To some, government is seen as a necessary regulator to keep society in line. However, many believe that government has too much control over the society in which it resides. A proponent of less government influence is the dystopian author George Orwell who states his opinion in one of his novels entitled, 1984.
Within this work of literature, Winston, a middle-aged man, lives in the society of Airstrip One where the government has massive control, including its citizens thoughts. While it may be easy to convince a conservative audience that too much government control hurts society, convincing a liberal, pro-regulation audience takes skill. To convince such readers, Orwell uses a variety of persuasive and literary devices such as propaganda, paradox, and symbolism to prove that too much government control is detrimental to society.
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Orwell’s use of propaganda proves that too much government control is detrimental to society. In the story, the government is known as The Party. Throughout the novel, Winston sees a Party slogan that reads, “WAR IS PEACE / FREEDOM IS SLAVERY / IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH” (Orwell 4). The use of this slogan in the book shows the reader that The Party uses its power to convey its own messages to the public as a means of persuasion and therefore altering one’s own thoughts. As the message being conveyed is incorrect, The Party spreads fallacies to its citizens, abusing its power as a means to maintain their status, demonstrating that too much government control is detrimental to society.
Further, The Party slogan “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” is commonly seen, accompanied by a large picture of a man with eyes that appear to follow the viewer as they walk. This propaganda, however true, leads a citizen to believe that they have restricted freedom, causing them to live with minimal peace of mind. This conveys the message that excessive ruling power has negative effects as it shows that The Party, with its control over the media, uses its privileges to spread only negative propaganda, with no outside media counteracting it with correct and positive advertisement. Using propaganda allows Orwell to create an image of a controlling, dishonest government, convincing the reader that too much government control is detrimental to society. In addition to using propaganda, Orwell uses paradox to convey the theme that excessive government control has a negative impact on society. For example, “.
. . the Ministry of Truth, which concerned itself with news… the Ministry of Peace, which concerned itself with war…” (4). With the Ministry of Truth being responsible for news, which many people understand is frequently incorrect, citizens are likely to believe that all news from the Party must be accurate because the Ministry responsible for it has “truth” in its name.
Further, citizens are also likely to believe that the all military actions of the Party are for peaceful purposes, as the Ministry of Peace has the word “peace” in its name, even though its only task is to fight at war. In using these paradoxes, Orwell illustrates a government that blatantly lies to its citizens to make its actions seem correct, despite the fact that they are not. Additionally, Orwell uses the Party’s “Victory” goods as paradoxes. Winston drinks Victory Gin throughout much of the novel.
With the name Victory Gin, one would think that it is among the best gin available. However, Winston finds the gin to be awful and “sickly.” Further, Victory Cigarettes serve as a paradox, “Winston took a cigarette from a crumpled packet marked VICTORY CIGARETTES and held it upright, whereupon the tobacco fell out on the floor” (5). While the cigarettes are labeled with the word “victory” in front of them, they are actually of low quality, creating an image of a government that lies to its citizens to its citizens. With the Party being the only producer of goods, they are able to abuse their monopolistic power to make cheap goods labeled in a misleading manor. In using these Victory paradoxes, Orwell is able to create a negative image of the Party which misleads its own citizens. As proven, Orwell’s use of paradoxes such as the Party’s ministry names and Victory goods convey the message that too much government control is detrimental to society.
In addition to paradox, Orwell’s use of symbolism demonstrates the too much government control is bad for society. Accompanying the many signs and items that read “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” is the face of Big Brother with “eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you” (27). These items featuring Big Brother, the eyes in particular, symbolize The Party’s excessive need to restrict its citizens’ freedoms through fear of being caught, and punished. In creating this image, Orwell is able to effectively prove that too much government control is detrimental to society. In addition to the posters of Big Brother, Orwell uses the Telescreens as symbolism. In Airstrip One, each member of the working class has a television that feeds live video and audio of them to The Party, “Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by the telescreen” (3).
The telescreens are symbolic of The Party’s excessive surveillance over its citizens, creating an environment where people are afraid act even slightly unorthodox. By using the telescreen to symbolize The Party watching over its citizens, Orwell makes The Party unattractive to the reader, allowing him to prove that too much government control is detrimental to society. Through propaganda, paradox, and symbolism in 1984, George Orwell effectively demonstrates that too much government control is harmful to society. By using all three in the novel, Orwell is able to paint a picture of a government that manipulates and controls its citizens to a point where they have the most minute amount of freedom possible, which serves as a warning for those living in the present-day.
In modern society, Orwell’s symbolism of Big Brother is commonly used to describe alleged spying by the NSA on the United States’ citizens, and the highlighting of the adverse consequences throughout the novel displays the need for individual awareness in regards to public policy, politics, and the world. Knowing this, one must constantly search for knowledge and a wealth of information, as these can cause irreparable damage similar to that shown in Orwell’s 1984. Further, one must be weary of messages from the government as they can be misleading and dishonest as they are in 1984.