‘Theme’ is an overarching idea, philosophy, and belief used in the literary works by a writer to show these concepts directly or indirectly. In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four now mostly published as 1984, themes are diverse, yet they can be related to the current governments and social structures. Some of the major ideas have been discussed below.
Themes in 1984
Totalitarianism is one of the major themes of the novel, 1984. It presents the type of government where even the head of the government is unknown to the public. This theme serves as a warning to the people because such regime unleashes propaganda to make people believe in the lies presented by the government. Throughout the novel, there is no proof of Big Brother’s existence in Oceania. The Party exercises complete control not only on the sexual lives of their citizens such as Julia’s and Winston Smith but also on their thoughts, feelings and even writing a diary. The overall monitoring and surveillance of the people through telescreens and subversion of history through the Ministry of Truth are some of the common casualties of such regimes. The third casualty of the totalitarianism is the truth through language. This happens in the shape of mottos such as “War is Peace.”
Propaganda is another major theme of 1984. The novel clearly shows the way propaganda is used to control people, along with its impacts and pitfalls. Orwell has presented this theme through an organized propaganda machine of the Ministry of Truth in Oceania. Winston Smith is also involved in this propaganda. His work requires distortion of facts and truths and altering historical facts and then propagate them throughout the country. It means that the Party wants to have complete control over the thoughts and actions of the public. This propaganda has also invented new information and new words such as ‘Two Minutes Hate’, ‘Big Brother is watching’ and new mottos. The objective of propaganda is to make people loyal to the Party and the country.
Subversion of Reality
Subversion of reality is another major theme of this novel. The novel has presented most people living in abject poverty, while others are engaged in working against each other. The children are spying on the adults with what they have learned in “Spies” groups. Winston Smith has been taught not to enjoy a life of love and sex in romance. The language is turned topsy-turvy to make people believe in what they do not know. The facts are turned into lies, and then these lies are disseminated as truths. The public memory is being manipulated with new information that further alienate the people from reality.
Subversion of Love and Feelings
Another theme of 1984 is the subversion of love and feelings. It means that the people are taught not to love, and to curb their feelings or any passions of love. According to the regime, sex just as a duty of the government or “duty to the Party.” It means Winston Smith needs to engage in sex only to produce children for the Party. This has led to his failed marriage with Katherine and his rebellion by loving Julia and thus engaging with her intimately. The memory of his mother realizes Winston about the love of parents from which the Party has deprived him. In fact, his loveless life shows how the totalitarian regimes destroy family, love and individual’s lives to make the ruling class strong.
Loss of Identity and Independence
Totalitarian governments often adopt strategies that make people lose identities and independence so that the citizen will not question the supremacy of the governing class. Thus, proving that totalitarianism, which is one of its major themes in the novel has ripped people of their own personality. The uniformity in food, clothes and what the people hear and absorb in 1984 shows that the Party and its supposed head, Big Brother, are engaged in erasing the individualities and identities. Winston Smith’s feeling of criminality in writing his dairy is a dangerous act. The final torture scene when O’Brien confronts Winston to erase his integrity and his significant resistance brings out response from O’Brien. He explains Winston Smith that he is the last man on earth if he is harboring rebellious thoughts. This is an example of how individuality and identity are not tolerated in totalitarian regimes.
Political loyalty is another overarching theme that pervades 1984. It is present from the beginning to the end of the novel. Winston Smith is a loyal employee, yet he harbors thoughts against the Party and questions most of the information he is asked to feed. However, loyalty in Oceania does not expect only work dedication; they want every person to become loyal to the point of submissiveness with unconditional obedience. O’Brien, a secret ‘Thought Police’ is an example of such a loyal person. He senses rebellion in Winston Smith and befriends him, then hands him over to the police to brainwash him. He warns Winston that it is the Party whose perspective will prevail what he might do or not do. This is the loyalty that the omnipresent Big Brother wants from the people.
Another pervasive theme of the novel is the class system. It means Oceania is divided into different classes. There is Inner Party that is considered the elite class, having servants and luxury lifestyle. The ordinary members like Winston Smith, on the other hand, live in state-run small apartments with no permission to enjoy conjugal or familial lives. The poor are living in the no-go area with constant propaganda to feed them with lies and program their minds to believe them as truths. That is why O’Brien thinks that the society beyond the suburban areas is living in a single moment, for the Party defines and controls this society based on a class system.
Controlled Information and Rewriting of History
In the state of Oceania, there is a single party system where only the Party rules with its leader, Big Brother. It broadcasts, manages and distributes information and control the people. Though the information is taken from history, it is rewritten to suit the current occasion. Even Winston Smith has a hard time, thinking why the diary writing is punishable. The people are becoming unsure, and then sure that they are members of a great government, the Party. O’ Brien also harbors the same notions due to the subversion of information and rewriting of the history.
Use of Technology
Orwell has shown another theme that is the use of technology for governing the people. In this novel, the writer shows that the party uses telescreens and some other apparatuses as one of the primary tools control the public. The use of technology to monitor people is very much present in this century as George Orwell had predicted through 1984.
Use and Abuse of Language
Language is very important for mental and physical control. The Party has employed language to control the masses. The use of words such as Newspeak, doublethink, Ingsoc and various other words speak volumes about this tactic. O’Brien and Winston Smith are engaged in the Ministry of Truth to use and abuse language to rewrite history and distort facts for the public consumption.