A Totalitarian Society: 1984 by George Orwell

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In George Orwell’s book 1984, a group is depicted that bears resemblance to what is commonly referred to as a cult. A cult is typically defined as an extremist or false religious sect whose followers live in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian and charismatic leader. Totalism, on the other hand, refers to the principle of absolute and unrestricted governmental power.

The key topics explored in the book revolve around language as a tool for controlling minds, as well as psychological and physical tactics used for intimidating and manipulating individuals. Set in an unconventional city, the story revolves around a captivating figure named Big Brother who maintains control over the inhabitants. George Orwell depicts this society as exhibiting characteristics akin to a cult and a totalitarian regime.

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Winston Smith resides in Oceania, encompassing the Americas, the Atlantic islands (including the British Isles), Australasia, and the southern portion of Africa, as depicted in the book 1984. Ingsoc, a term denoting English Socialism, represents the political ideology of Oceania. The slogan of Oceania, displayed on the Ministry of Truth’s pyramid, encapsulates the concepts: “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.” Within the Ministry of Truth, books are altered to align with the party’s ideology. In this totalist environment, language is characterized by thought-terminating clichés – concise, reductive phrases that are easily memorized and expressed. They serve as the foundation and conclusion of any ideological analysis. Big Brother employs this method to simplify and propagate the party’s complex theories into a single phrase. “War is peace” fosters unity among Oceania’s population by perpetuating a perception of constant warfare against external threats. “Freedom is slavery” instills fear in individuals to maintain loyalty to Big Brother, suggesting that deviating from his authority leads to inevitable failure. “Ignorance is strength” signifies that the people’s inability to perceive how the party maintains its power ultimately sustains that power.This type of language restricts individuals and as they perpetually repeat the party’s slogans, their freedom diminishes. Consequently, they live in a climate of fear imposed on them by deceptive words and promises. Once this occurs, followers blindly believe anything the party conveys, no matter how illogical it may seem. In George Orwell’s 1984, the Ministry of Peace surprisingly orchestrates never-ending warfare, a complete contradiction to conventional expectations. This concept is referred to as “doublespeak” – when language can convey opposing meanings. One would assume the Ministry of Peace’s responsibility would revolve around maintaining harmony between Oceania and other nations. Yet, the Ministry of Truth is tasked with altering books to align with the party’s ideology. If it genuinely represented truth, it wouldn’t disseminate falsehoods among the people of Oceania. Additionally, it is ironic that the Ministry of Love is actually responsible for inflicting torture. Winston only enters this building at the end when he becomes a captive.

Similar to the concept depicted in George Orwell’s novel “1984,” cults exercise control over the dissemination of information within their community. They primarily employ a method known as milieu control, which involves controlling all forms of communication within a given environment. This form of control aims to suppress individual autonomy and manage inner communication. Milieu control is achieved through various means, including intense group processes, continuous psychological pressure, and isolation by distance, lack of transportation, or physical confinement. Cults often organize a series of events like seminars, lectures, and encounters that intensify over time to make it extremely challenging for members to leave both physically and psychologically. This intense milieu control can lead to the development of a second self, referred to as doubling, which coexists with a person’s original identity for a significant period. When the control is eventually lifted, aspects of the previous self may resurface (Lifton). In the novel “1984,” Winston attempts to differentiate himself from others but faces difficulty due to how noticeable it is when someone stands out among thousands. He is subjected to intense group processes like the daily “two-minutes hate,” where everyone in Oceania watches a video featuring Emmanuel Goldstein, a former leader portrayed as a traitor.This text evokes strong emotions from the people who despise him greatly. Winston asserts that it is impossible not to be swept up in the frenzy of hatred towards Goldstein. Then, Big Brother makes an appearance and everyone resumes their work. Even the children are involved in collective activities, being encouraged to spy on their parents and report any potential crimes against Big Brother. Cults attempt to indoctrinate the group as early as possible. Alongside intense group dynamics, the people of Oceania are subjected to constant psychological pressure. The words “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU!” serve as a constant reminder for the people of Oceania. They are uncertain if Big Brother is actually monitoring them, but the mere presence of those words instills fear in them. Big Brother instills fear in the people of Oceania, who are afraid of the unseen, thereby pressuring them to avoid anything that would get them into trouble with Big Brother. In Oceania, no one is permitted to transport themselves independently; they can only travel by train, which is under the control of someone working for Big Brother. At the conclusion of the novel, Winston encounters a form of milieu control through physical restraint when he is detained within the Ministry of Love. He is confined in a cell without knowing for how long, and ultimately subjected to torture. This experience causes him to once again become physically and psychologically controlled by Big Brother.

