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Themes and Colors
Totalitarianism and Communism Theme Icon
The Individual vs. Collective Identity Theme Icon
Reality Control Theme Icon
Sex, Love, and Loyalty Theme Icon
Class Struggle Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in 1984, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Reality Control Theme Icon

The Party controls the citizens of Oceania through a combination of surveillance, terror, and propaganda. Although there are no laws to punish crime, the party can indiscriminately use torture, imprisonment, or vaporization on anyone whose thoughts or actions indicate that they may commit a crime in the future. The presence of telescreens in every room reminds citizens that they are constantly being observed, and all live in fear that their neighbors, coworkers, or even family members will report them to the Thought Police. Another way the Party controls the minds of the people is by destroying historical evidence that contradicts what the Party wishes the people to believe: for instance, when the Party reduces the chocolate ration, it also eliminates any information that would make it possible for anyone to verify that the chocolate ration had once been larger. Winston and his fellow employees in the Records Department are given the task of rewriting news articles and other literature in order to bring the written record into compliance with the version of history supported by the Party, a never ending job, since the Party constantly changes facts in order to support its policies. Books that describe the past in a way that does not conform with Party ideology are destroyed or translated into Newspeak, a form of English designed by the Party to lack words that are considered unnecessary or dangerous, and which thereby prevents revolutionary thoughts.

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Reality Control Quotes in 1984

Below you will find the important quotes in 1984 related to the theme of Reality Control.
Book 1, Chapter 3 Quotes
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself—that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word "doublethink" involved the use of doublethink.
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker)
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

Winston describes the concept of "doublethink," a style of consciousness that the Party demands all citizens adopt. Doublethink involves believing two contradictory things at the same time. One major example of doublethink comes in the form of the slogans of the ministries: "War is Peace," "Freedom is Slavery," and "Ignorance is Strength." Winston's job at the Ministry of Truth also involves doublethink; he must delete any evidence that contradicts the Party's new version of the truth, while at the same time erasing his own awareness that he has changed anything. The "ultimate subtlety" that Winston mentions refers to the fact that, while experiencing doublethink, people must also not be aware of the fact that they are experiencing it. 

Doublethink highlights the extent of the Party's control over the population. If doublethink is successful, there is no need for indoctrination, laws, or even punishment; people will simply believe whatever the Party tells them, even if this doesn't make sense, because they have given up the ability to logically interrogate whether things are true or just. This is part of the Party's larger tactic of reality control, a method of oppressing the population through altering the way people see and interpret the world around them. 

The concept of doublethink was inspired by real tactics used in totalitarian regimes such as Nazism and Stalinism. In Nazi concentration camps, for example, signs over the entrances read "Arbeit macht frei," meaning "Work sets you free." In reality, of course, prisoners in the camps were either worked to death or gassed.


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The process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound tracks, cartoons, photographs—to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance. Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every predication made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary. In no case would it have been possible, once the deed was done, to prove that any falsification had taken place.
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker)
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Winston describes the tasks he performs at his job at the Ministry of Truth: "rectifying" cultural and historical records so that they don't contradict the Party's current version of truth, which is constantly changing. This role is particularly thankless for a number of reasons. Firstly, because all of the work is done in secret, Winston will never receive any acknowledgment or credit for what he does. Indeed, doing his job well means making it impossible to "prove that any falsification has taken place." Furthermore, he is constantly undoing his own work; every time he changes a record, he knows that perhaps only hours later he will have to change it again.

Finally, because the Party's version of the truth is constantly changing and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future, there is a nightmarish sense of monotony to Winston's work, which will never be complete, but will simply go on and on, its only purpose to strengthen the Party's control over reality. Indeed, this sense of monotony characterizes life in the world of 1984. Orwell shows that existence under a totalitarian regime is endlessly dull and repetitive, as the Party erases all differentiation between people and their experiences. 

