The Meaning of War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery, and Ignorance Is Strength in Orwell's "1984"
At the beginning of the book 1984, these words are presented as the official motto of the nation of Oceania:
War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength— George Orwell, 1984
These slogans were created by an entity known only as “The Party,” which consist of those in charge of the country. The words are written in enormous letters on the white pyramid of the Ministry of Truth, which considering that they are obvious contradictions, seems to be an odd place to put them.
The fact that this motto is written on a government building for a department called the Ministry of Truth suggests that the author is trying to convey that these statements are somehow true for the society he has constructed. These are just the first in a series of contradiction written throughout the book and they serve to represent the nature of the society and how it is held together through the way in which these opposites function.
Orwell opened his book in this way on purpose in order to introduce the reader to the concept of Doublethink, which is what allows the people of Oceania to live with constant contradictions in their lives. Doublethink is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in one’s mind simultaneously.
The Party develops this ability in it’s citizens by undermining their individuality, independence and autonomy and by creating an environment of constant fear through propaganda. In this way, the Party breaks down their ability to think rationally and makes citizens accept and believe anything they tell them, even if it is entirely illogical.
The book is filled with similar contradictions like the ones seen in the opening quote. For example:
- The Ministry of Peace oversees war
- The Ministry of Love carries out the torture of political prisoners and serve as the police of Oceania
- The Ministry of Truth is in charge of changing the content in history books and in the news to agree with the Party’s beliefs
These contradictions keeps the citizens constantly off balance, so they are never sure of themselves or each other and must rely on the party for guidance as to how to live their lives.
The fact that the national motto of Oceania is just as contradictory as these other examples emphasizes the success of the Party’s campaign of psychological mind control. The government has become able to maintain the apparent veracity of these opposing statements because the functions they serve which make them a reality in the society of Oceania.
What Is the Meaning of "War Is Peace" in 1984?
The first slogan is probably the most contradictory of the three. The people of Oceania believe that the saying War is Peace means that in order to have peace one must tolerate the horrors of war. It does not equate the two as the statement might otherwise suggest. The people fully believe that war is bad and peace is good.
Yet, as in real life, the people have come to the understanding that sometimes one must make terrible sacrifices in order to have a peaceful nation. The war does not take place on the soil of Oceania but instead, somewhere far from it so they don’t see the horrors of the battle, the destruction, the wounded and dead in front of them. They only hear about it through the daily announcements made by the Party.
While this contradiction may seem like a logical reality at first, it becomes less so when the reader realizes that there is actually no war occurring at all. It is a made up fiction created by the Party just to keep the people in line. It is intended to keep their attention focused elsewhere, so that they do not realize how the Party is controlling their every thought and action.
The motto War is Peace indicates how having a shared enemy unites the people of Oceania and helps them remain on a common course. It gives them something to worry about external to the way the country is being run, that is happening somewhere else. It helps to prevent them from becoming consciously aware of the obvious problems in their own society. This mentality, put in place for the benefit of the Party, gives the people someone other than the government to blame for their problems, making them easier to rule.
A state of constant war demonstrates that people are sacrificing for the greater good of the society, pledging their effort and money to the war, and devoting themselves to their country and government. From the Party's point of view, all of this is good in that the more people that invest in and commit to their nation and government, the fewer problems they will perceive.
This saying focuses the people's attention, preventing them from being consciously aware of the obvious problems in their own society, where they are being actively manipulated and controlled. If people find themselves having thoughts counter to accepted government rhetoric, they can quickly distract themselves by thinking about the war and worrying over the possibility of attack.
What Is the Meaning of "Freedom is Slavery" in 1984?
The second motto, Freedom is Slavery, is related that the party imparts to the community that anyone who become independent of society’s control is bound to be unsuccessful. A society that is based on free will result in chaos and the devolvement of the society. Since the slogan is commutative, if freedom is slavery then slavery is freedom. Here, the Party communicates the message that those who are willing to subjugate themselves to the collective will or the will of the society which by definition is the will of the Party, will be freed from danger and wanting what they can’t have. Society defines what is good, what is acceptable, what is desirable. Those who focus on those things and on fulfilling the will of the society will be free from despair and will lack nothing, at least nothing that society, or the Party, condones.
The Party embodies the idea of a paternalistic structure for those who live in Oceania. Hence, the idea of the Government surveilling it’s citizens being presented under the guise of “Big Brother.” Adherence to the ideals and rules are ensured by this individual, who is presented as a family member and who is supposed to only have the best interests of the people in mind.
In order to survive in this society, the citizens must ignore the clear reality that Big Brother is certainly not a family member showing concern, but is rather the government spying on everything the citizens do in order to control them. The Party even interprets facial gestures and nonverbal communication and the people can be tortured as political prisoners because of behavior interpreted as subversive.
