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Manipulation in 1984

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In the classic novel 1984, author George Orwell writes of a future country called Oceania in which there is nothing that the government doesn’t control. By limiting the country’s historical knowledge, manipulating their minds, and conditioning their bodies, Big Brother is able to undermine citizens and use them as puppets. Though American government isn’t as austere as the fictitious one in 1984, there are definite parallels between Orwell’s writings and today’s society.

In 1984, The Party is in control of every source of information, including historical events occurring in the past and the present. One day at work, the main character of the novel, Winston Smith, has to “rewrite a paragraph of Big Brother’s speech in such a way as to make him predict the thing that had actually happened (pg. 35).” In other words, he must manipulate the words of an article in such a way as to not make the government appear as anything less than perfect. Winston writing in his journal daily automatically assumes that on discovering this secret diary, he will surely be put to death because it is not in favor of The Party and contradicts the very belief system of Oceania. Big Brother, so in control of his country and its citizens, is able to literally rewrite history. He is able to construct the way the world was, is, and always will be by simply having the words switched in a document so that it reads more suitably. This familiar condition is seen in America on many occasions. First, so many documents and missions are marked classified and referred as “big government secrets.”

What could the government be hiding? Surfaced scandals, such as innocent civilians being killed and secret bombings during the Gulf War, having information on terrorist attacks before the event occurs, and hidden documents about flawed big business industries, have shown Americans that not only is our government not perfect, but that they believe that us knowing about it would be similar to the end of the world. Wars, economic situations, even white house scandals are hidden from us so that we will better trust are government, making it easier for American government to tell us what we want to hear, true or not. Big Brother and our government alike are convinced that government control begins with limiting and controlling the knowledge of the citizens.

Psychological manipulation is another very important aspect of Big Brother’s existence in the novel. “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” is seen everywhere. Scared senseless by this constant reminder, citizens are convinced that every move they make could be questionable so not following the rules is not even an option. “[During the Two Minutes Hate] a hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture…seemed to flow through the group, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic (pg. 16).” This, along with other slogans, are made to fill the society’s head with a clear picture of the enemy and to frustrate them so much that there is no question that Big Brother is great and people like Goldstein are bad. Much like the government in the novel, our government constantly reminds us of figures such as Adolf Hitler, Sadam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and others by flashing their faces on the news, in documentaries, and magazine/newspaper articles. By continuously making us aware of the enemy we are, in such a way, fearful of thinking anything other than nasty thoughts about these people, and automatically expected to look at our government as the opposite, or, the hero. This is the second way that the novel and today’s society parallel.

Finally, Oceania’s control stems from the physical influence that The Party has on it. For example the morning workouts, known as the “Physical Jerks” force Party-members to participate in a grueling exercise-a-thon so that the members stay in shape. Celibacy is ideal in this society. An attempt is made by the government to destroy all joy in sexual acts. There is somewhat of a belief that sexual relationships accompany love, and this will ultimately result in loyalty between individuals. Loyalty contradicts Party desires because it means that a citizen puts faith and trust into someone other than the government. American government is much like one of Oceania in the way it tries to control our physical health. An example would be how schools are starting to take out of its vending machines anything that is unhealthy. During school lunch, offered along with pizza and hamburgers must be salad and other hale and hearty foods. Too, our government tries to control the way we view sex. Though the media uses it as a positive tool, the government puts many warning out there about celibacy and that pre-marital sex will surely lead to disease and death. In these ways, both the government of Oceania and the American government follow the same path.

“War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.” These three simple ideas undermine, manipulate, and control a whole country. This simple slogan is able to not so silently indicate that to think instead of to accept is automatic nonconformity and therefore treason in Oceania. To utter the wrong word, to form the wrong facial expression, to simply breathe the wrong way is illegal and therefore cause for punishment, nothing short of death of course. Though our government is not as harsh as this fictional one, and our society is not as dreadful, many instances lead the reader to believe that this very believable tale of totalitarianism could one day become a very horrific reality.

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