What is Big Brother's function in 1984?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In 1984, Orwell wants us to view Big Brother as an omnipotent, dystopic god (who doesn't really exist, ironically!).  He rules over all the citizens in this anti-utopian society of Oceania.  As readers, we never see Big Brother; however, we are constantly aware of his presence due to the following slogan proclaimed by all posters and televisions:  "Big Brother Is Watching You." 

Just like a tyrant, a despot, a god, or a dictator, Big Brother demands complete obedience to his rules and laws.  Big Brother also demands complete devotion. 

“Does Big Brother exist?"
"Of course he exists. The Party exists. Big Brother is the embodiment of the Party."
"Does he exist in the same way as I exist?"
"You do not exist.”

In an echo of the God of the Bible, Big Brother demands that each citizen love Big Brother more than anyone else, even more than their own children.  He is all-knowing and all-seeing, somehow even able to determine what people do in the privacy of their own rooms (even their own closets)! 

Big Brother is a method of complete control. Using the image of "Big Brother," the government of Oceania can keep its citizens on a tight leash.  How do we know that Big Brother isn't a real "god"? Winston questions him. 

“How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?"

Winston thought. “By making him suffer”, he said.

“Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing."

All dictators should be questioned!  By the end of the novel, readers should see that Big Brother was inspired by the tyrants of the world such as Mao, Hitler, and Stalin.

mattbuckley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In George Orwell's haunting novel 1984, Big Brother is a symbol of dictators across the globe. George Orwell was obviously inspired in the creation of Big Brother with the images of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin in mind. He uses this in his novel to send the terrifying message to the readers of how easily a society can be manipulated into the worship of a tyrannical leader.

Big Brother serves as a God-like figure to the citizens of Oceania. He is a symbol of power and is seen as an all knowing figure gazing into the lives of every citizen from posters that read "Big Brother Is Watching You". Big Brother replaces the love of all things in citizens lives. They are expected to by loyal to him above all else, and if need be, they should betray their own families in honor of him. He inspires this loyalty through fear. His image is stern and serious. The image of control. Big Brother is never seen and does not really exist, but is used by those in power to maintain the control they desire of the citizens of Oceania.