Table of Contents
2. Propaganda, Dehumanisation, and Brainwashing
3. Destruction of Individuality and Privacy
In 1984, George Orwell describes a totalitarian state called Oceania which bears resemblance to Nazi Germany. In Orwell’s world, the entire country is controlled by a political party, which rewrites history to support the Party, destroys all individual thought and expression, and ensures that every citizen supports the Party by vaporising any possible opposition. The lives of the people are influenced by propaganda, brainwashing and a thorough invasion of privacy through the use of technology such as the telescreen.
The central character in Oceania is Big Brother, a secular projection of god and a leader that his Party members are obliged to obey and follow. Correspondingly, during the Shoa in Nazi Germany between 1939 and 1945, in which 6 million people were killed (Synder 45), Germans were subject to a similar invasion of privacy and destruction of individuality, with Hitler being the leader of a political religion akin to the Party in 1984 (Bucher).
German people were also oppressed by a strong political party and exposure to massive propaganda, resulting in brainwashing even from a young age. The presence of war was central to both Nazi Germany and 1984. Similar to how citizens during the Shoa would turn in their Jewish neighbours to the Gestapo, children turn in their parents in Orwell’s 1984.
Using an historical approach to literature, this paper addresses the resemblance of the societies and practices of Orwell’s Oceania and Nazi Germany. In 1984, Oceania mirrors the totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany in terms of propaganda, brainwashing, dehumanisation and the destruction of individuality and privacy.
2. Propaganda, Dehumanisation, and Brainwashing
The societies in Nazi Germany and Oceania are engulfed with images of propaganda and surroundings filled with party slogans, resulting in dehumanisation and brainwashing of their citizens. Winston’s apartment, called the Victory Mansions, is an apartment for Outer Party members and is completely immersed with propaganda posters, stating slogans such as “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength” (Orwell 4) or “Big Brother is watching you” (Orwell 2). Winston describes the posters as “so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move“ (Orwell 1-2). Through the exposure to unmitigated lies, doublethink and party propaganda almost everybody in Oceania, except for the proletariat (the proles), is brainwashed into believing everything they are told by the Party. Comparatively, propaganda techniques were widely used to dehumanise minority groups and gain support for the Nazi Party. The propaganda spread across Germany encouraged anti-Semitism and intolerance, resulting in a largely brainwashed society under Nazi ideology and rule (Grey and Little 259). Through dehumanisation tactics, Jewish people were associated with poison snakes and were consequently perceived as “not only subhuman but also very dangerous” (Wegner 168).
1984 depicts “a world that has turned its back on truth altogether“ (Dwan 387). This becomes obvious through the endeavours of the Ministry of Truth, which rewrites history and deems truth as merely “politically usable” (Kalechofsky 116). In Nazi Germany, truth was similarly abolished: The Reich Institute for the History of the New Germany was organised to rewrite history from the perspective of Nazi ideology (Bendersky 140). Hitler also coined a propaganda technique called “Big Lie,“ which is essentially a lie so colossal, yet so simple, that when it is frequently repeated, one will eventually believe it. Hitler called the English and American pinning of the entire war-guilt on Germany a big lie and also singled out the Jews and Marxists for losing World War I (Marlin 80).
In 1984, the proletariat and war enemies are dehumanised, including children from opposing countries. In this instance, Syme carelessly remarks to Winston: “The proles are not human beings” (Orwell 52). It also becomes a recreational activity to watch the hanging of individuals accused of being disloyal to the Party and to view footage of violent deaths of proles and citizens from other countries. Even children enjoy watching acts of violence, and they are remarkably desensitised to the very thing they are viewing. This becomes obvious when one of Mr. Parson’s children is so upset that he screams at his mother, “Why can't we go and see the hanging?” (Orwell 23). The society in 1984 no longer identifies their enemies as human beings or even as individuals – they are simply viewed as an enemy to be despised. A strong hatred of the enemy fuelled both the Nazi Party and the Party in 1984. This dehumanisation ensures that the perpetrators and observers do not feel guilty for their actions. The dehumanisation, in combination with extensive propaganda, strengthens the power of each country’s authoritarian political party.
The “Two Minutes Hate” in 1984 can be compared to the large chants, riots and parades led by the Nazi Party, such as the “Third Reich Parade” or the celebration of Hitler’s birthday in 1939. The assemblies in both instances are based upon strong displays of emotions and hatred which feed of the strong emotions of the Party leaders. Booker describes the Two Minutes Hate as follows: “Party members gather before a telescreen as programming focused on the heinous treachery of official Party enemy Emmanuel Goldstein” (71). Goldstein’s Jewishness is important to the manipulation by the Party. Through the use of anti-Semitism, the Party “politically organizes the nonrational in human beings and shapes it into a collective force” (Kalechofsky 126). Similarly, Hitler’s vision of propaganda aimed at “not dividing the attention of a people, but in concentrating it upon a single foe,“ (108) which were the Jewish people in Nazi Germany. There is also no concept of empathy in Oceania, as “the songs, the processions, the banners, the hiking, the drilling with dummy rifles, the yelling of slogans, the worship of Big Brother was all a sort of glorious game to them” (Orwell 24). Through oppression by political powers, the people of Nazi Germany and the residents of Oceania are brainwashed into dehumanising their enemies. This is also achieved by the consistent exposure to propaganda in the forms of slogans, posters and displays of emotion.
