1984

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The Individual vs. Collective Identity Theme Analysis

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.
The Individual vs. Collective Identity Theme Icon

One way a totalitarian regime seeks to stay in power is by denying human beings their individuality, eradicating independent thought through the use of propaganda and terror. Throughout Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston tries to assert his individual nature against the collective identity the Party wishes him to adopt. He keeps a private diary, engages in a forbidden sexual relationship, and insists that his version of reality is the truth, as opposed to what the Party says it is. Instead of going to the Community Center or participating in social groups, he wanders the prole neighborhoods alone and seeks solitude in his apartment, engaging in behavior the Party calls ownlife and considers dangerous. After Winston is caught, the seven years of torture to which O'Brien subjects him are designed to destroy Winston's ability to think unorthodox thoughts. Before he enters Room 101, Winston is able to see that to die hating the Party is freedom, but by the end of the novel he is no longer capable of this. In order to save himself from O'Brien's rats, Winston does the one thing he can never forgive himself for—he betrays Julia and in doing so relinquishes his own morality and self-respect.

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The Individual vs. Collective Identity Quotes in 1984

Below you will find the important quotes in 1984 related to the theme of The Individual vs. Collective Identity.
Book 2, Chapter 2 Quotes
In the old days, he thought, a man looked at a girl's body and saw that it was desirable, and that was the end of the story. But you could not have pure love or pure lust nowadays. No emotion was pure, because everything was mixed up with fear and hatred. Their embrace had been a battle, the climax a victory. It was a blow struck against the Party. It was a political act.
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker), Julia/The Dark-Haired Girl
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

Winston and Julia have just had sex, and Winston reflects on his feelings of desire for Julia and how these are inflected with the fear and hatred he constantly feels as a result of living under the Party. Because the Party controls citizens' actions and even emotions, simply the private act of expressing love and desire is subversive. However, although Winston is able to overcome the sadistic, violent urges he at first feels toward Julia, the Party still plays a role in their romantic encounter; indeed, what in a free society would be an ordinary private act becomes a major political gesture with very serious ramifications. 

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Book 2, Chapter 3 Quotes
There was a direct, intimate connection between chastity and political orthodoxy. For how could the fear, the hatred, and the lunatic credulity which the Party needed in its members be kept at the right pitch, except by bottling down some powerful instinct and using it as a driving force? The sex impulse was dangerous to the Party, and the Party had turned it to account.
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker)
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

Julia has explained to Winston how the Party utilizes sexual repression as a way of creating and harnessing frustrated energy that can then be directed toward the Party's own political ends. Winston agrees, and muses that if left uncontrolled, sexuality would be a direct threat to the Party. Once again, Orwell shows that characters in the world of 1984 are not able to understand their own thoughts and feelings except in relation to the Party: every act, thought, and emotion is instantly categorized as either orthodox or subversive. This passage is also significant because of its wider implications beyond the issue of totalitarianism. Although the sexual repression depicted in 1984 is extreme, Orwell's point about the ways in which sexual repression can be used to create political obedience is not necessarily limited to totalitarian regimes. 

Book 2, Chapter 4 Quotes
He turned over towards the light and lay gazing into the glass paperweight. The inexhaustibly interesting thing was not the fragment of coral but the interior of the glass itself. There was such a depth of it, and yet it was almost as transparent as air. It was as though the surface of the glass had been the arch of the sky, enclosing a tiny world with its atmosphere complete. He had the feeling that he could get inside it, and that in fact he was inside it, along with the mahogany bed and the gateleg table and the clock and the steel engraving and the paperweight itself. The paperweight was the room he was in, and the coral was Julia's life and his own, fixed in a sort of eternity at the heart of the crystal.
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker), Julia/The Dark-Haired Girl
Related Symbols: The Glass Paperweight
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

Winston and Julia have secretly met in the room above Mr. Charrington's junk shop, enjoying the forbidden pleasures of black market food, spontaneous singing, and time together away from the surveillance of the Party. At the end of this scene, Winston stares at the antique glass paperweight he has bought, marveling at its beauty and complexity. Under the Party, all production has become purely functional, and thus craftsmanship no longer exists and beautiful objects are (literally) relics of the past. 