Book 1, Chapter 7 Quotes
It was as though some huge force were pressing down upon you—something that penetrated inside your skull, battering against your brain, frightening you out of your beliefs, persuading you, almost, to deny the evidence of your senses. In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable—what then?
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker)
Related Symbols: Big Brother
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

Winston has been staring at a picture of Big Brother on the cover of a children's book, reflecting on the way that the Party controls his thoughts. He describes the pressure to conform to Party ideology at the expense of his own logic as a kind of physical force, so powerful that it could lead him to believe that 2+2=5. Indeed, this statement accurately foreshadows the moment when O'Brien eventually does convince Winston through torture that 2+2=5 at the end of the novel. 

In this passage, Orwell conveys the idea that reality control is even more horrifying than death. Perhaps because he has little to live for, Winston does not fear death; however, his words suggest that the ability to reason is the most important thing in life, and without that, he might as well be dead. With this in mind, Winston's eventual fate at the end of the novel is even more tragic than if he had been killed. At the same time, this passage shows that Winston knows such a fate is "inevitable." 

Book 2, Chapter 7 Quotes
The terrible thing that the Party had done was to persuade you that mere impulses, mere feelings, were of no account, while at the same time robbing you of all power over the material world. When once you were in the grip of the Party, what you felt or did not feel, what you did or refrained from doing, made literally no difference. Whatever happened you vanished, and neither you nor your actions were ever heard of again.
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker)
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

Winston has told Julia that he has spent his entire life feeling guilty for his mother's death, an emotional revelation that was only made possible through the time he and Julia have spent alone in the rented room. Having made this confession, Winston feels resentful of the way that the Party has made his emotions insignificant, while also robbing him of any structural power within the Party itself. The statement "what you did or refrained from doing, made no difference. Whatever happened you vanished" emphasizes the fact that individual identity is completely dissolved in the world of 1984. It is impossible to have any individual autonomy, as the only possible modes of behavior––obedience or rebellion––both ultimately result in being subsumed back into the Party. 

Book 2, Chapter 9 Quotes
Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.
Related Characters: Emmanuel Goldstein (speaker)
Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the book Emmanuel Goldstein describes crimestop, a newspeak word describing a form of orthodox consciousness where subversive thoughts are stopped before they even come into existence. To the party, crimesetop represents the ideal state of mind for all citizens. It is not enough to have subversive thoughts occur but then to dismiss them, as this still involves the use of reason, which might then be used to criticize the party. What the Party requires in order to have ultimate control is for people to become so stupid that they lose the ability to imagine criticism or alternatives to Party ideology in the first place.

Here Orwell shows that the suppression of politically subversive or "unpatriotic" thoughts inevitably equates to the suppression of thought in general, and that the ultimate result of this suppression would be a completely numb and idiotic population. This passage shows why Syme was vaporized even though he was completely obedient to the party; despite his orthodoxy, Syme's intelligence meant the Party viewed him as dangerously far from the ideal of crimestop, and thus felt that he represented a threat. 

The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth 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. For it is only by reconciling contradictions that power can be retained indefinitely. In no other way could the ancient cycle be broken. If human equality is to be for ever averted—if the High, as we have called them, are to keep their places permanently—then the prevailing mental condition must be controlled insanity.
Related Characters: Emmanuel Goldstein (speaker)
Page Number: 216
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage Emmanuel Goldstein makes an important distinction between doublethink and lying or hypocrisy. Recall that doublethink is not saying one thing and believing another, but rather holding that two contradictory things are true at once. Again, the important thing to note here is that logic is a threat to the Party's power, and thus doublethink is necessary because it is a way of perceiving the world that is by definition illogical––it is completely incompatible with logic and thus, in Goldstein's words, can be considered a form of "controlled insanity."

It is also important to note Goldstein's statement that the aim of the Party is for "human equality... to be for ever averted." Of course this in itself represents doublethink, as the Party simultaneously tells citizens that the regime's purpose is to ensure equality. This reflects the hypocrisy of Stalinism, where communist ideals of a fair, egalitarian society were distorted in such a way that preserved the high status and rewards of government officials while huge sections of the population were starved, imprisoned, or worked to death. 

