Archive of ‘iHub Reads 2016’ category
On the Publicity of Government Surveillance in Oceania
One of the first things mentioned in the novel is the poster in the hallway of Victory Mansion (where Winston lives), which reads BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING. Also named are the telescreens, found in nearly every setting in the story, which are widely known to be surveillance tools.
My question is, why would the government be so explicit about its surveillance of the People?
Surely a society so technically advanced would have concealed cameras and microphones, and could make use of them, so why didn’t they?
The short answer might be fear, as a population would be “scared straight,” as it were, by the surveillance, and even the dissenters and thoughtcriminals would keep themselves in line as a necessity of being so closely watched.
However, the Party could just as easily have kept the surveillance a secret (and probably vaporize those who tried to spread this fact), and it might have even been better for them this way. If only a few knew of the level of surveillance being enacted against them, the population as a whole would be more open and willing to express their dissent, even if only in the “privacy” of their own home.
Then, the Party would have a whole new slough of people to “re-educate” or “heal.” The Party’s goal to have the entire population know and love Big Brother would be even closer to their grasp, as the same tactics used on Winston would surely work on everyone, or at least the vast majority of the detainees.
Of course, there is also the psychological aspect of the knowledge of your constant surveillance. A person, knowing they are being spied on, will typically distrust the spiers and their productivity will be diminished (see here).
Why it was this way in the story, I can only guess that it was more convenient to the writer. It was easier to portray the world as dystopian and backwards if the people are constantly under surveillance and made to listen to propaganda through the telescreens, a world unimaginable by people in the 50’s, when the book was written.
The constant surveillance may have been publicly carried out, and perhaps in our world, this would lead to negative side effects. However, in the (I was going to say Orwellian here, but realized that would be redundant) world constructed by the Party, this doesn’t seem to be the case. The Party, in contrast, keeps such an iron grip on its people (almost to the extent of an organized religion with many devout followers) that such negative results were not found.
Whichever way the Party carried it out, they achieved the same goal: total domination of the masses’ lives.
Winston finds himself in a cell, a square room with white walls, lights that never went out, and a telescreen on each wall. He assumes that it is within the Ministry of Love, as that is the logical place for such a thing, but he has no definite clue. Many other prisoners are gradually brought in and out of his cell, in quick succession, but they all sit rigidly on the narrow wooden bench which lines the room.
Throughout the time in which he is at the Ministry (which might have been weeks or months, perhaps longer; Winston had no way of knowing), he is kicked, beaten, and left alone to recuperate for a few hours, before the guards come back to repeat the process.
After a while of this, O’Brian, whom he thought had been a member of the Brotherhood, who is revealed to be an spy for the thought police and an interrogator for the Ministry of Truth, begins to have sessions with Winston. O’Brian places Winston on a table, where he is bound for several hours at a time. He asks many questions about the nature of the world itself, and persuades Winston that the Party is the embodiment of humanity itself. The Party creates, controls, and can terminate all that was formerly considered part of human nature.
At first, Winston is reluctant to accept this worldview (as it contradicted all of his closest beliefs), but after an uncountable number of sessions, Winston gradually succumbs to this philosophy. He becomes goodthinkful, as the Newspeak word describes it, but remains emotionally unchanged. He still hates Big Brother and the Party, but his brain prevents him from thinking against them.
He is placed in Room 101, which is notorious in the prison for its brutal techniques of torture. Winston had previously asked O’Brian what was in Room 101, but all he had in reply was, “You already know.”
Winston is bound to a chair, and a mask is placed on him. It was a wire cage, and at the end was a sealed chamber (opened by a lever on the outside), containing 3 rats. Rats, as Winston’s primal fear, terrify him, as well as being able to tear through flesh with their teeth. This last fact was calmly explained, by O’Brian as the mask is placed on his face.
The last scene in the novel leaves the reader with the image of Winston, a drunkard with very little work, sitting, released from the prison, in a café, drinking Victory Gin.
