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The Power in Controlling the Past: Orwell’s 1984 & Big Brother

By Laura Sabino, IV Form

The Power in Controlling the Past: Orwell’s 1984 & Big Brother

Editor’s Note: 1984 was the St. Mark’s School Gray Colloquium Summer Read for 2017

In George Orwell’s 1984, the Party aims to control all of the citizens of Oceania. They have figured out how to take away their citizens’ privacy by watching them through tele-screens, brainwashing them to be blindly loyal, and even claiming control over their bodies and mind. The Party has limited language, so rebellious thoughts could not be expressed, and are working towards controlling the past. The Party wants to control the past because by controlling history and memories, they are able to control their citizens and gain power.

At first sight, controlling the past might not seem too important since most people do not think history is crucial to their everyday lives. However, the Party controlling the past ends up giving it power. People look back and learn about history so that they are aware of mistakes and things to avoid. People look at history so that they can get reminders of what worked out and what did not, and what ended up being good and what ended up being bad. In 1984, the Party understands that history defines its people. History is something the citizens of Oceania can refer to, something they can reflect on and compare to the time they are living in. To the Party, history stands in the way of complete domination over their people. If people look back at the events that  have not been altered by the Party, they find that the Party is not as good as they claim to be. Once they realize this, they start questioning the Party which will eventually lead to revolting against it and trying to bring it down. The Party knows that with enough people rebelling, they will lose all of the hold that they have over their citizens.

In order to prevent people from rebelling, the Party has figured out that they must get rid of truthful history to make the present appear better than the past. If they take away people’s ability to look back into history and see anything other than a time where the Party was good, they take away the people’s incentive to act out against the Party. Without having anything to prove the true nature of the Party, citizens are only left with their memories. However, the Party also has figured out a way to eliminate the threat of memories. The Thought Police was created to prevent those memories from coming out into the open and to instill a fear of remembering anything other than what the Party says into the people. It is revealed early on that the Thought Police is dangerous when Winston says, “The patrols did not matter, however. Only the Thought Police mattered”. Because the Thought Police is always watching, through their tele-screens and spies, people soon change their behavior to think that their own thoughts are wrong and something to be punished for, and whatever the Party says is the absolute truth. By taking away the citizen’s ability to prove their memories and creating a fear of rebellion in them through the thought police, the Party gets what they always wanted: power.

By taking history and memories away, the party ensures there is nothing but the Party. There has never been anything better and there will never be anything better. The citizens of Oceania have no other choice but to believe the lies that the Party tells them because they do not have other knowledge to disprove them. Eventually, the people’s memories will be completely replaced by whatever the Party says and they will not be able to think freely. Since the citizens will no longer have access to times before the Party, the initiative for rebellion will completely disappear. Once they are successful in controlling the past and therefore controlling their citizens, the Party will have the ultimate power it desires.

Laura Sabino is a IV Form boarding student from New York City. She plays field hockey and enjoys hanging out with her friends. 

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