While the Party controls Oceania’s culture, economy, and political system in 1984, it can never execute totalitarian control until it gains control of the citizens’ minds. The bulk of the Party’s energy, therefore, is spent on capturing and maintaining control over people’s thoughts and feelings. The Party’s widespread use of surveillance prevents citizens from organizing to overthrow it. Throughout the novel, Winston walks past posters reminding him that “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.” The telescreen in his home, which cannot be turned off, has the power to monitor his movements and issue orders to him to correct his behavior. Cameras and recording devices are frequently planted in public areas. Orwell takes this method of social control from the writings of eighteenth-century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who designed new structures for prisons that would allow the guards to watch prisoners while preventing the prisoners from seeing the guards. Bentham believed that over time, prisoners would internalize the surveillance of the guards and stop engaging in criminal behavior when released from prison.
Winston Smith has psychologically internalized the Party’s surveillance, and monitors his own actions and thoughts accordingly. His struggle not to think subversive thoughts, even when he is sure he is being monitored, critiques the soundness of Bentham’s philosophy. When he and Julia meet up in the countryside, they at first refrain from speaking to each other in case microphones or recording devices have been hidden in the bushes, but eventually give in to their desire to be honest and open with each other. Along with the Party’s authority, Winston has also internalized the Party’s fears and desires. When he edits the news report at the Ministry of Truth, he needs only to change the reference to an “unperson.” Instead, he invents Comrade Ogilvy, who is a perfect representative of everything the Party finds valuable: healthy, self-sacrificing, patriotic, chaste—all the things that Winston is not. Other characters have internalized the Party as well, for example Winston’s neighbor Parsons, who praises his seven-year-old daughter for turning him in to the Party as a thought-criminal.
The Party also ensures control over citizens by disrupting personal loyalties to anything other than itself. Religion is outlawed, because it represents a commitment to an authority higher than a government. The family unit is disrupted, as children are encouraged to spy on their parents and report any counter-Party behavior or attitudes. Suppression of sex outside of marriage prevents people from forming bonds beyond Party-sanctioned relationships. The work Winston does for the Ministry of Truth aims to make the Party’s authority seem eternal and inevitable, by erasing any evidence of mistakes, poor decisions, and opportunities for the Party’s actions to be criticized. The effect of his work at the Ministry of Truth is to confuse citizens and to make them doubt their own perceptions. When Winston mentions the photograph he found of Jones, Rutherford, and Aaronson to O’Brien, O’Brien insists that the photograph never existed because he does not remember seeing it. Hearing this, “Winston’s heart sank,” indicating that he has begun to surrender control of his own perceptions to O’Brien.
The Party exploits personal and collective fears to maintain Party loyalty and suppress revolt, both through the threat of violence and actual violence. One example is the cage of rats O’Brien threatens Winston with after bugging the secret room and learning Winston has an intense fear of rats. Winston is also severely beaten in the process of confessing, violence that he anticipates because “nobody spoke of such things, yet everybody knew of them.” The citizens know that the threat of violence is real and inevitable if they commit thoughtcrimes, without fully understanding how they know. Another type of conditioning is seen in the cold, uncomfortable, unappetizing world 1984 is set in, where goods are restricted and basic household items are often hard to find. In his manifesto, Goldstein posits that the constant wars are partly an effort to consume resources that would otherwise be shared among the people, keeping them in a state of productive and exploitable discomfort while still believing that their standard of living is rising every year.
1984 is perhaps most famous for its exploration of the relationship between language and thought, and the way dishonest, inaccurate language leads to a breakdown of identity and the capacity for independent reasoning. Orwell was deeply concerned about how imprecise and euphemistic language dulled people’s capacity for critical thought, which he wrote about in his famous essay “Politics and the English Language.” Syme explains to Winston that the ultimate purpose of Newspeak is to eliminate thoughtcrime by removing nuance from thought and narrowing the range of ways to express it. By creating nonsensical jargon only understood by the few workers who employ it, the Party limits the potential of mass communication, which is necessary for successful rebellion. When Newspeak becomes the only language spoken in Oceania, Orwell implies, the Party’s control over the population will become total and absolute. The fact that the appendix is written in plain English, not Newspeak, offers hope that absolute Party control has not yet become a reality.