He is goodthinkful, and he is loyal to and loving towards Big Brother. He remembers what he thought before being “cured of his insanity” in the Ministry of Love, but has convinced himself that they are fallacies, constructed in his mind in an incomprehensible hate for the Party.
Winston is reminded blissfully of this, as he daydreams of being back in the Ministry of Love, walking in the corridors, when he feels a bullet enter the back of his head, but he is not alarmed. He had been expecting this ever since he was caught, in the room over Mr. Charrington’s shop.
He feels at peace as he loses consciousness, because he knows that he will have died loving and adoring Big Brother, and that the battle with himself was won.
Part Two begins with a normal workday for Winston. He had not, after all, been vaporized by the Thought Police, and he thinks that everything has blown over.
Winston, while walking in the corridors, sees the same girl who he had seen in the street some days earlier (she works in the Fiction Department of the Ministry, Winston knows). She trips and falls, and so Winston pauses to help her up. As their hands met, she slipped a scrap of paper into his hands, and after thanking him and moving on, Winston makes his way about the day until he can read it. Once reading it, he finds it to read:
I LOVE YOU
This note confuses him, but as it is a dangerous possession, he disposes of the note.
The words absorb Winston for days, and he is longing to meet up with this girl (whose name he doesn’t even know). He attempts to sit next to her in the canteen for several days, but in all until the last, he is prevented by circumstances: some days, she is already sitting with a group, others she is sitting near a telescreen, and even others he is called to another table by one of his coworkers.
Once he can finally make contact with her, in the middle of a crowd, she gives him directions to a place in the countryside outside London, where they are to meet soon.
They meet in the place described by that dark-haired girl, and they talk freely (a first for Winston) about the Ministry, the Party, and life in general in Oceania. They stay hidden in the trees, but Winston notices a lot of similarities to the Golden Country of his dreams: the valley, the creek, and the row of trees. He learns her name, too: Julia.
After enjoying each other’s company for a few hours, they made for home. They took a different route home as that which they had come, so as to avoid suspicion.
They vow to meet each other again, and after a few more meetups, Winston suggests using the antique shop’s upper room for a hiding spot, where they could not be caught due to the lack of a telescreen. Mr. Charrington, the antique shop’s owner, kindly agrees to rent it to them.
Meanwhile, Winston had been getting certain feelings about O’Brian, an important Inner Party member. He felt that O’Brian would be sympathetic to the cause of the destruction of the Party, although he could not understand why.
O’Brian had evidently been feeling similarly about Winston, as he established contact by using the 10th edition of the Newspeak Dictionary as a cover-up (that Winston was to come by O’Brian’s flat to pick it up).
O’Brian had the luxury, as an Inner Party member, to turn off the telescreen so that it would not pick up all that he told Julia and Winston.
They learned of the underground organization, called the Brotherhood, lead by Emmanuel Goldstien, whose goal was to overthrow the Party. It is unclear whether or not this organization had a mastermind somewhere behind it, but all members have no more than four contacts within the Brotherhood.
It was promised that Winston would get a copy of the book, that which Emmanuel Goldstien had written, and surely enough, he did.
While reading it with Julia, in the safety of the room above Mr. Charrington’s shop, they heard a voice, coming from behind a two-hundred year old painting. It ordered them to stand in the centre of the room, with their hands behind their heads. Several armed officers of the Thought Police march into the room and surround them, followed by Mr. Charrington, relieved of his disguise as an elderly shopkeeper.
Chapter 6 begins with Winston recalling events that happened years ago, to write in his diary. Although it was illegal to interact with a prostitute, Winston did so anyways. Remembering this experience also brought to mind his wife, Katharine. They had been separated for several years by this time, but they were still married, as divorce was forbidden for Party members.
He also thinks about how the Party is attempting to kill the human sex drive, as it can be one of the greatest factors in some relationships. The Party, in trying to eliminate loyalties to others than itself, tries to control the sexual desires of the People. The only reason to have sex, according to the party, was as a duty, to create more Party-following people.