The obvious contradiction here is that it is only by enslaving yourself to the government and whatever they condone that you are free from harm and imprisonment. Freedom in Oceania means the freedom to do and think what the Party wants without deviating from their rules and regulations.
What Is the Meaning of "Ignorance is Strength" in 1984?
There is also the need for the citizens to subvert their will and their awareness to accept the contradictions the government puts forth. They are expected to bury the truth and accept irrationality such as is demonstrated in the three statements. Ignorance is therefore strength as it is the willing ignorance of the people who ignore obvious contradictions. They fail to investigate such inconsistencies as a non-existent war with an ever changing enemy.
It is this ignorance that maintains the power of the government and the seeming coherence of the the society. It is only through ignorance that people can find the strength to live in a totalitarian society where the government oppresses them even while communicating to them how fortunate they are.
What Are the Themes in 1984?
When first reading these three slogans, most people scratch their heads wondering how conflicts that can arise from equating two opposites. But the idea of contradiction is one of the main themes of the novel. In particular, specific themes include:
- A shifting definition of freedom and enslavement
- The nature of trust and true loyalty
- What reality is and how it is affected by appearances
All of these themes are contradictory, yet they power the plot of the novel.
Shifting Definitions of Freedom and Enslavement
One idea presented in Orwell's book is expressed in the saying:
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The government has grown to become omnipotent, writing its own version of reality by changing the content of history books, and making the people too fearful to think critically.
The Party is so powerful that when it says 2+2=5, the people accept this and come to mindlessly believe it. When the Party declares that Oceania is at war with Eurasia, they distribute heaps of propaganda and edit records so that the people accept that this is how it is and has always been. When the government then says Oceania is at war with Eastasia and has always been at war with them, the people allow their reality to be changed and accept this as true. Not only that, but they accept that Eurasia has always been their ally.
Even so, the people do not perceive any of these contradictions as a type of enslavement. They willingly let the Party tell them what to think, what to believe, what to value, and how to act. They allow the government to change these ideals whenever they choose, believing the new propaganda as fact and repressing the previous reality.
The people must be aware on some level that they are accepting clear opposites, reversals of what is presented as fact, and revisions of history. Yet they have come to accept this as a small price to pay for safety from their assigned, feared enemy.
It is almost as if the government sometimes changes reality just because they can. There is no need to change a fictional enemy, as the entire war is made up anyway. Creating a new contradiction for the people seems sometimes to be done just because the Party is able to do so, and because it keeps the population on its toes. The government has not only come to rule completely, but has reached a point where it takes pleasure in enslaving people so they do, say, and believe whatever their master tells them.
The nature of the relationship between the Party and its citizens is very much like slavery. The people must serve the government, and any attempt to “escape” with independent thought is brutally punished. The people are valued only insomuch as they benefit the government.
In 1984, Winston, the protagonist, and Julia, his lover, secretly attempt to escape from the mind control of the government in a room they rent above Mr. Charington’s shop. They believe the old-fashioned room has no telescreen, a device through which the Inner Party surveils the population.
But in fact the room does have a telescreen hidden behind a painting, and Mr. Charington is actually a member of the thought police. The notion of freedom cannot be maintained as Winston and Julia are attempting to define it. They cannot be free just because they remove themselves from their normal environment and go to a different room. There is no escape.
As the book comes to a close, Winston’s idea of freedom has changed. He no longer has a sense of individual self, he has, in essence, become selfless, a part of the greater society. Now, he is not only compliant with the Party’s dictates, but he wants to be compliant. He loves Big Brother and has no difficulty rejoicing when he hears about a tactical victory in Africa. The author then states that he slips back into a blissful dream where he perceives himself to have a soul as white as snow as he confesses and reports more people to the thought police.
The novel ends by saying that the long hoped for bullet entered Winston’s brain. This does not mean he actually died, but that the independently-minded Winston, whose idea of freedom was freedom from Big Brother and the dictates of the Party, died. This suggests that Winston was willing to give up all that he had fought for and accept being subservient, controlled, and manipulated.
In today’s complex world, it can sometimes feel as if having others take responsibility for making decisions for us would be freeing. We wouldn’t have to struggle with different options or accept the consequences of bad decisions and situations we can’t control. For different people, different degrees of autonomy, responsibility, and consequences contribute to the way freedom is defined. Some may feel free when they have more control over their life, even if it means they have more responsibility. For others, the stress of responsibility hampers their sense of freedom.
More choices may be construed as freedom, while numerous options may paralyze. Thus, freedom may be perceived in different ways by different people. As we see with Winston and Julia, this is even true in the dystopia of 1984.
