George Orwell’s purpose when he set out to write the epic novel that is 1984 was to prove, among many things, that a tyrannical government can alter many aspects of a person’s beliefs by both mentally and physical means. This point is proven over and over throughout the novel by displaying various acts employed by the government to change a person’s beliefs and system of thinking about the world. Winston lives his entire life believing that Ingsoc is correct and perfect in every act that it makes. However, he eventually strays from that path and begins down the long road of rebellion. This is when the government steps in and ultimately changes his viewpoint completely. In 1984, George Orwell shows that through a totalitarian government and oppressive atmosphere, people’s beliefs will change.
The government’s only goal is to sustain its power. Ingsoc relies heavily on the ability to indoctrinate their citizens to change the citizen’s beliefs. They try to force people to believe that Oceania has been at war with a specific power forever. For the most part, the citizens believe everything thrown at them. This is because the Party has complete power over its citizens and power is the force that drives the party.
Literature is another aspect of indoctrination created for the sole purpose of keeping people under the thumb of the party. In fact, Winston’s job is to be responsible for the changes to historical documents and magazines to make present actions line up with past information. This process created citizens who did not question the government because it seemed that the government had an almost God-like status where it was never wrong. This allowed for very little free thinking and as a result conformed everyone to the mold that the Party wanted people to fit.
The control of history is another concept that the Party wanted to seize fully. The Party attempts to alter every past event to match up with current happenings. This of course will work for the majority of the population. In the critical essay “1984,” Herbert Read aptly states that Winston stands out with “… his Socratic inability to stop asking questions”. Winston is special because he is able to remember a time without Big Brother or the Party. This outside knowledge helps him to interpret the world in a different way than the majority of the population who simply goes along without asking questions. These circumstances help shape Winston’s beliefs against the party and ultimately make him an outcast from society. He is able to see through the smoke and mirrors set up by Big Brother. However, to the common person the alteration of history goes wholly unnoticed. They are swept along under the illusion that Big Brother is all-powerful and all-knowing. This kind of oppressive setting aids the Party to shape the beliefs of their citizens to their liking.
The ability of the Party to add, remove, or edit events to fit their purpose allows for very little independent thinking. This eventually results in the oppression of creativity. The lack of creativity allows for the government to come in and institute things like “Newspeak”. This new form of communication shortens phrases and words in the express purpose to stop traitorous actions and thoughts. Carol Franks points out that Newspeak makes language “reduced and muddied” by not being able to say what one is thinking. The mentality is that if a word does not exist to describe that action, then it cannot be accomplished. Newspeak ultimately changes humans into emotionless and expressionless beings. Without an avenue to accurately express themselves, the people begin to lose those emotions and feelings. This inability of expression allows for easier manipulation into believing whatever is thrown at the citizens.
In addition to Newspeak, the Party and Big Brother are adamantly attempting to remove intellectuals from the society. Syme, for example, is someone that Big Brother removed for being too intellectual. Even though he technically committed no crime against Ingsoc or Big Brother, he was taken out because if left alone he might have become a rebel. He lacked a sort of “saving stupidity” that was necessary to survive in the society. The removal of these kinds of people encourages people to lay low and not ask questions. Ignorance can and will run rampant under this situation. People are brought up and raised to hail the Party and love Big Brother from birth to the grave.
In this government, censorship takes on a whole new meaning. The Party monitors any literature and edits it for content. Winston feels that the first step to rebellion is to write in his diary. He feels that this act is symbolic of the overthrow of the government because they are not able to monitor or contain his thoughts when written down in private. The literature is constantly edited to correct historical references and promote Big Brother. Winston ironically spends the majority of his job correcting the errors of the Party in past magazines and news articles. All of this effort spent by the Party is to ensure that the citizens continue to believe in and support Big Brother and Ingsoc. In certain instances, editing is needed to remove certain people from books entirely. The picture that Winston finds of Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford reminded him of this fact. Traitors to the government are thrown out entirely. Their names removed and all history of them forgotten.
Religions are also removed from this society. They are mainly removed because they contain beliefs of something higher than the government; something that is supposed to be all-powerful. The belief in a higher power could ultimately alter someone’s beliefs in the supernatural power of Big Brother. Winston has given up all hope of religion while in Room 101. Although religion hasn’t played any part his life, Winston has always held some form of hope even in the deepest darkest situations. When introduced to the tortuous Room 101, he must give up all hope in order to fit to the mold that O’Brien wishes to fulfill. This O’Brien says, is the only way for him to love Big Brother. O’Brien does this because all tyrannies try to eliminate a sense of responsibility for its citizens. The strategy accomplished in a number of outlets, specifically by removing religion. If religion were allowed inside Oceania, it would give the people a sense of hope. This hope would open eyes of the citizens to the reality that Big Brother is not as powerful as it seems. It would also cause the population to develop their own beliefs about the world; something that is highly frowned upon in Oceania. Even in conditions as terrible as these, “…the most oppressed slave can escape to a free world” (Read 25).
Winston is brought to Room 101 to attempt to change his “erroneous” beliefs. Through the torture O’Brien states that his goal is to “To cure you! To make you sane!”. The “cure” is to twist his beliefs to that of the party. This is achieved by many factors that have been present through the majority of Winston’s life such as indoctrination, control of history, oppression, and censorship. All of these ideas contributed to the overall theme that people’s beliefs can be changed. Orwell follows Winston from absolute rebellion until his beliefs were entirely changed to loving Big Brother. This is the ultimate goal of the party for each of its citizens.