How does totalitarianism relate to loss of privacy, loss of individualism, and loss of freedom in 1984 by George Orwell?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the wake of the NSA scandal, "Big Brother is watching you" has become a prevalent phrase in today's society, and Orwell's novel has had a resurgence in sales.

  • Loss of privacy

While there is technological today that invades people's privacy, in Orwell's 1984, loss of privacy is a constant in Oceania because the forces of the totalitarian government can only control the minds of people if they fear detection of anything that is not allowed. Therefore, the telescreen and Big Brother is in every home, as there are telescreens all about. In addition, people are made to attend hate rallies, so they have little time to themselves. At these rallies, there is a huge screen of the "public enemy" Emmanuel Goldstein, former party leader, but now leader of a conspiracy group, who is in each of the videos shown. At these "Two Minute Hate" sessions, 

A hideous ecstasy,...a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer...seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one against another.

While Winston is at the Two Minute Hate, Winston Smith feels that O'Brien, a member of the elite Inner Party, suspects his disloyal thoughts. 

Truly, there is no time that people can feel comfortable in their own thoughts. Even parents are spied upon by their children who report them if they break the rules of society. And, of course, people cannot be alone with another somewhere where they cannot be seen.

  • Loss of individualism

With the loss of privacy comes compromise to one's individualism since private thoughts and reasoning generate individual expression. The paranoia that is created by such things as Winston's fear that O'Brien can read his thoughts, certainly results in loss of a sense of self.

It is because of his yearning to express himself that Winston breaks the law and purchases his diary, committing "thoughtcrime." It is because of his hunger for real communication with another by whom he can truly measure himself that Winston commits himself to clandestine meetings with Julia. It is because of his hunger to true expression and thought that Winston trusts Mr. Charrington, who betrays him later.

After Winston is arrested and punished for his thoughtcrime, he is tortured and brainwashed until he rejects his individualistic conviction that a person should have the freedom to believe what he knows is the truth and not the propaganda of Oceania. His writing in the dust of the chess table that "2+2=5" is symbolic of his loss of individualism, his own soul. Already spiritually dead, Winston is then executed.

  • Loss of freedom

Unless one adopts the propaganda of the totalitarian government, he or she is punished; so, with the fear that at any moment one can be reported, there is little freedom.  History is rewritten and knowledge is controlled; language is altered and thoughts are controlled because if there is no word to express one's thoughts, they cannot live. In Chapter V of Part I, Syme's explains with great fervor the beauty of the destruction of words. He tells Winston,

"Even when you write it, you're still thinking in Oldspeak....Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words to express it....The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect.

The inability to move around without being spied on, and certainly Newspeak restrict freedom.