What Are Telescreens in 1984?

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby
This lesson details the usage and importance of telescreens in George Orwell's dystopian novel, 1984, and how the government, known as Big Brother, utilized them to spy on people. Read the lesson and test yourself with the quiz!

The Danger of TV

TV gets blamed for a lot of things. When I was a kid, my parents told me that it would rot my brain. However, the worst that TV ever did was perhaps knock a few points off my grades.

In the book 1984, the telescreens are much more dangerous. In that society, everyone in the Outer Party and Inner Party, the only people in the society capable of real thought, are required to have a telescreen on all the time. It's not just that you have to watch the propaganda of the state, which would be bad enough, but that you are constantly under threat of being watched by the people on the other side of the TV, who are tasked with making sure that everyone is loyal to the party and to Big Brother.

What Is a Telescreen?

Imagine never being able to turn the TV off and having to watch it all the time, and you've already got a nightmare for many book lovers. However, the telescreens are so much worse.

You could turn the volume down but never off. Also, the telescreens are equipped with very sensitive microphones that can pick up everything that happens in the room. Winston even suggests that they could hear a heartbeat.

Still, that's not the worst part about a telescreen. They don't only show you what the Party wants you to see, but they also show the Party whatever you are up to. That's right - decades before secret cameras, Orwell put them in his telescreens.

Telescreens in the 1984 World

When we meet Winston Smith, the protagonist of 1984, we find that he is known to his telescreen by his name and a number. However, Smith has a secret. Just out of sight of his telescreen is enough room in his apartment for a comfortable chair and a truly forbidden fruit - books. Winston can sit just out of sight and read to his heart's content. Ultimately, it is this reading that gets him in trouble.

Importance to Plot

Telescreens are the constant spies of the Party in 1984. At first, Winston thinks that he is outsmarting the Party by being able to sneak out of view and read.

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