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1984 by George Orwell is a semi-dystopian story about the totalitarian government in the country Oceania, and its ability to dehumanize its citizens into not being able to think for themselves. The novel follows a man named Winston Smith, a member of the Outer Party, or the middle class in his society’s ranking system, his struggle with the Party as a whole, and his country’s leader, Big Brother. 1984, while having many ongoing symbols, uses Big Brother to symbolize the Party, the Thought Police, Oceania’s ever-lasting war, and the vagueness in his leadership. However, George Orwell makes it clear how powerful Big Brother really is and that “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU”.
From the very beginning of 1984, Big Brother is a prominent figure in Winston’s life. He starts the story with a distaste for Big Brother and his surrounding ambiguity. He knows that Big Brother can never die, but knows not if he’s alive or even real. By laying these key factors out to us from the very start of the story, George Orwell implies that Oceania’s ruler truly is unknown to the world. Due to this, those free-willed enough to commit thoughtcrime, the only crime in Oceania, question Big Brother and his decisions. In the case of Winston, he wonders why the Party is so keen on always being right, and erasing the past if they are wrong. To Oceania’s citizens, Big Brother is not just a leader; he is their fear. He is the fear of stepping out of line. He is the fear of the Thought Police and the Party. He is the fear of thinking. That fear is what allows Oceania to maintain control of its citizens.
Following the introduction of Big Brother, we see Winston become aware that he has committed thoughtcrime. Due to this, he slowly becomes more reckless in the decisions he makes and eventually begins an affair with a girl named Orwell shows us how Julia makes Winston think more and make increasingly bad decisions. One of these decisions is trying to pursue a supposed rebellion against Big Brother known as the Brotherhood. Winston is eventually confronted by an Inner Party member, O’Brien. He invites Winston to his home with the implications that he knows of his thoughtcrimes and that the Brotherhood was closer than he thought. Bringing Julia along with him, Winston is told by O’Brien that he is a part of the rumored Brotherhood and interrogates them with a series of questions to be sure of their betrayal to the Party and Big Brother. After deeming them worthy, O’Brien sets Winston up with a briefcase containing a book all the Brotherhood must read, written by their founder, Emmanuel Goldstein.
George Orwell tells us that by this point, Winston and Julia have rebelled enough to the point where they truly hate Big Brother. He tells us how they’re aware that one day they will be caught and erased from history for their thoughtcrimes, so they make it a goal to break the rules under Big Brother’s nose to the best of their abilities.
Unfortunately for Winston, the entirety of the Brotherhood turned out to be a set up by O’Brien and Mr. Charrington, a man who gained Winston’s trust by selling antiques from decades that the Party erased from history. However, Mr. Charrington turned out to be a member of the Thought Police and had Julia and Winston taken away due to their affair and belief that something like the Brotherhood could exist and succeed. Big Brother had been watching them through Mr. Charrington, through O’Brien and through the hidden telescreen in Mr. Charrington’s store. Nevertheless, it didn’t matter who Big Brother was watching them though, what mattered was that they were criminals and the fear of Big Brother was unable to keep them in order. Orwell made it a clear point when Julia and Winston were captured that Big Brother was more than just a political figure; he was the Party, he the Thought Police, as well as the unspoken and unwritten law of Oceania.
After being captured, O’Brien has Winston go through a series of questions, torture and overall reconstruction of his mind to make him compliant and utterly trusting of the Party. O’Brien makes him believe that 2+2=5 and that freedom is slavery, but realizes that even through weeks upon months of brainwashing, Winston still despised Big Brother. Winston begged for death, but O’Brien made it clear that death isn’t given out to those who hate Big Brother. Orwell describes to us how Winston is taken to room 101, the room where it is said lies “the worst thing in the world”. He has O’Brien explain to how the worst thing varies from person to person, but for Winston it was rats. These rats caused him to betray the one thing he loved, Julia. In letting her go and betraying her, Winston began the path to loving Big Brother. By the time everything seemed perfect to him, he was fully converted to the Party and Oceania had finally won its never-ending war, Winston was finally granted the bullet in his head he longed for and in turn, loved Big Brother. Orwell’s meaning behind Big Brother varied from moment to moment with Winston. He began as a looming figure, always watching and something to be loathed for existing, however, through powerful brainwashing, Winston was able to see Big Brother how he was intended. Big Brother became a protector and valiant leader which gave Oceania the victory in a war decades old.
In summary, George Orwell uses the main political figure in Oceania as a symbol for its government, its police force, and why compliance in this dystopia is how the world runs. As Winston is taught to learn, Big Brother symbolizes that “WAR IS PEACE”, “FREEDOM IS SLAVERY” and “IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH”. With Big Brother, Oceania will never truly be happy, but without him, Oceania will crumble.
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