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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

"The Object of Power is Power" - Notes on 1984

I read 1984 as a teenager, and given that I have been reading texts on Thought Reform for my research paper, it was definitely time for a refresher of Orwell’s seminal work. I’ve always been fascinated by the works of George Orwell, especially his non-fiction essays but the curious thing about 1984 is how the universality of his ideas has transcended into the cultural zeitgeist and frequently referenced in every-day conversation. Testament to Orwell’s influence is the way “Big Brother”, “Thought Crime”, “Newspeak” and “Doublethink” are referenced in conversations which are not specifically about the text as well as the advent of the adjective “Orwellion”. An interesting programme “Orwell vs. Kafka” on BBC Radio 4 explores the “Battle of the Adjectives” – Orwellian and Kafkaesque.


1984 is considered a critique of the totalitarian state (such as the Nazi regime and Stalinism) but it was interesting to re-read it in light of my recent reading on covert and narcissistic abuse. I was struck by the similarities between the abuses of power described in the book and the control tactics frequently deployed in domestic abuse situations. For example; the control of social interactions is commonly used by narcissistic abusers in order to isolate their victims, equally the denial of affection and intimacy is used to create dependency. Another example is the way in which facts are changed with no acknowledgment that this has happened and all evidence to the contrary destroyed – which has many parallels with the way gaslighting is used in covert abuse in order to maintain a sense of confusion and psychological distress in the victim. Winston is left questioning ‘whether he himself was the lunatic’ as victims of narcissistic abuse are left questioning their own sanity and whether they are to blame for their partner’s abusive behaviour. However, most starkly it was the description of the torture scenes in the Ministry of Love that stood out most starkly – the way Orwell describes Winston “clinging” to his abuser after an incident of torture and having the sensation of O’Brien as a “protector” – which is precisely the mechanism which keeps victims trapped in abusive relationships.


This book has answered a lot of questions which I have been asking myself recently; “why is there so much cruelty in the world?”, “why do people abuse those they claim to love” or in one case, it was a friend who asked me; ‘How can someone be so cruel?”. I have spent a lot of time dissecting abusive behaviour, trying to understand the mechanism by which abusers gain and maintain control over their victims, but it is this need for this power over others which continues to perplex me - so, I could really related to the moment Winston writes in his diary ‘I understand HOW: I do not understand WHY’. The book answers these questions tautologically, ‘the object of power is power’ – the abuse is both a means and an end.







(page 5)


‘The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within the thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.’ (page 17)


‘Of course he chanted with the rest: it was impossible to do otherwise. To dissemble your feelings, to control your face, to do what everyone else was doing, was an instinctive reaction. But there was a space of a couple of seconds during which the expression of his eyes betrayed him.’ (page 20)


‘He took a twenty-five cent piece out of his pocket. There too, in tiny clear lettering, the same slogans were inscribed, and on the other face of the coin the head of Big Brother. Even from the coin the eyes pursued you. On coins, on stamps, on the covers of books, on banners, on posters, and on the wrappings of a cigarette packet – everywhere. Always the eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed – no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.’ (page 32)


‘The party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth.’ (page 41)


‘In your heart you’d prefer to stick to Oldspeak, with all its vagueness and its useless shades of meaning. You don’t grasp the beauty of the destruction of words. Do you know that Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year?’ (page 62)


‘Your worst enemy, he reflected, was your own nervous system. At any moment the tension inside you was liable to translate itself into some visible symptom.’ (page 77)


‘He wrote:


            Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.’ (page 84)


‘The only evidence to the contrary was the mute protest in your own bones, the instinctive feeling that the conditions you lived in were intolerable and that at some other time they must have been different. It struck him that the truly characteristic thing about modern life was not its cruelty and insecurity, but simply its bareness, its dinginess, its listlessness.; (page 88)


‘He took up his pen again and wrote:


I understand HOW: I do not understand WHY


He wondered, as he had wondered many times before, whether he himself was the lunatic. Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one.’ (page 95)


‘And yet he was right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold onto that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change.’ (page 96)


‘No emotion was pure, because everything was mixed up with fear and hatred. Their embrace had been a battle, the climax is victory. It was a blow struck against the Party. It was a political act.’ (page 149)


‘The rocket bombs which fell on London were probably fired by the Government of Oceania itself, ‘just to keep people frightened’. This was an idea that had literally never occurred to him. She also stirred a sort of envy in him by telling him that during the Two Minutes Hate her great difficulty was to avoid bursting out laughing.’ (page 182)


‘One did not know what happened inside the Ministry of Love, but it was possible to guess: tortures, drugs, delicate instruments that registered your nervous reactions, gradual wearing-down by sleeplessness and solitude and persistent questioning. Facts, at any rate, could not be kept hidden.’ (page 198)


‘There was, of course, no admission that any change had taken place. Merely it became known, with extreme suddenness and everywhere at once, that Eastasia and not Eurasia was the enemy.’ (page 214)


‘If it is necessary to rearrange one’s memories or to tamper with written records, then it is necessary to forget that one has done so. The trick of doing this can be learned like any other mental technique. It is learned by the majority of Party members, and certainly by all who are intelligent as well as orthodox.’ (page 255)


‘Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting them. The Party intellectual knows in which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows that he is playing tricks with reality; but by the exercise of doublethink he also satisfies himself that he is not really violated.’ (page 255)


‘The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy; they are deliberate exercises in doublethink.’ (page 258)


‘ “But it did exist! It does exist! It exists in memory. I remember it. You remember it.”

“I do not remember it,” said O’Brien.

Winston’s heart sank. That was doublethink. He had a feeling of deadly helplessness. If he could have been certain that O’Brien was lying, it would not have seemed to matter.’ (page 296)


‘For a moment he clung to O’Brien like a baby, curiously comforted by the heavy arm round his shoulders. He had the feeling that O’Brien was his protector, that the pain was something that came from the outside, from other source, and that it was O’Brien who would save him from it.’ (page 299)


‘O’Brien had tortured him to the edge of lunacy, and in a little while, it was certain he would send him to his death. It made no difference. In some sense that went deeper than friendship, they were intimates’ (pages 301-2)


‘Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves.’ (page 306)


‘The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognise their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object or power is power.’ (page 315)



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