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Jean-Jacques Rousseau eloquently said: “Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains” (Rousseau). His idea is that although man may be brought into the world as a free individual, countless social and political limitations brought upon him may prevent him from gaining true freedom. In George Orwell’s 1984 and Hyenseo Lee’s The Girl with Seven Names, Winston Smith and Hyenseo Lee struggle against the government to break these chains. Though 1984 is science fiction and The Girl with Seven Names is a memoir, both books depict totalitarian societies where social values and freedoms have been restricted with manipulation and oppression through propaganda. In order to achieve freedom and individuality, the characters refuse to abide with the viewpoints of the government. By exploring their own autonomy, the characters are an attestment that their own fear was used against them. Orwell and Lee both argue fear can be weaponized as the ultimate means of control.
In 1984, Orwell builds the notion that the Party exploits fear in citizens in order to remain in absolute power through both Winston’s mindless obedience to the thought-police and excessive awareness of the Party’s surveillance. When Winston is carrying out his Physical Jerks exercises in front of the telescreens, his mind drifts to the Party that alters people’s memory of the past of Oceania. He is quickly pulled out of his thoughts when a voice from the telescreens immediately criticizes him for not performing the exercises correctly and he quickly warns himself, “Never show dismay! Never show resentment! A single flicker of the eyes could give you away!” (Orwell). Winston becomes instantly afraid that the telescreens have caught him thinking thoughts that are contradictory to those held by the Party and that he will soon be killed for thinking them. Through the constant surveillance of the telescreens, Winston is terrified of the repercussions that may follow his actions. His fear is best illustrated by the moment when the thought-police invade Winston’s and Julia’s apartment to arrest both of them for their resistance of complying to the Party’s rules. Winston describes and acts in this moment as a “ feeling of nakedness, with one’s hands behind one’s head” and “dared not turn his head even by a millimetre, but sometimes her livid, gasping face came within the angle of his vision” (Orwell). Even when Julia is being beaten by the thought-police, he does not try to defend himself nor try to save the woman who he claimed he loved the most. This shows Winston’s obedience towards the thought police due to his immense terror of them. Thus, by disobeying the governmental controls (telescreens and the thought-police), Winston finds that he is in conflict with his own fear. Fear, then, is a tool for governments to maintain power.
Similarly, through Lee’s portrayal of the Bowibu and the promotion of propaganda through education, she argues that an authoritarian regime must use fear to force citizens to submit. The Bowibu are the secret police force in North Korea who punish any citizen who commits a political crime. The Bowibu are not interested in crime that affected the people, but are only interested ‘ in political disloyalty, the faintest hint of which, real or imagined, was enough to make an entire family – grandparents, parents and children – disappear” (Lee). Lee acknowledges how much fear is deeply imbedded in her society, and realizes her life and those of many others are at risk if they show even a small sign of defiance. The citizens fear the Bowibu and show this by how the citizens refrain from challenging the government system due to the chance of risking their own lives. Without this fear, the government of North Korea would immediately collapse. Another example where the government uses fear as a method of control is through the school curriculum. North Korea indoctrinates its citizens through idolization of its leaders glorification of North Korea and increases the fear of outsiders. Futrhermore, North Korean teachers describe Americans to Lee as “snarling jackals…they had turned South Korea into a ‘hell on earth’ and were maintaining a puppet government there. The teachers never missed an opportunity to remind us of their villainy” (Lee). The description of Americans as horrible beings ultimately leads citizens to give loyalty and commitment towards their leader and foster an aversion towards outsiders. When the people are united by a common fear, the government is able to easily brainwash and eliminate all thoughts or rebellion.
In conclusion, both Orwell’s and Lee’s works, fear is consistent throughout the novels. As shown, it is something that enables the government to remain in power and allows citizens to be stripped of their liberty. Even though freedom is something that we may overlook, we must realize how crucial it is in our society. The ability to act and speak freely gives us all a life we are happy to live. Today in American society, people are at ease to express their thoughts and opinions freely, where no one thinks about if they are going to make it alive tomorrow, and no one worries that one day they will be taken away from their family to be tortured and then killed. But this liberty is something that is unfamiliar to the citizens of Oceania and citizens of North Korea, for whom freedom from oppression is something that is beyond their imagination. Let us only hope that the future does entail a similar fate for us.
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