A Study of The Theme of Panopticism and Jeremy Bentham's, Michael Foucault's Ideas in Panopticon by Jenni Fagan and 1984 by George Orwell

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Words: 2013 |

Pages: 4|

11 min read

Published: Mar 14, 2019

Words: 2013|Pages: 4|11 min read

Published: Mar 14, 2019

A panopticon can be used in order to effectively keep surveillance of society. This, in all of its senses, is manipulative and coercive. As society started growing, it kept getting more difficult to control the people, and therefore, other resources or mechanisms had to be used for the monitoring of these people. In the late eighteenth century, Jeremy Bentham had an architectural design for prisons, asylums, schools, hospitals, and factories, and received help from an architect in order to put his ideas on paper . Michael Foucault, a French philosopher, did extensive research on panopticons and his ideas were taken into consideration by future authors. Bentham’s plan for the prison design gained popularity because Foucault saw it as a strategic model to internalize discipline and authority. The Panopticon, written by British young adult author Jenni Fagan, is directly linked to these ideas. 1984 by George Orwell, however, was published in 1949, so it cannot be said that Foucault influenced it, since the panopticist ideas were published in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of a Prison (1975). On the other hand, Bentham could have slightly influenced Orwell’s writings. These panopticist ideas come into play in today’s world as well, and it has become a controversial topic because of modern technology that society feels has become more and more invasive. The Panopticon and 1984 both have the recurring theme of panopticism, which affect the main characters in different manners. This paper aims to show the correlation between Bentham, Foucault, and how the same ideas and theories influenced works that were written decades apart.

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The ideas of a panopticon originally had good intentions; Jeremy Bentham created it in order to retire violent methods of punishment. He wanted to punish in another form, this being more psychological. Foucault stated that the panopticon “reverses the principle of the dungeon”. The dungeon had “three functions: to enclose, to deprive of light, and to hide; it (the panopticon) preserves only the first and eliminated the other two” . Knowledge comes from power, and the panopticon can allow the authorities to see everything that is going on around them, leading them to know more things. The panopticon also creates a constant state of control, and makes those that are observed internalize the fact that they are always watched. “Constant observation acted as a control mechanism; a consciousness of constant surveillance is internalized”.

The Panopticon, as the title states, revolves around the idea that people are always being watched. Anais feels as if she is involved in an experiment, and she knows that people are always watching her, and wants to escape it. It’s a novel that goes in depth into the main character’s psyche, and the reader gets an insight into her life and fears. She’s strong, but copes with drugs and her own imagination. Ironically, these are the things that should not be done when one knows that they are under vigilance. For Anais to escape the experiment and cope with her uncertainty of where she comes from, she seeks comfort by playing the “birthday game”. By creating a life for herself, she is able to rely on those facts and pretend that she has a semi-normal life. On the other hand, it is a sign of resistance from the panopticon, because people can see her actions, but not her thoughts. Since the novel is written from her perspective, the readers do get to see her thoughts, so the readers act as the panopticon in this case. Anais is very skeptical of all that goes around her, and has been forced to grow up quickly. In the Panopticon that she lives in, the watch tower gives no privacy, which is an act against human rights. Being in a constant state of surveillance drives Anais mad, which in the end pushes her to escape her life. She was able to run away because the watch tower shattered, “the whole surveillance window shatters, and I see them; turning on their fucking tails; the experiment, for a fraction of a fucking second: exposed” . At this point, Anais is liberated and can start her life in Paris, just like she had decided with her birthday game. The last sentence of the novel is, “I begin today” . Because the windows hiding the faces of those surveilling her have shattered, they are now at her level because they are real people. She has the power to run away and fight the system, and therefore, becomes her own person.

Orwell’s novel is dystopian and reflects the society as powerless and robotic. Big Brother in this case is the panopticon. There is no face to Big Brother, but society fears him. By using these scare tactics they have been able to brainwash society into being permanently scared. They have to be in constant control of what they say or do because the consequences are brutal. It is impossible to trust anybody, because when Winston did, he was turned into the police. Orwell also introduces “Newspeak” into the novel, which would now be considered simple English. It is the official language of Oceania. Because the words are so simple and there is no complexity to them, it gives people no reason to rethink words or give other definitions to them. It limits their language so they cannot rebel against the system, which is the main reason behind changing the language. Apart from limiting language, it also limits personality and personal identity, which is also a method of brainwashing. Newspeak does not allow for any type of personal development, and Winston breaks this by keeping a diary. He is able to express his feelings in it, but realizes he has written “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” multiple times on the page and sees that he has committed thoughtcrime. If the level of intelligence of this society were higher, one might have realized that it would be impossible to track all the thoughts of all the members of society, but because of the various methods of brainwashing that have been carried out, no one was able to think it through. “Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you” . Fear is the most common tactic used by oppressive societies to stay in power. If society fears the system, one will rebel against it and the oppressive state continues. Winston is also guilty of doublethink, although he realizes he is. He works for the system, but secretly is rebelling against it. At the Ministry of Truth, slogans that read “WAR IS PEACE”, “FREEDOM IS SLAVERY”, and “IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH” all brainwash society. These words are antonyms of each other, and the people do not realize that. By working at the Ministry of Truth, he is supporting these statements, but by writing in his diary and being secretive he is rebelling against it.

