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What are the pros and cons of Big Brother in 1984?
Big Brother works to support the Party’s power but also works to undermine it. Big Brother is both a rallying point and a threat, representing stability and oppression at the same time.
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The chief pro of Big Brother is his propaganda value as a rallying point and a representation of the state’s power and security. Big Brother is a distinct and recognizable face for the nation, functioning as George Washington or Uncle Sam does in the United States or Queen Elizabeth II in Great Britain. This is especially important in Oceania, where the government is largely invisible and also forever changing its policies, such as who it is at war with. Big Brother, in contrast, provides a distinct, recognizable face, and is an emblem that is an unchanging point of stability.
Nevertheless, Big Brother also represents oppression and surveillance. The motto “Big Brother is Watching You” is threatening and ominous rather than comforting and empowering. Big Brother creates a constant sense of unease in outer Party members that they might, at any moment, be doing something wrong and worthy of punishment. He symbolizes conformity and groupthink, qualities that alter individuals into a herd.
One could argue that there are no pros of Big Brother in 1984. Big Brother controls virtually every aspect of society, completely eliminates privacy and independence, and creates a hysterical, dangerous environment, where nobody is ever safe. Even loyal Party members, like Mr. Parsons, are sent to the Ministry of Love or vaporized, like Winston’s intelligent friend Syme. The only way to survive in Oceania as a Party member is to exercise “doublethink” at all times and to be completely in control of your emotions, which is impossible. A simple stroll through the street could be fatal, because the Party drops random bombs in the prole sections of town to maintain an atmosphere of hysteria, and one must always remain orthodox because the citizens are under constant surveillance. Big Brother has successfully created an environment that is focused on fear, propaganda, and manipulation. In Orwell’s dystopian society, no one is safe and Big Brother is omnipotent. The fact that the Party cannot be conquered and can successfully convert political dissidents into loyal supporters highlights Orwell’s message regarding the danger of totalitarian regimes.
A pro of Big Brother and total government surveillance would be safety. In a world where everything is monitored and the police can even monitor your thoughts, violent crime would be almost non-existent. Tom Cruise’s Minority Report focused on that kind of idea.
Big Brother also creates a huge uniformity of the population, so anything that doesn’t fit the mold is easy to spot and “fix.” That’s what happened with Winston, although the fixing solution for him was really gross.
Another pro of Big Brother is how organized everything was. Nothing was out of place and there wasn’t any extra stuff to get in the way of that organization and efficiency. Even the language itself was being streamlined.
Cons on the other hand are that Big Brother essentially wipes out any independent thought or individualism. To an American that is horrible since the Bill of Rights basically guarantees individuals the right to think what they want to think, and at times do what they want to do.
Another con is that there is no motivation for self improvement. Orwell’s 1984 created a sort of caste system of society. Winston was what he was, and had no real hope of becoming more. A society with no motivation to do better is a dying society.
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