Winston's fascination with the paperweight is moving, and the level of detail in this description betrays the way in which citizens living in free societies might end up taking such small manifestations of beauty and skill for granted. Winston's desire to be inside the paperweight highlights the strength of his longing for privacy and for an internal life beyond the reach of the Party. The phrase "in fact he was inside it" also reflects Orwell's repeated challenging of the binary between external reality and our internal perspective. 

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
The two aims of the Party are to conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought. There are therefore two great problems which the Party is concerned to solve. One is how to discover, against his will, what another human being is thinking, and the other is how to kill several hundred million people in a few seconds without giving warning beforehand.
Related Characters: Emmanuel Goldstein (speaker)
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Emmanuel Goldstein details the two obstacles preventing the Party from achieving its aim of global domination. This passage implies that once these two problems are solved, there will be nothing to stop the Party from seizing and maintaining power over the entire world. The two problems are 1) the ability to know what a person is thinking and 2) the ability to kill hundreds of millions of people without warning.

In the main narrative, each of the problems is presented as being partially solved. The constant surveillance of the telescreen means that any subversive behavior, however minor, can be detected by the Party. There are also several points when it is shown to be possible to tell when someone is thinking unpatriotic thoughts just by looking at their face. Meanwhile, remember that 1984 is set in a post-nuclear world; nuclear weapons can kill hundreds of thousands of people at a time, although in the novel the three states have signed a nuclear truce. The fact that the Party has already begun to overcome these obstacles ominously suggests that it will soon be able to achieve its aim of total world domination. 

The heirs of the French, English, and American revolutions had partly believed in their own phrases about the rights of man, freedom of speech, equality before the law, and the like, and have even allowed their conduct to be influenced by them to some extent. But by the fourth decade of the twentieth century all the main currents of political thought were authoritarian. The earthly paradise had been discredited at exactly the moment when it became realizable. Every new political theory, by whatever name it called itself, led back to hierarchy and regimentation. And in the general hardening of outlook that set in round about 1930, practices which had been long abandoned, in some cases for hundreds of years--imprisonment without trial, the use of war prisoners as slaves, public executions, torture to extract confessions, the use of hostages, and the deportation of whole populations--not only became common again, but were tolerated and even defended by people who considered themselves enlightened and progressive.
Related Characters: Emmanuel Goldstein (speaker)
Page Number: 204-205
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Orwell gives an interpretation of the actual history of the world up until the 1940s through the voice of the imagined revolutionary Emmanuel Goldstein. This narrative presents a somewhat cynical view of the French, English, and American revolutions, suggesting that the leaders of these events only partly believed in the egalitarian political ideals on which they were supposedly based. The passage features an even bleaker view of the 1930s and '40s, suggesting that although political theories such as communism, socialism, and fascism may have seemed ideologically different, they all ultimately led to abuse of power and crimes against humanity. 

Although this passage is part of Emmanuel Goldstein's book-within-the-book, there is a strong sense of Orwell's voice coming through here. The pessimistic outlook reflects the climate in which 1984 was written. In 1948, the events of the first and second World Wars and the continued power of totalitarian regimes (such as Franco's fascist government in Spain and Stalinism in the USSR) made it difficult to trust that political theories would lead to positive outcomes, or that leaders would not end up corrupted by power. Both in this passage and throughout the book, Orwell suggests that political theories themselves are somewhat meaningless, because they seem to inevitably lead to authoritarianism and oppression. Although the Party in 1984 claims to be pursuing its aims in the name of equality, peace, love, and freedom, in reality of course the opposite is true. 

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. 

Book 3, Chapter 4 Quotes
To die hating them, that was freedom.
Related Characters: Winston Smith (speaker)
Related Symbols: Big Brother
Page Number: 281
Explanation and Analysis:

After months of torture, Winston has accepted the Party's control over reality and over his own mind. However, he still dreams of the past, of his mother, and of Julia, and has awoken realizing that despite the fact that he has accepted doublethink, he still loves Julia and thus his emotions are still free from the Party's control. He realizes that he wants to die hating the Party and Big Brother, because even if the Party controls every other aspect of his life, this hatred will prove that he died a person with at least a tiny modicum of dignity and agency.

This sentence tragically foreshadows the remainder of the narrative, where Winston loses his emotional freedom, including his love of Julia and hatred of the Party. This is reflected in the final sentence of the novel, which is "He loved Big Brother." 

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.