The difference between 1984 and The Panopticon is that the latter has partial freedom. Although Winston Smith is not a prisoner and works for the party, he has less freedom than Anais does. He has no freedom of any type, he cannot do, say, or think as he pleases, because the society is a microscope that is being observed by Big Brother. Anais, though she has been arrested and is a victim of countless foster homes and misfortune, is in a controlled environment but has the freedom to think, which is extremely powerful. As Foucault stated, knowledge is power. She can liberate herself of the constant pressure from the social workers and of the panopticist society she is in. There is no type of Thought Police or thoughtcrime like it exists in 1984. On the other hand, Anais is psychologically incarcerated at times, which is why she resorts to drugs. Although she has the freedom to think and create her past life, it stops her from really knowing who she is and where she comes from. However, her mind is so powerful that she can brainwash herself into creating a past life for herself. Winston, nevertheless, is very aware of what goes on in his life and that can give him a sense of security. Even though he is not following the rules, he knows his consequences.

Because both novels share similar themes, the panopticist ideas appear throughout and the characters share common traits. Anais and Winston are very similar in the sense that they are both victims of their society. They are both incarcerated metaphorically. Their minds are free, but only one of them can be safe expressing their true thoughts and feelings. There is an internal struggle occurring with each, and although the characters are very different in terms of lifestyles and persona, their inner struggles clash. Being in a state of liminality like both characters are, they struggle with their daily lives and may or may not go against their basic beliefs, like Winston did when he turned in the love of his life, Julia. Anais differs in this manner, but as the novel progresses, there are signs of maturity on her part, and she becomes more conscious of her desires. The novels also share a major common aspect; the fact that both of the societal powers do not have a face to them. In 1984, Big Brother does not have a face, so there is enough reason to believe that he does not exist, and that there is a group of people controlling society. Likewise, in The Panopticon, Anais does not see the faces of the people in the watch tower until the windows are shattered and she is able to see for a fraction of a second. Power does not come from one sole person; there is generally a group of people in control or a political figure who is puppeteered by others.

A panopticist society currently exists among us, and although it may not be in the traditional sense, people definitely feel the effects of it. People are raised to believe that they are under constant watch of those that cannot be seen, for example Santa Claus for the young, or even more in depth, a God. A panopticon is essentially what God is, all watching and all knowing. In the end, people fear the consequences that God can give them, which is why many are so dedicated to their religion. This can make people feel anxious all the time and it is not fair to make people believe that they are not free because there is a radar on them at all times. It is psychologically damaging, because there is no true freedom. Currently, there have been happenings of government interference with the general public, not only terrorists or potential suspects. Wire-tapping goes against the American Constitution, and although the Patriot Act is named and worded in a way that makes it seem as if it is something that is a duty to ones country, it strips society of basic human rights. Under no circumstance is it okay to spy on one’s own, because it betrays trust between the government and members of society. One very current situation is the power behind Cuba’s dictator: Fidel Castro. There is no factual evidence that he is alive, but because “his people” say he is, Cubans believe it because they have been brainwashed to extreme extents by the communist party.

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Panopticons exist in all various forms, but the only way that society can fall into the trap is by succumbing to the power behind the words, because words are the most powerful thing when gaining power. Ignorance is not strength, and one should have the freedom to think freely and act within reason. Being under a constant state of vigilance like the characters of The Panopticon and 1984 were wears out ones mind and persona. Anais was able to break out of the cycle, but Winston on the other hand, fell back into the system and was brainwashed once again.

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A Study of the Theme of Panopticism and Jeremy Bentham’s, Michael Foucault’s Ideas in Panopticon by Jenni Fagan and 1984 by George Orwell. (2019, March 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 5, 2023, from
“A Study of the Theme of Panopticism and Jeremy Bentham’s, Michael Foucault’s Ideas in Panopticon by Jenni Fagan and 1984 by George Orwell.” GradesFixer, 12 Mar. 2019,
A Study of the Theme of Panopticism and Jeremy Bentham’s, Michael Foucault’s Ideas in Panopticon by Jenni Fagan and 1984 by George Orwell. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 5 Dec. 2023].
A Study of the Theme of Panopticism and Jeremy Bentham’s, Michael Foucault’s Ideas in Panopticon by Jenni Fagan and 1984 by George Orwell [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Mar 12 [cited 2023 Dec 5]. Available from:
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