Trust, Loyalty, and Betrayal
The twisted nature of trust, loyalty, and betrayal is a recurring theme in the novel 1984. Winston is betrayed by Mr. Charrington, O'Brien, and Julia. He also betrays Julia as well as himself. Yet the novel explores the nature of trust and how it plays into loyalty and betrayal. Without trust, there can be no loyalty or betrayal, and trust is almost non-existent in the novel. The characters can never know if they are being observed, either in person or through the telescreen.
It is also impossible to know who is a member of the thought police, and even those who are not part of the thought police often betray others by turning them in. On multiple occasions those closest to one other–such as spouses, siblings, parents, and their children–may betray each other. Yet this is what is expected of the members of this society. Citizens report one another with zeal.
Prior to their arrest and torture, Winston and Julia believe the only true betrayal is the betrayal of the heart, as this is the only kind of betrayal they have control over. They learn that they actually have no control over this type of betrayal either, as in the end they have no choice but to betray each other and themselves. What establishes their loyalty to each other is trust in something outside of the Party and Big Brother, but this idea is eventually broken.
They aren't traitors, though, until the Party makes them traitors through torture, when they confess to betraying the entire society and are forced to further betray anyone toward whom they may feel loyalty. The Party seeks to eliminate potential betrayal at the root by getting rid of all trust and loyalty.
So, the contradiction exists whereby trust and loyalty to other citizens is deemed bad, while trust and loyalty to the Party is deemed good. Moreover, betrayal of the Party is deemed bad, while betrayal of others is deemed good. The irony is that when all loyalty toward other citizens is destroyed, no true loyalty toward the Party can exist either. Still, loyalty based on fear and manipulation is satisfactory to the Party.
Winston believes that despite knowing they will turn against each other and tell the Party what they want to hear about each other's sins, as long as they continue to love one another this will not be betrayal. This is an idealistic and naive viewpoint, since he clearly tells Julia that, once they are captured, there will be nothing they can do for each other.
Truthfully, they can remain loyal to the other by not giving up information. But neither of them consider this an option. When you cannot put another over yourself, or stop yourself from saying something that could harm the other, true or not, not only can there be no trust and thus no loyalty, there can be no love.
The Appearance of Reality vs. True Reality
In the novel, O’Brien tries to teach Winston about the nature of reality under the Party through torture, manipulation, and fear. Winston attempts to hold onto his belief that there is a true reality that cannot be controlled by the Party, especially in relation to the past, which is fixed and a part of people’s memories. O’Brien points out that the Party controls all documents as well as people’s thoughts, so the Party truly can control the past.
This absolute control leads to the assertion that whomever controls the past controls the future, and whomever controls the present controls the past. O’Brien is arguing that the Party’s version of the past is what people believe, and what people believe is truth even if it has no basis in true reality. This is related to the Party slogans in several ways.
O’Brien wants Winston to let go and allow himself to be torn down so he can be reconstructed as a citizen that is loyal to the Party. This ties into the reversal of the traditional idea of freedom and enslavement, as it is only in allowing oneself to become enslaved by the Party, by fully accepting it and its ideals, that one can get rid of the stress and strain involved in fighting against it.
Once one accepts the Party, they no longer have to worry about what to think, how to act, or what to do with their lives. It is all done for them, and they are free from the burden of self-determination. By waging war against self-determination one can find peace. The easiest way to do this is through ignorance, which provides a person with the ability to accept anything the Party wants them to believe. This allows them to be a model citizen, and in this world, that is a strength.
In today’s world we all too often fail to notice that we are allowing ourselves to be enslaved as well. Sometimes this is due to propaganda and the lack of alternative information that is easy to obtain. Other times it may be do to shear laziness and the failure to seek the truth or to let ourselves realize that we are contributing to our own slavery such as when we turn over personal information online without thinking twice.
We register brief outrage when learning of the government’s intrusion into our private lives such as with hidden wires that allow them to access our mobile conversations and data. But we just as quickly let it go without demanding redress, with the excuse that we can’t do anything about it or that that the company in question must deal with it. We let government officials change reality with false facts and fake news and again give lip service to our anger and disbelief but allow them to remain in office saying that is what politicians do and we have to accept the bad with the good.
In other words. we are letting those who lead, those in power, define our reality, at least in part. This is done through whatever means will help them retain power as opposed to what is in our best interests. We accept propaganda that reverses itself similar to the war propaganda in 1984. For instance, whether Libya is our staunchest enemy or ally has depended on if there was benefit to one vs. the other at the time.
We can accept that a nation is our friends one day and our enemy the next, largely by allowing ourselves to remain ignorant. We fail to learn everything we can about the situation, instead, simply believing the position the government tells us to believe. We allow ourselves to be led to wage war on what we know to be reality that is based on manipulated collective memories of events.
