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Orwell’s Concepts of Big Brother and Doublethink

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    Orwell's Concepts of Big Brother and Doublethink as They Apply in the World Today

    In "1984" George Orwell described a concept he called Big Brother. He also discussed concepts such as Newspeak and Doublethink. These concepts are in regular everyday use in certain countries, and Big Brother is very much in evidence in North America. What Orwell was describing was the future as a totalitarian society. What he discusses is not at all an impossibility even for the democratic countries of the West. All that is required for a totalitarian regime to arise is an ideology. What Orwell is writing about is mainly Communist countries. However, there are some striking similarities between the Oceania of the novel and countries such as Canada and the United States.

    The population of Oceania was divided into three classifications. The Inner Party made up only one percent of the whole population. The Outer Party was made up of 18 percent of the population. The Proles made up the great majority of 81 percent. The Communist Party had a small percentage of leadership. In North America, the figures might be similar with a tiny very wealthy elite, a middle class, and a great mass of poor people. Every country has its own type of inequality in the society. And every country has its own ideology that serves the interests of the government or dictators. People in the West consider themselves to be free and independent. In comparison to many countries such as Cuba or China, this is true.

    At the same time, people accept the beginnings of "1984" very easily. Winston Smith, himself a member of the Outer Party, experienced telescreens in each room that he entered, along with built-in cameras and microphones so that people could be spied on. We are so accustomed to being spied on that we do not think about it. There are cameras just about everywhere. Subway platforms, all stores, almost all buildings, and apartment building lobby areas have cameras. The latest trend is to have cameras at intersections to capture cars going through red lights. They are also designed to capture anything else of a suspicious nature taking place on the street. If eventually cameras are placed in washrooms, people would probably not object. Cameras are seen as being for a good purpose. They may not completely stop crime, but they do control it.

    Certain countries have regular patterns of the kind of surveillance and control that Orwell wrote about. For example Winston worked in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth. That is a very ironic name, since he spent all his time rewriting and changing the records. Part of Doublethink was that the Party changed history to suit their purposes. Lenin and the Socialists did this. History stopped when they came to power because the past no longer mattered. History can easily be changed and rewritten. The Nazis did the same thing. Nazi Germany had a Ministry of Culture which accomplished the same tasks as the Ministry of Truth. The main purpose is propaganda and having people accept what is false.

    Doublethink is manipulation of people's minds. Doublethink prepares people to accept what is contradictory and illogical. Doublethink makes people believe that the Party is correct and that it is moral. In fact, only the Party can make the distinction between right and wrong. Doublethink was brought about mainly by the Ministry of truth where Winston was located. Doublethink is a kind of brainwashing, but it is more than that. Something is done to the person's mind. When they identify a contradiction or a lie that the Party has told, they think they are remembering a false fact. Written facts are not the only facts that are changed. In addition, facts remembered by the people can be changed. Doublethink allows for complete control of any country and its citizens.

    Doublethink does not operate by itself, and it is intended to work perfectly over a few generations. Newspeak is the official language of Oceania, and it was designed for the ideology of Ingsoc. One of the reasons that Newspeak was invented was to make it impossible to understand old books that had been written before the Party came to power. Newspeak only allows for acceptable meanings for words. Then there is A-Vocabulary which is made up of the words needs for everyday life and business. There is also B-Vocabulary which is made up of words that were constructed for political reasons. C-Vocabulary was made up of technical and scientific terms. Double think is concerned completely with meaning. The problem is that any person such as Winston would remember original meanings of words. However, over several generations that problem would disappear.

    In a totalitarian regime there cannot be freedom of speech and freedom of expression. If there is, then loyalty to the Party will not be possible. Hitler gained control over the press, and other media, even the theatre and film. The Ministry of Culture had to do this if they were going to use the sources of propaganda. Through their documentary films, for example, the Nazis were able to present a very different idea of what their intentions were than what they were in reality. In all totalitarian regimes, the people have to be forced to forget all the alternatives and the possibilities of the outside world.

