Thought Police (Thinkpol) in 1984: Role & Quotes

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the role of the Thought Police, also known as Thinkpol, in George Orwell's ''1984''. You will also see some quotes that illustrate how Thinkpol appear in the novel.

The Thought Police

Think about the society you live in for a moment. Specifically, its laws. What aren't you allowed to do? In our society, there are laws governing everything from murder to theft to traffic patterns, and we take these laws in stride. We're used to them, and it's the way our society works. But what if there were no written laws? What might take their place? George Orwell addresses this idea in his novel 1984. Orwell has created a dystopian, or an undesirable or frightening, society, where there are no written laws, but everyone is kept under strict control by the Thought Police. In Newspeak, the official language of the society, they are called Thinkpol.

Law and Order

While there are technically no laws in 1984, there are many things that you can be arrested or punished for. Mostly these are things that go against the doctrines, or beliefs and rules, of the governing Party. The worst of these is known as 'thoughtcrime,' and it's pretty much what it sounds like--a crime of thought. This is when you think things that go against the Party. Winston, the main character, tells us about thoughtcrime when he is writing in his diary, an act which is definitely criminal. He says, 'Whether he went on with the diary, or whether he did not go on with it, made no difference. The Thought Police would get him just the same. He had committed -- would still have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper -- the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it.'

A crime of thought, of course, can't be proven, even in Orwell's society. But Thinkpol don't need any actual evidence. Even a facial expression would serve as proof: 'It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself -- anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide.' In 1984, Thinkpol basically have ultimate arresting and punishing power, and evidence isn't something they care about.

Form and Function

Thinkpol isn't really an official organization as we might think of one. It has no hierarchy, no structure, no official membership, and certainly no uniforms like our police wear. There's no way to determine by sight who might be a member. This is very purposeful. If you never know who might be a member of Thinkpol, you have to carefully watch what you say and do and think at all times. There isn't a way to be sure you're safe, and so you'll never actually form any concrete ideas that go against the Party. This stops revolution before the idea is even conceived.

In addition, even a non-member can be a threat. Anyone who wants can turn you in to the Thought Police with little or no evidence of anything. Winston comments, 'Quite likely the person at the next table was a spy of the Thought Police, and quite likely he would be in the cellars of the Ministry of Love within three days…' Later, Parsons, a man Winston works with, is turned in by his 7 year old daughter. This shows that literally no one can be trusted, which serves as a source of constant fear.

Police and Punisher

The Thought Police are a replacement for traditional police or other law-enforcement agencies. In addition to serving as the arresting force, they are also the ones who dole out punishment for any crime committed. This occurs in their headquarters, the Ministry of Love. This mostly involves torture, and possibly death or time spent in a labor camp. When starting his diary Winston comments: 'This was not illegal (nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws), but if detected it was reasonably certain that it would be punished by death, or at least by twenty- five years in a forced-labour camp.'

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