'War is Peace' Slogan in 1984: Meaning & Analysis

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In '1984' by George Orwell, paradox is the literary device Orwell uses when developing the official slogan of Oceania to indicate how propaganda is used by the Party to interfere with logical thought. In this lesson, we will study an example of this technique in the phrase: 'War is peace.'

Preventing an Uprising

George Orwell's 1984 takes place in a futuristic society in a place called Oceania that is controlled by Big Brother. The government is able to see and hear everything the citizens of Oceania do. For example, the aptly named Thought Police are even able to monitor the thoughts of the citizens. Laws against freedom, sex, and individuality are harshly enforced by the Thought Police in order to protect the Party against political rebellion. The official slogan of the party is 'War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.' This is a complex saying, so let us examine one part of it and see what is meant by 'war is peace' in this novel.

Propaganda

The reader is first introduced to Oceania's national slogan with a plaque on the Ministry of Truth building where the protagonist Winston is employed. The slogan's prominence in the first chapter of the book serves as an immediate indicator of the Party's extensive use of propaganda to prevent citizens from applying logic and reaching their own conclusions. Propaganda is information that skews the perception of citizens to lead them to think a certain way. Propaganda is commonly used in political campaigns of our own society, but the Party takes the use of propaganda to a new level. In Oceania, there are lots of things that do not make sense, but through propaganda the citizenry have been taught not to question authority. For example, no one wonders why the Ministry of Peace is the department responsible for carrying out wars.

Paradox

Why did Orwell use this play on words? This phrase 'war is peace' is an example of a Paradox, a contradiction in terms that maintains some semblance of reality. Authors use paradox because while seemingly absurd on the surface, a paradox hides a deeper truth, which makes them memorable. For example, in Shakespeare's Hamlet, the title character says, 'I must be cruel to be kind.' This statement does not seem to make any sense, but in the context of the story, it hides an important truth. Hamlet's mother is married to the man who killed Hamlet's father. Hamlet must be cruel, by killing his mother's husband, in order to be kind, by preventing his mother from remaining married to the man who killed her first husband.

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