    In Cuba, Castro continues to promise the people a better life. People have escaped from Cuba and from other countries such as Vietnam to enter the United States and Canada. Argentina and other Latin American countries are totalitarian states. China even in 2001 is practicing such policies that are condemned all over the world as the one child policy. This one policy alone has caused great hardship for the people. China does not allow people their rights. Canada appears like heaven on earth for many people. At the same time, Canada also denies certain groups their rights. Native peoples are just one example. Your chances and opportunities in Canada are very good if you happen to be white and middle class. There is no guarantee of justice.

    There is no guarantee of freedom of speech or freedom of expression in Canada. Only a few months ago, a high school student wrote a short story about blowing up a school. He had been experiencing a great deal of harassment and stress from other students. The short story was his way of coping with the stress. When the school authorities realized the content of the story, they called the police. The boy was expelled from school. What made this incident unique was that several very well-known Canadian writers came to the student's defense. They were condemning the removal of the basic rights of his freedom of speech and expression. They were also attempting to protect these rights for writers and for all Canadians.

    Big Brother is a concept. He is not a real character, but he sees everything and knows everything. What Big Brother represents is dictators and complete control. More than anything, Big Brother is an authority figure. In China or Cuba, Big Brother is direct and controls people in open ways. When Russia was Communist, people who did not agree with the party's ideology were sent to labor camps and sometimes even to psychiatric hospitals. The purpose of this was to change their thinking.

    The organization known as Amnesty International attempts to protect people around the world who have their basic rights threatened. "A total of 116 U.N. members was criticized by Amnesty International for human rights violations" (Sobel 9). The United States was listed among those countries because of its treatment of blacks and Indians. In the report, Amnesty International stated that: "it is suspected that many people may be framed on political charges because of their political activities or ethnic origin" (Sobel 9). It is ideology and political ideas that every government is most concerned about.

    Doublethink can especially be observed in Canada. Canada is known around the world as an open, free country and one that upholds the freedom of all people. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is there to make sure that the rights of all people are guaranteed. Native peoples in Canada are situated on reserves and are given welfare by the government. The Indian Act still controls their lives, and it separates them from all other Canadian people. The policy of assimilation by the Canadian government and of removing children from their parents by force and sending them to residential schools is a case of Big Brother. The Native peoples are powerless. Today, all Canadians realize that Indian children were abused physically and sexually in those schools. All of the "Proles" also know that the government has treated and continues to treat Indians in this way.

    The reason that people do not become upset is that the government makes new promises. It also denies history. Just a few weeks ago, Prime Minister Chretien announced that treaties with the Indians are nothing more than historical records. Land rights claims mean nothing because the treaties signed between Indians and governments cannot be taken as real legal documents. In a very real way, this is much like Winston Smith changing and rewriting records in the Ministry of Truth. When poor people went to Queen's Park to protest against the policies of the Harris government, a number of people were beaten by police. The newspapers and television ran pictures of a woman with blood running down her face. What takes place right here in Ontario is not very different from what Orwell describes in his book.

    Another example of Doublethink and Big Brother is the mandatory urine testing of people who receive welfare. This gives the impression that people on welfare use drugs. The government, like Big Brother, knows best and does not see this kind of testing as a violation of human rights. The Harris government also has decided that people on welfare must take courses in reading and writing. The government realizes that people who leave welfare and take minimum wage jobs are even worse off than on welfare. However, it is very important for the government that its records should look good. Harris has kept saying that he wants the number of people on welfare cut down a great deal. All types of writing tasks you can order at

    Big Brother and Doublethink are found in every country today. The idea of control is accepted more and more by people. They are aware to an extent that the government uses Doublethink and is always watching them. However, they accept this as having a good reason. Basic human rights and freedoms like freedom of speech and expression are being denied all the time.


    • Dickason, Olive. Canada's First Nations. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1992.
    • Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty Four. New York: Penguin, 1980.
    • Sobel, Lester. Political Prisoners: A World Report. New York: Facts on File, 1978.

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