Doublethink in 1984: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Background of 1984
  • 0:55 Definition of Doublethink
  • 2:20 Examples of Doublethink
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Purcell

Natalie teaches high school English and French and has a master's degree in teaching.

In this lesson, we'll define George Orwell's concept of doublethink as used in his political novel,''1984''. We'll also look at several examples of how Orwell incorporated doublethink into his fictitious totalitarian society as a warning to Western readers.

Background of 1984

By 1949, English writer George Orwell had already witnessed the horrific effects totalitarian governments had on Spain and Russia. He also observed that Western nations were still ambivalent regarding the rise of communism. For example, many intellectuals seemed to support its guiding principles, and the Soviet Union was portrayed favorably in the American press.

Orwell was deeply disturbed by the cruel oppression he'd observed in communist societies. He was particularly concerned with how technology could be used to monitor and control the public. His concerns formed the historical context of 1984, a political novel he wrote as a stern warning to Western readers of what could occur in as little as 35 years if they didn't act immediately to prevent totalitarianism from taking hold in their own countries.

Definition of Doublethink

In 1984, the Party used doublethink as part of its large-scale campaign of propaganda and psychological manipulation of its leadership and the public. Doublethink is the ability to hold two completely contradictory beliefs at the same time and to believe they are both true. Early in the book, doublethink refers to the ability to control your memories, to choose to forget something, as well as to forget about the forgetting process. Later on in the novel, as the Party implements its mind-control techniques, people ultimately lose the ability to form independent thoughts. Eventually, it becomes possible for the Party to convince the public of anything, even if it's the exact opposite of what the public already knows to be true.

Orwell defines doublethink as, To know and to not know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy is impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy. To forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself.

Examples of Doublethink

Perhaps the most obvious example of doublethink in 1984 can be found in the names of the Party's four ministries. They include the Ministry of Plenty that oversees shortages of resources, the Ministry of Peace that declares and conducts war, the Ministry of Love that doles out cruel harsh punishments and torture, and the Ministry of Truth that spreads propaganda and revises historical facts. The employees of the Ministry of Truth, for example, falsify historical records and then immediately believe their own revisionist history. For instance, the two fictitious countries, Oceania and Eurasia, are at war with each other. The conflict requires the citizens of Oceania to believe they have always been at war with Eurasia, even though both countries were allies just four years before.

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