Winston Smith works in the Ministry of Truth creating “alternative facts.” Under Big Brother’s omniscient eyes, he tried to ignite his only freedom, the freedom to believe in “obvious” truths, to separate facts from “alternative facts,” but by the novel’s end, at the café Winston was unsure what two plus two would make, a sign that O’Brien had successfully reintegrated a “lost soul” and Winston had become like his friends and neighbors, unable to question and thus unable to revolt. What sends shivers down our spines is not the various tortures O’Brien performed, but after these tortures, Winston’s total capitulation-mind, body, and soul-to Big Brother. When the mind kowtows to external authority and ceases to reflect and question, then the individual had successfully metamorphosed into a machine.
Winston, by editing previous documents to create “alternative facts” and conform to Oceana’s present position, such as whether Eurasia is friend or foe, had helped the regime’s guardians, who like O’Brien believed “who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past,” censor news and mold the citizens’ minds. Censor the media, control sources of knowledge and the government controls what people think. It is the classic feature of totalitarian regimes. We see this in Russia and North Korea alike. Oceana, like other totalitarian regimes, also turned to the indispensable tool, fear, to chisel its citizens’ minds and hearts to its agenda’s shape and form. To stimulate fear and rouse its citizens to a common cause, it would when necessary create fathom enemies, either Eurasia or Eastasia, even though these totalitarian regimes also had similar ideologies, or rather, like Oceana, no ideologies. This sense of ultra-nationalism is another key feature of totalitarian regimes as seen in Nazi Germany and current day North Korea. Fear of a common enemy unites the citizens and detracts from the dictator’s encroachment upon freedom. A common doom gives the dictator much leeway. To that end, worshiping the dictator as God is a requirement of totalitarian regimes. As the Germans worshipped Hitler, so the citizens of Oceania bowed before Big Brother.
Under 1984’s dystopian sky, Winston must bow, not only because of Big Brother’s overwhelming power and presence, but also because of Winston’s inability to form any ideologies. Even though he wanted to think freely, he lacked the training and thus the analytical mind to counter O’Brien’s offenses. In the end, his mind followed the path of least resistance. We see this in North Koreans trained from birth to worship their leader as God and to blame all woes on foreigners.
Orwell’s 1984 is a dark apocalypse of sub-human society where homo-sapiens had replaced machines to operate an efficient hierarchy, an apocalypse where man and women have ceased questioning “intuitively obvious truths” and just regurgitate government slogans. What is terrifying is that we continue to have such regimes in our world even in the twenty-first century. The warning of 1984 is a reminder that we can regress just as we can progress and if we don’t mind our steps, we may revert to the past.