actions, and the deconstruction of his individuality, it is this world of O?Brien?s with which the concept of the individual is incompatible.

Eccentric thought is the beginning of the irreconcilable coexistence between the individual and the Party. As the novel unfolds, it is learned that Winston has been carrying these kinds of thoughts in his head for years. He could not hold them in any longer however, and perhaps as a subconscious act, had purchased a diary from a junk-shop on the free market. This was not illegal, as nothing truly was, but instinctively something to be reprimanded. Winston starts putting his thoughts to paper, out of reach from the snooping eye of the telescreens. It is this act which sets in motion the irreversible spiral into oblivion. The nature of this ac is explained this way after Winston had written a shocking sentence in his new diary:

Whether he wrote DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER, or whether he refrained from writing it, made no difference. Whether he went on with the diary, or whether he did not go on with it, made no difference. The Thought Police would get him just the same. He had committed — would still have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper — the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed for ever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you.

Thus, the ultimate evil against the government had already been committed. The act of simply thinking in an unorthodox manner was irreparable and unquestionable, much like the rigid authority by which Oceania was governed. Therefore, Winston?s unique train of thought, the staple of individualism, was a direct confrontation with the Party?s doctrines.

If simply thinking in a non-conventional way is the crime, then unorthodox actions are the epidemy of anarchy. Winston?s first true act of unorthodoxy was the purchase and use of the diary. With this came the realization that he was now doomed, and that capture lied in the future ?as surely as 99 precedes 100? . Regardless of what he did, it was only a matter of time before he was captured and killed by the Thought Police. Now came the challenge of staying alive as long as possible. But before he would spend much time on this task, something unexpected occurred: he found a love interest. Her name was Julia, and she worked in the same branch of the government as he did, but in a different section. Ironically enough, Winston had suspected her of being a spy for the Thought Police before the fateful day when she managed to palm a secret note to him. This made it a heretical action since it was done in secret. From this followed a long secret relationship, cunningly planned by Julia, always meeting in very secluded, private places. This was now treason, by meeting secretly, and avoiding the watchful eye of Big Brother, but especially by sharing the act of love. But why was even the act of sex watered down by the philosophies of the party? Julia explains in the following excerpt:

?When you make love, you?re using up energy; and afterwards you feel happy and don?t give a damn for anything. They can?t bear you to feel like that. They want you to be bursting with energy all the time. All this marching up and down and cheering and waving flags is simply sex gone sour. If you?re happy inside yourself, why should you get excited about Big Brother, and the Three-Year Plans, and the Two Minutes Hate and all the rest of their bloody rot??

In other words, sex allowed individuals to construct a world on their own, apart from the totalitarian control of the government. This was therefore unacceptable to the Party, because one had to be completely devoted to the Party and its cause, and any deviation from this was considered treason. Thus, the ability of individuals to momentarily disjoint themselves from the rest of society through their actions was disallowed. This further crippled the concept of the individual by barring people from taking part in ?unorthodox? actions.

The true culmination of the battle between conformity vs. individualism occurs when Winston is captured by the Thought Police. This happened at the hands of O?Brien, whom Winston believed was a member of a secret underground society with the task of overthrowing the Party. For a while, he was led by O?Brien with that premise, but in fact he himself was a member of the Thought Police. Thus, Winston is taken to the Ministry of Love, the section of the government which is responsible for keeping the firm order of the Party. Here, Winston is broken down through torture and brainwashing, piece by piece into a hollow person, and rebuilt into a mindless follower of Big Brother, filled with love and admiration for him. But why? Why would a government go through the incredible expenditure of energy to rehabilitate all those who had gone against their doctrines? The answer comes from O?Brien; considered as a tormentor, protector, inquisitor and friend by Winston. The reason for his forced rehabilitation is revealed in this powerful explanation by O?Brien:

?We are not content with negative obedience, nor even with the most abject submission. When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us: so long as he resists us we never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him. We burn all evil and all illusion out of him; we bring him over to our side, not in appearance, but genuinely, heart and soul. We make him one of ourselves before we kill him. It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. Even in the instant of death we cannot permit any deviation. [?] We make the brain perfect before we blow it out.? (bolded text added for emphasis)

Therefore, the despotism of Big Brother took it upon itself to ensure that there was a complete homogeny of thought. Any deviation from this, and the Thought Police were bound to capture and extinguish one?s erroneous thoughts through torture and a gradual wearing down of your individualism. This only explains the doctrine, however; what of the reason behind it? O?Brien later explains this in the following passage:

‘The real power, the power we have to fight for night and day, is not power over things, but over men.’ He paused, and for a moment assumed again his air of a schoolmaster questioning a promising pupil: ‘How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?’

Winston thought. ‘By making him suffer,’ he said.

‘Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? (bolded text added for emphasis)

Therefore, the Party seeks the ultimate power: the power over the minds of all of its citizens. As a result it uses various forms of torture, such as electro-shock therapy, to brainwash any deviants that stand in the way of the Party?s ultimate ideal of a puritan landscape of thought. It is this desire for complete power, and the horrifying practices carried out, which ultimately prove the incompatibility between the individual and the Party.

Thus, the concept of the individual is incompatible with the ideals of the Party. This is proven by the following facts: the criminal nature of Winston?s unique thoughts, and the writing thereof; the unlawful acts he carried out due to his unorthodoxy, such as maintaining a secret and promiscuous relationship with Julia, and the political ramifications of the sexual act; and lastly, the deconstruction of his individualism at the hands of the Party, due to its hunger for power over the mind. It is not surprising then, that among the imposing doctrines of the government of Big Brother, the character of Winston Smith was eventually wiped out. In conclusion, a passage from Winston?s diary:

To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another, and do not live alone ? to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone:

From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of doublething ? greetings!


Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four; Penguin Books 1990

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