The Proles (the people who were not members of the Party), Winston thought, could potentially have great power in overthrowing the Party. They had great numbers (about 85% of the total population, or so Winston thought), and they were largely unpoliced. They were seen by the Party Leaders as uneducated, uncivilized, and “natural inferiors, who must be kept in subjugation, like animals.” (page 74) In this way, they were simply allowed to do as they please, as long as they kept a sense of “primitive patriotism” and continued to work and breed.
According to the Party, the Proles had been liberated from the horrors of Capitalism (eg. the child workers in the factories of London, the Capitalists who exploited their workers, etc.) However we may know these things to be true, Winston had no way of proving it, as it could have just as easily been made up by Minitrue.
Winston decides to confirm what he had been thinking, about Capitalism and its horrors. He goes among one of the Prole neighbourhoods in London, and to a pub. He offers a drink of beer to an elderly man, and begins to ask questions about what London was really like before the Revolution, though he gets no useful answers.
Feeling let down, Winston leaves the pub and begins to wander the streets until he suddenly became aware of where he was: at the antiques shop where he bought the journal. After admiring a glass paperweight, he buys it for $4. The shopkeeper, aware of Winston’s fascination with antiques, takes him upstairs to a room in which he formerly lived with his wife.
Winston soon becomes aware of the fact that the room has no telescreen. He thinks of renting this room out for a few dollars a week, but immediately dismisses the idea, as that would be seen as even more suspicious than visiting a Prole pub and antique shop.
Upon leaving the shop, Winston sees a Party member in the otherwise empty street. Fearful that she was a spy, assigned to watch him, he walks quickly in the other direction until he reaches his flat, where he mentally prepares himself to be taken away in the night by the thought police.
Chapter 3 of 1984 begins by Winston dreaming of how his mother and sister had perished. The details are not clear, although Winston does have a notion that they died as a sacrifice, so that he would not have. He then dreams of what he calls the “Golden Valley,” a place very different to his surroundings. It has lush green grass, rolling hills, and trees. While in this Golden Valley, he encounters a dark haired girl who, as they walk nearer to each other, casts off her clothing. Winston is not interested in what is newly exposed to him, however interested in the motion itself. He imagines this as the casting off of the oppression of Big Brother and the Party with one swift motion.
He wakes upon the production of a high pitched noise from his telescreen. After suffering through the mandatory Physical Jerks (an exercise program), he heads off to work, where he finds 4 memos on his desk. They all instruct him to rewrite either past editions of the Times, the official newspaper, statements of the other Ministries, or even of Big Brother himself. In one such revision, Winston is told to rewrite an entire front page article, Big Brother’s Order of the Day, from a year earlier, as it makes mention of some unpersons, or people who have gone missing under suspicious circumstances, and so are deemed to never have existed. He then invents a story of a Comrade Ogilvy, a dedicated soldier and follower of Ingsoc (the ideology of the Party).
Winston finds it scary and disturbing that he can simply rewrite history this easily. He can create a person out of thin air, as if they had actually existed and served under Big Brother in the war against Eurasia. Four years earlier, Oceania had been at war with Eastasia, but allied with Eurasia. However, as the opposite is now the truth, it is considered to be that for all of history, Oceania and Eurasia have been at war.
Figures can be “corrected,” so that production targets can be exceeded; Big Brother’s predictions can be made true by rectifying the “misquote” of his original prediction.
In chapter 5, Winston goes to lunch in the canteen, and meets a co-worker who is working on Newspeak.
Newspeak, the government’s new language for its people, is English, except curated, compacted, and flattened. They remove so many words that abstract thought becomes impossible if your only language is Newspeak. It would, if fully implemented, remove the very idea of thoughtcrime, as nobody would even know how to think about defying Big Brother.
I think that it’s a good thing we have insight into the Ministry of Truth, as it certainly seems like the most interesting of the four (followed closely by Love). I hope that at some point during the story, we will get some perspective into Miniluv as well.