Book 3, Chapter 6 Quotes
"They can't get inside you," she had said. But they could get inside you. "What happens to you here is forever," O'Brien had said. That was a true word. There were things, your own acts, from which you could never recover. Something was killed in your breast; burnt out, cauterized out.
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker), Julia/The Dark-Haired Girl (speaker), O'Brien (speaker)
Page Number: 290
Explanation and Analysis:

Winston has been released from the Ministry of Love, having successfully been tortured into accepting and obeying the Party. He is now an alcoholic and is drinking gin in the Chestnut Tree Cafe, recalling a moment when Julia had told him that no matter what the Party did, "they can't get inside you." Of course, Winston's time being tortured in the Ministry of Love disproves this fact, something he now understands. The horror of Room 101 lies in the fact that, when faced with their greatest fear, a person will betray everything that is meaningful to them, thereby losing their sense of self. Winston knows he will never be able to "recover" from the moment when he betrayed Julia, and because of this will never have enough agency to be able to resist the Party again. 

"Sometimes," she said, "they threaten you with something—something you can't stand up to, can't even think about. And then you say, ‘Don't do it to me, do it to somebody else, do it to so-and-so.' And perhaps you might pretend, afterwards, that it was only a trick and that you just said it to make them stop and didn't really mean it. But that isn't true. At the time when it happens you do mean it. You think there's no other way of saving yourself, and you're quite ready to save yourself that way. You want it to happen to the other person. You don't give a damn what they suffer. All you care about is yourself."
"All you care about is yourself," he echoed.
"And after that, you don't feel the same towards the other person any longer." — "No," he said, "you don't feel the same."
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker), Julia/The Dark-Haired Girl (speaker)
Page Number: 292
Explanation and Analysis:

Winston has run into Julia, and they have both confessed that they betrayed each other while being tortured in Room 101. Julia admits that this moment of betrayal represents a total loss of one's sense of self, reflecting Winston's earlier thoughts in the Chestnut Tree Cafe.

Even though this betrayal is induced by the worst form of torture, it is not possible for either Julia or Winston to forgive themselves. They are haunted by the memory of their own selfishness in the face of torture, a selfishness that then results in total obedience to the Party. This highlights a paradox within the consequences of torture; the moment when "all you care about is yourself" becomes the moment when you lose your sense of self forever. Orwell thus implies that what gives people a sense of personal identity is in fact the ability to care about other things (such as people and principles) more than themselves. 

He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker)
Related Symbols: Big Brother
Page Number: 298
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final paragraph of the main narrative, Winston is drunk from gin at the Chestnut Tree Cafe and gazes lovingly at a picture of Big Brother. He regrets all the time he spent struggling against the Party, and feels relieved that he now accepts the Party and loves Big Brother. The two exclamations beginning with "O" use over-the-top poetic language to convey Winston's drunkenness, and this impression, along with his total surrender to the Party, highlight the fact that he is not the same person as he was at the beginning of the novel. His ability to think and feel autonomously has totally disappeared, and he is now simply a vehicle of obedience to the Party. 

Appendix Quotes
The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought—that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc—should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.
Related Symbols: Big Brother
Page Number: 299
Explanation and Analysis:

In the appendix to the novel, Newspeak is explained in detail, including the plan to replace Oldspeak entirely with Newspeak by 2050. The aim of this transition is crimestop, a concept introduced in Emmanuel Goldstein's book, which means preventing the possibility of subversive thought. This passage shows that just the existence of Oldspeak (the English language we know) is a threat to the total dominance of the Party, as it is possible to express an infinite variety of thoughts and feelings in Oldspeak, most of which do not confirm to Party ideology. 

Given this information, if the novel were set in 2050 instead of 1984 almost none of the events that take place in the narrative would be possible. Winston's critical thoughts about the Party, his writing in the diary, and Julia's note that says "I love you" would not be able to be expressed in Newspeak. However, the final phrase "at least so far as thought is dependent on words" might suggest a note of ambiguity about the possibility of future resistance. Recall that, even after Winston has been tortured into abandoning reason, he is still able to love Julia through his dreams and to maintain the feeling of hating Big Brother. While subversive thought might cease to exist after the adoption of Newspeak, perhaps subversive emotions could survive because emotions are not necessarily dependent on language.