In 1984, brainwashing and inculcating loyalty to the political parties begins at a very young age, similar to the situation during the Shoa with youth organisations like the “Hitler Youth.” In Orwell’s novel, children are supposed to join the Party’s youth group “Junior Spies,” and are even encouraged to turn in their own parents. Violent games are encouraged from a young age, as Winston experiences. When he goes to a neighbour’s home, he is surrounded by his neighbour’s young children who yell, “You're a thought-criminal! You're a Eurasian spy! I'll shoot you, I'll vaporise you, I'll send you to the salt mines” (Orwell 23). In Oceania, it is common for children to turn in their own parents to the Thought Police when they their thoughts deviate from party rules, and this is strongly encouraged by the Party, giving the children a nearly heroic status. As Winston observes, “hardly a week passed in which The Times did not carry a paragraph describing how some eavesdropping little sneak – ‘child hero’ was the phrase generally used – had overheard some compromising remark and denounced its parents to the Thought Police” (Orwell 24). Some parents even seem to be proud of their child, such as Mr. Parson as he rejoices over the intelligence of is daughter, saying “pretty smart for a nipper of seven, eh?” (Orwell 57). However, other parents are afraid of their own children for having the power to turn them over. Winston sees the terror on Mrs. Parson’s face following the loud outbursts of her children, observing “the look of fright on the woman’s greyish face” (Orwell 24).
In a similar manner, some Germans would turn in their Jewish neighbours to the Gestapo (Von Hellfeld 117). In Nazi Germany, children were brainwashed and taught anti-Semitic views in school in order for a hatred of minorities to be fixated in their minds from an early age. According to Blackburn, anti-Semitism was even “the most fundamental of all Nazi hatreds” (138). Both political parties strove to influence and indoctrinated young children, as they were more susceptible to indoctrination than adults. Children are brainwashed by political propaganda from an early age in 1984 as well as in Nazi Germany.
3. Destruction of Individuality and Privacy
The Nazi Party massively invaded the privacy of German citizens and restricted their individuality analogously to the way party members and workers in 1984 are deliberately scrutinised for any sign of disloyalty. In Nazi Germany, spies were prevalent and often devices were installed to listen in on the phone conversations of households (Kitson 101). Moreover, in the labour camps, people were treated as numbers instead of individuals. They were forced into cramped and inhumane living conditions, leaving no possibility for privacy or individuality. The phenomenon of forced labour camps is another similarity between the practices in Nazi Germany and the Party strategies in 1984, as labour camps are a common method of punishment in Orwell’s novel (116, 227).
In 1984, there is an apparent attempt to eradicate individuality and freedom of expression, as was the case with the Jews during the Shoa. One of the objectives of the Party in 1984 is to reduce the vocabulary of humans into a new language called Newspeak, which is “a parody of Basic English, as well as of Nazi and Soviet rhetoric, designed to make dangerous thoughts unthinkable by eliminating the words for them” (Posner 15-16). In doing this, the expressions of people become very limited, as well as their thought processes and ideas because they have no way of thinking or expressing complex ideas. The instruments of thought control used in 1984 bear close resemblance to the tactics used by the Nazis.
There are also many attempts to restrict privacy and expression in 1984, with the installation of telescreens in every household, building and neighbourhood. The telescreen allows for sounds and actions to be observed, thus people have to be careful of their facial expressions as well as not to express any feelings. Yeo remarks “the telescreen could of course not be turned off so there was no respite from its constant propagandizing” (56). The telescreen can be interpreted as a powerful metaphor for the loss of privacy in a totalitarian state. In 1984, this panoptical surveillance is described as follows:
There was of course no way of knowing if you were being watched at any given moment … they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. (3)
In 1984, it becomes illegal not only to act against the Party but also even to think thoughts of rebellion or doubt. The invasion of privacy and restriction of individuality experienced by people in Nazi Germany is similarly described in Orwell’s 1984.
In 1984, Oceania mirrors the totalitarian regime of Nazi Germany in terms of propaganda, brainwashing, dehumanisation and the destruction of individuality and privacy. The use of propaganda posters, slogans, chants and parades described in 1984 are similar to the tactics used by the Nazi Party. In both instances, propaganda and brainwashing result in dehumanisation and desensitisation to violence and death. This desensitisation begins at an early age, so that children would grow up with party propaganda fixated in their minds, unable to remember a life other than the manipulation and lies the Party had exposed them to.
In Orwell’s novel, children are encouraged to turn their parents in to the Thought Police, and during the Shoa, some Germans would turn in Jews to the Gestapo. Anti-Semitism was also taught in schools to ensure hatred of the proclaimed enemy. A lot of Germans were no longer able to empathise with the persecuted minorities and could not perceive others as individuals, which furthered the violence and intense hatred. The eradication of privacy in both instances promote the loss of individuality.
The author of this paper believes that the implications described in 1984 can be understood as a warning for the future because of its horrific descriptions of the consequences of a totalitarian state.
- Quote paper
- Valentin Bösing (Author), 2015, Does George Orwell's "1984" resemble Nazi Germany?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/417163