The novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell contains a panoptic like society. Written in 1949 the novel takes place in the future and portrays the future dangers of governmental control. The city of Oceania where the citizens live, restricts citizens to no individuality and freedom of thoughts and speech. The government of Oceania also known as “The Party” uses propaganda and surveillance to monitor all citizens of Oceania, and to withhold citizens from any rebellion against the government. Because the theory of panopticism was derived from an always watching idea, therefore makes the city of Oceania reflect a panoptic society as seen in multiple ways throughout the entire novel. French Philosopher Michel Foucault, expresses the theory of panopticism in the article Panopticism (1975).
The theory of panopticism derived from the idea of the Panopticon Prison. The prison designed by English Philosopher Jeremy Bentham was never built, however made it so prisoners do not know when they are being watched by a guard. In the center of the prison was a guard tower that could see into all cells, in which the inmates could not see in to. In this way an inmate does not know if a guard is present in the tower. This leads inmates to internalize all behavior. “The panoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities that make it possible to see constantly and to recognize immediately.
“(Foucault p.497). The panopticon prison was not only designed to monitor criminals but also to “measure, assess, diagnose, cure, transform”(p.
493). In the article Foucault expresses that the panopticon prison reflects a model of modern culture “We live in a world of video cameras, to the point that we become our own video cameras watching ourselves.”(p.493).
This is seen in the city of Oceania and how citizens must internalize one’s own actions and thoughts. In a way the society of Oceania is designed just like the Panopticon Prison. The Guard tower is Big Brother and the inmates of the prison are the citizens of Oceania. The article Propaganda and Surveillance in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: Two Sides of the Same Coin, by Michael Yeo explains how panoptical surveillance is essentially self surveillance.
“Panoptical surveillance is interiorised self surveillance. In the belief that one is under surveillance, one censors oneself so as to avoid unorthodoxy, the detection of which would be detrimental.” By Yeo’s explanation on panoptical surveillance, one can conclude that the citizens of Oceania are under such surveillance. Citizens do not know when he or she may be being watched by the telescreens. This leads to internalizing actions or thoughts, even when a citizen is not being watched.
Citizens watch their own behavior due to fear of The Party. Yeo also explains what is the opposite of panoptical surveillance, known as surreptitious surveillance. “Surreptitious surveillance works on the opposite belief: believing that one is in a private space not under surveillance, one is disinhibited and acts and thinks freely, thus making it possible for an unsuspected spy to detect what one really believes.” This example of surveillance is not present in the society of Oceania.
Citizens are reminded that Big Brother is watching them, making citizens not able to act freely.However in the novel the main character, Winston, believes that there are times when Big Brother is not watching him. Winston cannot know when or if Big Brother is not watching him. Yeo’s article also comment on Winston’s thoughts in the novel, “These opposite surveillance strategies are contradictory in the novel. On the one hand, Winston seems to believe, as he is constantly reminded by propaganda, that surveillance is ubiquitous and there is no escaping it. In this belief, he censors himself. On the other hand, he believes that at least sometimes he is not under surveillance, or at least sometimes believes this. In this belief he acts as if his actions were private and reveals himself without inhibition, thus allowing spies to detect what he is really thinking.
” Winston expresses both panoptical surveillance, and surreptitious surveillance in Nineteen Eighty-Four. With these beliefs Winston does not act out harshly with his actions. Winston buys a diary to express his thoughts, however in Oceania owning a diary is a punishable defense. By Winston writing his thoughts in a diary he is committing what is called thought crime.
Oceania has thought police who watch citizens behavior, and use a citizens actions to determine his or her thoughts. Winston’s actions are stronger than his fear of punishment. The use of propaganda in Oceania is used to influence how the citizens of Oceania think. The Party uses slogans posted on city walls to confuse and alter citizens thoughts. The three slogans of the party are “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength”.
All of The Party’s slogans contradict each other, confusing citizens. In the novel the idea of the slogans are portrayed as doublethink. Doublethink is two contradictory thoughts, and is not just used by Orwell as the slogans of The Party. The Party withholds four ministries: The ministry of plenty, ministry of peace, ministry of love, and ministry of truth. What each ministry is responsible for contradicts with the ministries name.
The ministry of plenty is responsible for any shortages in Oceania’s resources, the ministry of peace is responsible for managing the war, the ministry of love is responsible for punishments in Oceania, and the ministry of truth is responsible for the propaganda in Oceania. The contradicting ideas in Oceania brain washes all of the citizens, making it so citizens do not recognize the contradicting ideas any longer. This prevents citizens from forming any thoughts of rebellion against the government. Propaganda in Oceania is also managed in a panoptical manner. Winston explains this in the beginning of the novel and that there are constant reminder all around the city about citizens being watched by Big Brother. “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption said, while the dark eyes looked deep into Winston’s own.
“(Orwell p.4) The government wants citizens to think that at any given moment they are being watched by Big Brother. By citizens internalizing thoughts and by the confusion expressed in propaganda citizens cannot form thoughts of rebellion against the government. Winston expresses his thoughts and feelings on the all seeing eyes of Big Brother. The citizens of Oceania have been used to this way of living and are essentially brainwashed, making all citizens habits turn into instincts. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. “How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork.
It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized” (Orwell p.5). Winston’s thoughts express the inescapable eyes of Big Brother.
Through propaganda citizens are reminded and brainwashed, and through surveillance citizens actions are internalize.Citizens actions are monitored as well as his or her thoughts. Since the thoughts police are not mind readers, they look for s other suspicious activity. If a citizen were to talk in his or her sleep, they would be then vaporized by thought police. Even when citizens internalize thoughts about the government, comes great danger due to the thoughts coming about in other ways. The internal behaviors portray panoptical behaviors within the citizens of Oceania. The theory panopticism that derived from the panopticon prison reflects the society of Oceania in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Many factors throughout the novel express the panoptic society. The use of telescreens in Oceania provides Big Brother to always have access to a citizen’s behaviors and thoughts. Propaganda in Oceania reminds citizens that Big Brother is always watching them causing them to control his or her own behavior. Propaganda also uses ideas that contradict one another to confuse citizens, preventing them to form any thoughts of rebellion against the government. Citizens are restricted from individuality and freedom of thought and speech just as a prison inmate. Because the theory of panopticism was derived from an always watching idea, therefore makes the city of Oceania reflect a panoptic society as seen in multiple ways throughout the entire novel.