What are the Spies in 1984? Are they just children that keep an eye out on their parents to see if they have done anything wrong?

In 1984, the Junior Spies is the name of a youth organization run by the Party. Its primary aim is to keep an eye out on any adults, not just parents, who might be guilty of disloyalty or treason.

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The Junior Spies is a government organization concentrated on indoctrinating children into the Party's socialist ideology. The primary objective of the organization is to create a loyal, orthodox generation of children who will offer their endless support of the Party and continue to blindly follow the government's autocratic, one-sided policies. The members are taught to love Big Brother and engage in community hikes, processions, drills, and activities that promote the worship of Big Brother and the principles of Ingsoc.

The spies also act as an extension of the Thought Police, and children are encouraged to carefully monitor their parents and report them for suspicious anti-government activity. Orwell writes,

All their ferocity was turned outwards, against the enemies of the State, against foreigners, traitors, saboteurs, thought-criminals.

The members of the Junior Spies are transformed into zealous, violent Party supporters who are fiercely loyal to Big Brother. The Parsons children are both members of the Junior Spies, and Winston Smith can tell that Mrs. Parsons is scared of them. Mrs. Parsons's son ironically accuses Winston of being a thought-criminal and fires his slingshot at him as he leaves their apartment. Later in the story, the Parsons children turn their father into the authorities for saying, "Down with Big Brother" in his sleep. The Junior Spies organization is one method of ensuring the Party's complete control over the population and solidifying their reign for future generations.

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As in all totalitarian states, the authorities in Oceania realize the importance of catching them young: of indoctrinating young people into the fanatical left-wing ideology practiced by Ingsoc, the ruling party. The Party clearly believes that by establishing the Junior Spies organization, they will be nurturing the next generation of loyal cadres, thus ensuring the continuation of the regime.

To some extent, this process of indoctrination involves separating children from their parents, dissolving the natural ties between parents and children so that the children of Oceania belong to the state. The Party wants all children to believe that Big Brother is their mother and father all rolled into one.

Such ideological indoctrination can be seen in the activities of the Junior Spies, a Party organization whose child members are encouraged to keep tabs on adults—including their parents—to make sure that they don't do anything disloyal or treacherous.

Mr. Parsons's children, zealous members of the Junior Spies, turn in their own father to the authorities on the basis that he's committed thoughtcrimes. This demonstrates the extent to which children have been separated from their parents: they owe their primary loyalty to the Party and not to their own flesh and blood. Mr. Parsons's children have become so thoroughly indoctrinated by the prevailing ideology that they can't wait to see the state's political enemies publicly hanged.

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Of the comprehensive Big Brother system that monitors the thoughts and actions of Oceania's citizens, the child-spies are an important component. The children, Orwell writes in 1984, "were systematically turned against their parents and taught to spy on them and report their deviations. The family has become in effect an extension of the Thought Police. It was a device by means of which everyone could be surrounded night and day by informers who knew him intimately" (133). Thus they did much more than simply "keep an eye" on them. The child-parent relationship is one of intense emotional connection. The very survival of the human species, at least before the time of Oceania, depended on it. The children know their parents better than others and thus can report on even subtle differences in their behavior. Some adults were especially concerned that they might utter something in their sleep, a betrayal of their sub-conscious, and have it be overheard by the telescreen or a child.

What is the motivation for the child to give up a mother or father? They were rewarded with public acknowledgement. The government would honor them as a hero whose selfless act helped protect their nation. Thus the promise of this recognition keeps the kids alerted to the most senitive inclinations of their parents.

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No, the Spies are not just the kids who inform on their parents.  All kids are supposed to do that.  Rather, the Spies are a youth organization run by the Party.  It appears that a person becomes a Spy at a young age and then later graduates into the Youth League.  So the Spies are supposed to be something like the Hitler Youth -- a group that is meant mainly to indoctrinate the young in the ways of the Party.

You can see hints about this in Chapter 2.  We are told that the Spies have been hanging banners for Hate Week.  We also see the Parsons' son, who is nine years old, wearing his Spies uniform.  This shows us that the Spies are a formal group that do things other than spying on their parents.

Here's a line from Chapter 6 that tells shows the function of the Spies:

By careful early conditioning, by games and cold water, by the rubbish that was dinned into them at school and in the Spies and the Youth League, by lectures, parades, songs, slogans, and martial music, the natural feeling had been driven out of them.

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