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Totalitarianism in 1984

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  • 0:00 Totalitarianism and…
  • 1:37 Key Elements of…
  • 2:07 Control of Information
  • 2:53 Physical and…
  • 3:48 Control of Technology
  • 4:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Charles Kinney, Jr.
George Orwell's ''1984''is still one of the most well-known novels about totalitarianism, an overused word that is actually quite scary when you think about it. In this lesson, we'll go over specific references to totalitarianism in ''1984'' and its relation to real-world events.

Totalitarianism and Its Use in 1984

Some people joke that they live in a house with totalitarian parents or a dorm that is a totalitarian state. But true totalitarianism is not some angry parents cutting up credit cards and taking away the Prius for a couple of weeks, or the dorm resident assistant writing you up for partying a little too hard last Friday night. Totalitarianism in an ugly form of governmental control and the total or near total control of the actions, lives, desires and events in its citizens' lives.

Let's look at totalitarianism and how it is examined in George Orwell's famous novel, 1984. George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1949, after seeing the devastating effects of World War II and the horrifying totalitarianism of the time. Adolph Hitler's Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin, Benito Mussolini's Italy, and later China under Mao Tse Tung are clear examples of totalitarian states that existed in the early part of the 20th century. Mussolini defined the mindset of totalitarian states when he said, 'All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.'

By such definition, North Korea and Eritrea today could be defined as totalitarian states, but there are signs of totalitarianism even in rich, liberal democracies. When we talk about totalitarianism in George Orwell's 1984, and by extension totalitarian states, there are certain elements and tactics these states use to control citizens.

Key Elements of Totalitarianism in 1984

The key element of totalitarianism in Orwell's 1984 is Big Brother. Big Brother, which represents the government, is everywhere. In nearly every aspect of daily life, Big Brother controls what you do, think, eat, and even feel. Big Brother controls everything; information, history, physical, and psychological needs. He is a friend and the enemy of your enemy. He will protect you and save you.

Control of Information

All information, including history, is controlled by the government in 1984. By controlling the past, the government controls the present. At the rally, the government switches sides in its never-ending war with East Asia and Eurasia. Citizens panic, realizing they had made the wrong signs. Winston's job at the Ministry of Truth, which is in fact dedicated to lies and mistruth in classic Doublespeak, is to rewrite history so that it serves the party.

Think of how Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union after previously allying themselves with the Soviet Union and signing a non-aggression treaty. Propaganda and forever rewriting the past to serve the present and the future, is presented as information and news in 1984. If Big Brother says it, it must be true.

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