This may seem like peace since we don’t have to work to undercover the truth of situations, but it is taking the easy way out and allowing others to define our past, present and future. The only way to find true freedom, peace and strength is to refuse to blindly accept whatever we are told just to keep things simple and non-confrontational.
We need to come to the conclusion that it is time to wage war on such automatic acceptance of manipulated reality. We can take a stance and follow our words with actions, demanding there be consequences for those who attempt to feed the public lies dressed up as alternate facts or who rewrite history according to their own best interests. This is ultimately what will lead to true strength, the abandonment of ignorance and ultimately freedom and peace.
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What Are the Four Ministries in 1984?
Ministries in 1984 are the departments of the government that maintain the status quo. Each of the ministries has a different responsibility. The four ministries and their functions are as follows.
Ministry of Truth
Alters official documents to reflect the artificial reality dictated by Big Brother. Distributes propaganda, controls the flow of new information, and alters documents from the past to make them align with the present.
Ministry of Love
Enforces the rules of the government by carrying out surveillance of Oceania's citizens. Employs the thought police to spy on and capture potential offenders. Carries out the imprisonment and torture of political prisoners.
Ministry of Peace
Carries out all matters of war, including the creation of armies and the creation of weapons.
Ministry of Plenty
Carries out the production of goods like food, clothing, appliances, and equipment.
What Is Facecrime in 1984?
Facecrime in 1984 is committed when a citizen of the Party reveals that they are committing thoughtcrime through the expression on their face. It may also be something that indicates abnormality such as a nervous tic, a look of anxiety, muttering to oneself, for example. Anything that suggests someone has something to hide.
Facecrime can be detected using telescreens, a citizen spy, or a member of the thought police.
What Is Thoughtcrime in 1984?
Thoughtcrime in 1984 is committed when a citizen of the Party thinks "deviant" thoughts, which would include any thoughts that have to do with individuality or freedom. A citizen can be charged with thoughtcrime for simply thinking about thoughtcrime.
Thoughtcrime is detected with telescreens installed throughout Oceania that have both microphones and cameras. Thoughtcrime can also be detected by the inflection of one's voice or the micro-expressions of their face (called facecrime). Members of the thought police, an organization within the Ministry of Love, or a citizen spy may catch someone committing thought crime which leads to the individuals arrest and interrogation.
What Is Doublethink in 1984?
Doublethink in 1984 occurs when a person knows that something is not true, but believes it to be true anyway. One example of the citizens of Oceania using doublethink is if Big Brother were to say that 2+2 equals 5. While mathematical fact says that 2+2 equals 4, through the use of doublethink, 2+2 can equal 5.
Doublethink is a fact of life in Oceania, and must be used everyday in order to survive. The best citizens in George Orwell's dystopian universe are those who have mastered the art of doublethink.
What Is Duckspeak in 1984?
Duckspeak in 1984 occurs when someone speaks without thinking, like a quacking duck. In Oceania, saying that somebody is using duckspeak can be interpreted as either good or "ungood" depending on who is speaking and what they are saying.
If a citizen is saying something in line with the parties ideals then it is good. If they are carelessly saying something against the Party doctrine then it is "ungood" and results in their arrest and interrogations.
What Does it Mean to Be Vaporized in 1984?
To be vaporized in 1984 is to be captured by the thought police for a crime and eliminated. Being vaporized means you not only cease to exist, but have never existed. Once you have been vaporized by the Ministry of Love, the Ministry of Truth goes to work removing every trace of your existence.
Often, those who are vaporized are not even told of their crimes. Instead, they are simply abducted one day, taken to the Ministry of Truth, tortured until they admit to some wrongdoing, asked to implicate others, and vaporized. The cycle continues endlessly, and keeps citizens vigilant when it comes to enforcing Big Brother's rules and ideologies.
In one scene from the book, Winston, is his job at the Ministry of Truth, has to edit an article from the past about a man who was recently vaporized. Since he is now considered an unperson, Winston fills the hole left by this man by creating an entirely fictional character, a decorated war hero. Other departments in the Ministry of Truth go to work making a face for the man, taking pictures of him in professional studios that make it look like he is in some far away, war-torn land. Once this work is finished, the real man is gone, replaced by a fictional one.
What Is an Unperson in 1984?
An unperson in 1984 is a person who has been vaporized and no longer exists (and has never existed). This is the term the Inner Party uses to refer to those they have had removed from society through vaporization.
A large part of Winston's job at the Ministry of Truth is to fill the gaps in history that are left in the wake of unpersons.
© 2018 Natalie Frank