Cults are skilled at controlling the flow of information within their community, limiting both incoming and outgoing content. Cult leaders have various methods to regulate information, similar to how Big Brother in George Orwell’s novel 1984 uses propaganda to systematically spread a specific ideology. In the book, Winston works as a propaganda officer at the Ministry of Truth and is responsible for altering historical records to fit the party’s version of events. Like cults, individuals within cults have restricted access to external sources like newspapers, television, or radio. This restriction is meant to prevent recruits from encountering contradictory information that could challenge the cult’s prescribed beliefs. As time goes on, the cult’s ideas start dominating its members’ thoughts, making it difficult for them to trust their own perceptions and grasp the truth. Once a person falls under a cult’s control, it becomes extremely challenging for them to return to their original beliefs – an experience Winston also undergoes after leaving the Ministry of Love.Before the ordeal, he emphasized the significance of freedom by acknowledging that “two plus two make four.” Nevertheless, following his experience of being imprisoned and tortured, Winston is compelled to accept a lie by inscribing “2 + 2 = 5” on a café table covered in dust. This illustrates that no matter how hard they try, an individual belonging to a cult will inevitably embrace every doctrine as absolute truth, reaffirming their steadfast conviction.

Involving various forms of exploitation such as economic and sexual, cults possess numerous characteristics. Throughout the novel, Winston engages in a romantic relationship with a woman named Julia, who is employed at the Ministry of Truth’s Fiction Department and is fond of sexual activities. In response to the Party deeming sex as forbidden, party members direct their frustrations towards the party’s adversaries. Similar to this, Heaven’s Gate, a cult, imposed sexual regulations on its members. The two leaders of this cult, Applewhite and Nettles, shared a homosexual relationship without any sexual desires towards each other. Their recruitment efforts involved enforcing uniform dress, prescribed hairstyles, and suppression of sexual identities. Moreover, they formulated a theology that depicted the human body as a mere vessel for a genderless soul that could only attain salvation in outer space. Consequently, Applewhite’s alienation from his homosexuality led him to discourage sexual activities among his followers. Lewis from the Institute for the Study of American Religion, who has extensively researched Applewhite and Nettles’ group for over two decades, remarked on this aspect.The text states that in the mid-1970s, followers of the cult were compelled to learn to be neutral and nonsexual through the putting together of individuals of opposite sexes. According to Balch, who infiltrated the group for two months in 1975, the cult imposed strict discipline, which included explicit rules such as “No sex, no human-level relationships, no socializing” (Fisher and Pressley). Comparatively, the Heavens Gate cult shares similarities with the inhabitants of Oceania in terms of rules against sex. Nevertheless, the main distinction lies in Big Brother’s acknowledgment of the necessity of sex for maintaining a stable population in Oceania, while sex is entirely nonexistent within Heaven’s Gate.

Coercive persuasion, or thought reform, is a method employed by cults to trap individuals through psychological and environmental control, without relying on physical coercion. The people of Oceania were subjected to this technique by Big Brother, although they were unaware of it. They were indoctrinated into believing they were engaged in wars with other countries, despite never witnessing it firsthand. While Big Brother’s image was omnipresent in posters and during the two-minutes hate, he was never seen in real life. A key characteristic of cults is a charismatic leader who becomes an object of worship and control. In Oceania, the image of Big Brother followed people everywhere, yet they were unfazed by this familiarity, having known nothing else their whole lives. This mirrors the experience in Germany under Adolf Hitler’s rule, where reminders of the controlling power dominated every corner. Mystical Manipulation gives cult members the belief that they are chosen by a higher authority. They perceive themselves as essential to the group due to possessing something it needs. The cult creates an illusion that recruits willingly chose to join, exercising their free will. In 1984, individuals in Oceania consider themselves privileged because they have never faced any adverse circumstances. Each person has assigned daily tasks, yet members feel they are not being controlled.The individuals who are part of the party believe that Big Brother is safeguarding them by engaging in wars with supposed other nations. Their birth into the party compels them to remain oblivious to the concept of having a choice.

The text highlights the origins of some religions and draws a parallel with Big Brother’s tactics in controlling Oceania. Christianity and Buddhism were initially small cults led by charismatic figures who attracted followers through their novel religious beliefs. Similarly, Big Brother doesn’t claim to be a chosen one or seek religious domination but is referred to as such for the perception of protection. However, despite this facade, he manipulates and brainwashes people using tactics employed by cults and totalitarian leaders. Like cults publishing their own materials, Big Brother controls information dissemination through exclusive newspapers and books in Oceania. No one has ever returned from leaving Oceania with firsthand accounts due to their ignorance of the falseness they believe in. This understanding connects with Orwell’s statement about control over the past determining control over the future.

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A Totalitarian Society: 1984 by George Orwell. (2019, Apr 13). Retrieved from


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