1984 Themes

The main themes of 1984 are mind control, conformity vs. individuality, and humanity as a destructive force.

  • Mind control: Orwell depicts how an authoritarian state can shape its citizens' view of reality in order to control them.
  • Conformity vs. individuality: The Party views individual thoughts and actions as threatening to the state and therefore encourage conformity in all aspects of life.
  • Humanity as a destructive force: In the dystopian world of 1984, love and other benevolent human principles are discouraged. Instead, the Party accentuates the basest and most destructive human qualities.

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Mind Control

Throughout 1984, George Orwell examines how in dystopian societies those in power seek to manipulate its citizens through mind control tactics. Winston illustrates how members of the superstate of Oceania live in constant dread of being found guilty of “thoughtcrime”—a term for harboring any thoughts considered criminal by powerful members of the Party, the faction ruling over Oceania. He even writes in his diary that “Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime IS death.” Because of the overpowering presence of telescreens, he must also constantly monitor his emotional awareness, his conscious beliefs in opposition to the Party’s values, and “anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality” that could be detected by the Party’s Thought Police.

Moreover, Winston becomes dissociated from reality due to his inability to reconcile the contradictions between his memories and the present. This metaphysical conflict between emotional and physical existence, combined with his lapsed perception of time, causes Winston to question what these repressed memories mean. For example, after dreaming about his mother, Winston is aware “that he must have deliberately pushed [the memory] out of his consciousness over many years.” He reflects upon the power that this self-awareness holds in a society that rejects the existence of authentic human emotion:

But if the object was not to stay alive but to stay human, what difference did it ultimately make? They could not alter your feelings: for that matter you could not alter them yourself, even if you wanted to. They could lay bare in the utmost detail everything that you had done or said or thought; but the inner heart, whose workings were mysterious even to yourself, remained impregnable.

This objective to “stay human” is central to Winston’s evolution as a character, and while he is imprisoned the forces of mind control overpower him. As Winston sinks further into a dissociative state, O’Brien tells Winston his memories are defective and simply reveal his evident insanity. Accordingly, after he is released back into the world, Winston explains how “from now onwards he must not only think right; he must feel right, dream right.” Yet he is aware of his hatred—which he portrays as “a ball of matter which [is] a part of himself and yet unconnected with the rest of him”—towards the ideology he is forced to submit to.

Conformity vs. Individuality

The Party’s goal is to convince members of society that individualism is dangerous. Thus the Party intends to methodically enforce social conformity through fear-mongering, surveillance and censorship laws, and emotional manipulation. Early on in the novel, when Winston describes the events of Hate Week, he captures the pervasive herd mentality among citizens, which results from the Party’s efforts to eradicate any sense of identity from each human. This dissolution of identity ostensibly enables the Party to suppress the dissemination of ideas that could lead to rebellion. Accordingly, members are expected to abstain from pleasure under the belief that “marriage and the care of a family [are] incompatible with a twenty-four-hour-a-day devotion to duty.” Members are to solely concern themselves with the Party’s principles. Consequently, Winston notes how “nothing was your own except the few cubic...

(The entire section is 1,354 words.)