What is the tension between outward and inward conformity in 1984?  

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In the dystopia of 1984, everyone outwardly conforms or at least attempts to. If they fail to do so, they're arrested and killed or brainwashed, as Winston is. But what does inward conformity represent in a society like this? Presumably, it would mean actually agreeing with and accepting everything...

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In the dystopia of 1984, everyone outwardly conforms or at least attempts to. If they fail to do so, they're arrested and killed or brainwashed, as Winston is. But what does inward conformity represent in a society like this? Presumably, it would mean actually agreeing with and accepting everything the Party dictates. Orwell has, I think, deliberately left it an unanswered question as to whether anyone in 1984 actually does this.

The most obviously conformist persons in Winston's circle are two men who appear to be opposites: Syme and Parsons. They are also the ones Winston is certain are inwardly conformist. Syme is a brilliant man, an intellectual of the Party who, Winston believes, really does hate "heretics" and genuinely believes in rigid Party doctrine.

Parsons is a man whom Winston imagines Syme thinks of as a "bloody fool," just from the tone in which Syme says, "Here comes Parsons." Parsons, presumably as unintelligent as one can be, also seems an unquestioning follower of the Party. Yet both men end up having essentially the same fate as Winston.

Syme is "vaporized," and Parsons has been arrested for Thoughtcrime, appearing in the same holding cell as Winston. The implication is that no one is safe from the rigidity of the Party and possibly that no one inwardly conforms, though everyone outwardly does so. Parsons has been discovered uttering Thoughtcrime in his sleep by his kids, who, like all children, are taught to have no loyalty to their parents.

The result, then, is that in the dystopia overall, everyone suffers from an extreme tension between what they must present to the outer world and what they inwardly feel. In Winston this practically drives him crazy. We can see this in the uncontrolled scribblings in his diary and, before he gets together with Julia, the hatred he seems to feel toward women in general. These are forms of displaced aggression. One could imagine that a society like this could not sustain itself in the long run.

Far from having turned the population into a mass of unthinking zombies, the Party seems to have done the opposite. In fact, some of the actual totalitarian states of our time have disintegrated, such as the Soviet Union. Others, such as Communist China, have made modifications such as allowing a degree of economic freedom. But Orwell implies that the dominion of the Party will go on forever, in the bleak conclusion in which Winston does sit in the cafe like a zombie, realizing that he finally loves Big Brother.

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Throughout Oceania, Big Brother is constantly watching each Party member and observing day and night for symptoms of "unorthodoxy." Party members must not only display their unquestionable affection for Big Brother publicly but also remain orthodox at all moments in their private lives. Big Brother expects every Party member to fully accept government propaganda and logic through the process of doublethink, a practice by which individuals accept two opposite ideas simultaneously. The Party also maintains continual surveillance through their network of strategically placed telescreens, Thought Police, and Youth League institutions. Winston struggles throughout the novel to both outwardly and inwardly conform to the Party. He finds it difficult to suppress his hatred toward the Party at social events and is forced to pretend that he loves Big Brother at all times. Despite his hatred and painful emotions associated with the Party, Winston must smile and cheer for Big Brother in the presence of other citizens and telescreens. Toward the end of the novel, Winston is caught by the Thought Police and tortured in Room 101. Winston struggles inwardly to conform to the Party's standards by fully embracing Big Brother, which means abandoning logic in order to accept the Party's irrational beliefs. Unfortunately, Winston is psychologically abused to the point that he fully embraces Big Brother at the end of the novel. 

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For the vast majority of Party members, there is no tension between outward and inward conformity. Their love for Big Brother and their obedience to the Party is without question. Through a number of surveillance and propaganda tools, like the telescreen and the threat of Room 101, the Party has successfully eroded feelings of rebelliousness in much of the population.

However, a tension does exist for Winston. On the outside, Winston acts the perfect Party member, but, inside, he craves freedom from the system.

Winston's tension takes the form of a desire to be able to say that 2 + 2 = 4. In other words, he wants to be able to express his thoughts and feelings, positive and negative, without fear of reprisal. In addition, like Julia, Winston also craves sexual freedom and the ability to form attachments and personal loyalties with whomever he chooses.

It is this tension between inward and outward conformity which drives the plot of the novel and creates the central conflict. Ultimately, however, the Party successfully crushes this tension when Winston is taken to Room 101. His fear of rats is so strong that he betrays Julia and, in doing so, accepts inward conformity.

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The government in 1984 demands that no tension exists between inward and outward conformity. The state insists not only on outward obedience to its laws and dictates but that its citizens' minds also be entirely obedient to what the state says is Truth. This is why it is so important for O'Brien to be sure Winston is not simply saying two and two equals five, but actually believing it. In this world, thought crimes are far more dangerous than physical crimes. 

The central conflict of the novel arises from Winston's desire to think for himself. He practices outward obedience but inwardly rebels. When this rebellion finally overflows into outward rebellion--buying a journal, writing in it "Down with Big Brother," and having an affair with Julia--Winston has already committed the essential crime, the worst crime of all--thinking independently. That is what must be eradicated. But by eradicating independent thought, the state eradicates humanity.

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