How does 1984 represent power? What danger does George Orwell' s novel 1984 warn us against?

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rrteacher eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Power in 1984 is portrayed as flowing from Big Brother and the Party. It is they who, as the slogan emblazoned nearly everywhere in Winston's world says, "are watching you." The Party controls information, language, the food rations a person receives, the clothing that they wear, their personal relationships, and virtually everything else. But the Party's power extends beyond these external factors. It even controls the way people think. Part of this is through the use of language, as referenced above, and the Thought Police tasked with enforcing conformity. But Winston even fears that his very expressions will betray his inner thoughts, an offense known as "facecrime." Moreover, the Party creates an atmosphere where nobody can trust anyone else, because that person might betray them to the Thought Police. In this way, the power of the Party flows through individual relationships. Even without the telescreens and all the other technological elements to the surveillance apparatus created by the Party, there is always the danger that someone is being watched by his or her fellow citizens.

As for the dangers that 1984 warns the reader against, I would argue that the greatest danger is that of human nature. Orwell takes a fairly dim view of human nature in 1984 as well as other works. The Party is successful precisely because it exploits human fears and our inability, or unwillingness, to let empathy guide our actions. The Party's rhetoric of equality, which at one point lay at the heart of its power, is easy for critical thinkers to see through, but Orwell seems concerned that people will not exercise their critical faculties in the face of power. Even though people like Winston run afoul of the Party by their actions, it is also true that the Party is able to exploit people's worst instincts in order to maintain power. In short, Orwell uses 1984 as a cautionary tale against power not based on a basic respect for humanity.

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ms-mcgregor eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Power is represented by the totalitarian rule of Big Brother. He tries to control every action and thought of the people of Oceania. People's movements are watched through telescreens and even their facial expressions are judged. If they show the wrong expression,they are guilty of a "face crime." The goal of the Party in charge of the government is to eliminate any kind of free will. People who violate even the smallest regulation are subject to severe punishment. There is only one place to escape this kind of control and that is in the "proletarian ghetto", where "crime and hunger are commonplace. The party refuses to allow any type of thinking that is contrary to theirs. Winston Smith, the protagonist of the novel, captures this concept when he writes, “Freedom is the freedom tosay that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”

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timbrady eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There are almost too many things to mention.  There are two that present the most immediate concern to me.  The first revolves around their "Who contols the present controls the past; who controls the past controls the future."  Since most of us are unable to study the past in great details, we rely on others to tell us about it.  Since we often use the past to justify/explain our actions in the present, it's clear that if someone can "change" the past (Winston's job), then they can control the future.  In our present world, we're told what Bush did, what Clinton did, we're told that some condition or other is the worst ever and told that we need "change" --- but do we ever really examine these statements? Jefferson was clear that you could not have a democracy without an educated public; not a public with degrees, but a truly educated populace.

The other thing I know Orwell was warning us about is the corruption of language.  In "1984" they have invented Newspeak, a language that takes away many of the words that differentiate some feelings;  they create new words that have new meanings, such as "ownlife."  Then they make ownlife a negative, something you are not supposed to have.  Since we can only think in words, taking away/controlling our language makes it impossible for us to do some kinds of thinking.  It's a type of politically correct language --- and there are signs of it in today's world too ...

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j-a-m-i-e | Student

To understand how George Orwell’s 1984 represents power, let’s look at how the author portrays the government. The government in 1984 has four Ministries, each with a different area of control. The Ministry of Peace oversees war. The Ministry of Plenty determines how much (or how little) food and goods people can purchase. The Ministry of Truth decides what information reaches the public, but most of it is untrue. Finally, the Ministry of Love severely punishes individuals who do not conform with the rules. Doesn’t each Ministry’s name sound like the opposite of what it does?

Orwell helps us to understand the government’s power through the life of his protagonist, Winston. For example, the telescreen in Winston’s apartment is watching and listening to him all the time—he has no privacy at all. The government also controls communication with the invented language of Newspeak, which restricts free thought.

Overall, the government in 1984 does not use its power for good but instead exerts total control over all aspects of people’s lives. Now, what danger could Orwell be warning us against? If 1984 teaches us anything, allowing the government to have total power can be very dangerous to our freedom and our quality of life.

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