In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell explored the topic of governmental overreach and totalitarianism. The novel has been classified under the genre of dystopian political and social science fiction, which means that the themes explored by the author were characterized by a focus on the society that is contrary to his ethos. The character of Big Brother is one of the most enigmatic in the novel as well as one of the most important. Without his presence, the government would have less control over the society of Oceania, which was largely terrified of the omnipresent leader who could always see what people were doing. The phrase used in the novel “Big Brother is watching you” has become an aphorism in everyday life to point out something that a person should not be doing when he or she is alone, and no one would have known.
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In the fictional country of Oceania created by Orwell, the totalitarian rule enables every citizen to obey the government as it is always watching them. Every household has a telescreen through which the members of the ruling Party can watch the people and record their actions at any time. According to the Party, surveillance is needed for the betterment of the state as a whole while citizens who choose to go against the established rule are traitors and should be treated as such. Big Brother is the leader of the Party, with his face placed on posters on the streets, telescreens at home, and stamped on the coins that people use. It is important to note that the description of Big Brother is that he is handsome: “the black mustachioed face gazed down from every commanding corner […] BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption said, while the dark eyes looked deep into Winston’s own” (Orwell 4). Therefore, the key purpose of Big Brother is to remind people that all of their actions are surveilled and that they cannot hide from him anywhere they go. The possible disciplinary action enacted after disobeying the government installs fear on the public and enables them to stay quiet and do everything that they are told to do.
It is worth noting that in the novel, it is never made clear whether Big Brother is a real person or whether he has ever existed. When reading the novel, one can lean toward the thought that the character represents a personification of the ruling party, which is similar to the character of Uncle Sam in the United States. However, in the US, the figure of Uncle Sam is the personification of the American culture as well as patriotic emotions and did not imply the installing of any fear on the population. In Orwell’s dystopia, Big Brother is an infallible and all-powerful being that can affect any part of a person’s life and has the capacity of influencing the subsequent decisions made in their everyday life.
When exploring the effect of Big Brother on the protagonist of the novel, Winston, it is imperative to mention that the character is in search of a father figure as he was early abandoned by his father. According to the ideology of the state of Oceania, Big Brother should be the father figure that Winston has always wanted; however, the protagonist chooses to reject him. He refuses to look up to Big Brother because of his hatred for everything that he represents. The continuous surveillance of society and the establishment of a disciplined life without freedom was unacceptable to Winston, which is why he rebelled against Big Brother the same way a son would rebel against his controlling and strict father.
Turning to O’Brien as a father figure for Winston brings far more satisfaction than obeying the rule of Big Brother. O’Brien is an Inner Party Member described in the novel as an ugly man with a strong presence. Winston believes that O’Brien has anti-party thoughts and sentiments and that he is a member of the Brotherhood. However, the character managed to tell a convincing story of being opposed to the Party, and only when Julie and Winston get arrested; he reveals that he has always been loyal to the government and Big Brother. Thus, the omnipresent nature of the character of Big Brother convinced O’Brien to act as spies and serve the government by means of lying and deceiving the opponents of the party in order to capture them in the end. Even in the scenes when Winston is tortured for going against Big Brother, he still turns to O’Brien as his father figure. This can be explained by the fact that Winston was broken internally by the events that took place in his childhood that made him vulnerable and trusting of other people. By the end of 1984, Winston’s spirit is diminished to such an extent that he turns to love Big Brother, which is the ultimate goal of the government.
The figure of Big Brother affects all aspects of the characters’ lives in the novel despite it not being a real person but rather the figurative representation of the government. The Party manages to break even those who are the most skeptical and opposing of the established totalitarian regime. This makes readers reflect on their own attitudes to the government and the way that they are treated by the ruling party or the president. In countries such as North Korea, the dystopian ideas of the totalitarian society, and the government that is controlling the nation represent the current reality. The fear that Big Brother installs on the characters of the novel is similar to the fear that citizens of totalitarian countries experience when living their lives. Thus, in many ways, Orwell’s Big Brother is a combination of the worst traits that a government can have, and the author deliberately used the character to create a strong image of a dictator that is always in control of society.
To conclude, the figure of Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984 is complex and multi-layered. It is the embodiment of a totalitarian regime while also a reflection of people’s fear of being punished when not obeying the established rule. The tragedy of the novel is that Big Brother prevails even over those who doubted, questioned, opposed, and went against the institution. It is important to reflect on 1984 from the modern perspective and evaluate how the events in world history developed to allow the totalitarian rule to exist in the first place. Unlike Uncle Sam, Big Brother does not promote the message of patriotism, nor does it help people get inspired to serve their country. Rather, he pushes the boundaries of human fear and ensures that people live in it.
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Orwell, George. 1984. Harcourt,1977.