, Research Paper
PUBLIC CEREMONIES IN 1984 AND WE
George Orwell in 1984 and Yevgeny Zamyatin in We show that totalitarian governments gain strength by making their citizens feel as though they are part of a greater whole. This is demonstrated by the governments repeated use of public ceremonies culminating in huge, propaganda-filled spectacles that increase loyalty towards the government and create a sense of unity amongst the people. Both novels also use public executions to show the scare tactics used by totalitarian governments that frighten people into compliance. 1984 and We show that grouping people together can cause them to forget their individual instincts, and totalitarian governments know how to take advantage of that weakness.
In Orwell?s 1984, the state of Oceania is ruled by Big Brother, a totalitarian military government who watches all aspects of the citizen?s lives through telescreens. Big Brother uses mass gatherings of people to promote allegiance to their cause and their values. They also rely on mass gatherings to breed hatred towards anyone who opposes their belief system, and to show what happens to those who resist their authority.
Every day, the people of Oceania are expected to attend the Two Minutes Hate. The workers at the Ministry of Truth all meet in a hall to watch a movie filled with propaganda towards Emmanuel Goldstein, a man who once contested Big Brother. The merging of Goldstein?s face with images of sheep and enemy soldiers has ?uncontrollable exclamations of rage? coming from the mouths of the audience after just thirty seconds. They are trained to hate the man as well as the independence from Big Brother that he stands for. Even the novel?s protagonist, Winston Smith, temporarily forgets his doubts towards Big Brother and joins in the hysteria. Watching the movie ?his secret loathing of Big Brother changed into adoration, and Big Brother seemed to tower up, an invincible, fearless protector? .
Big Brother also uses these gatherings to promote their modified language, Newspeak, which ?narrow[s] the range of thought? by creating a small, rigidly defined vocabulary. By injecting the films with excessive amounts of Newspeak, Big Brother finds another way to control the minds of Oceania?s inhabitants. Furthermore, using Newspeak prominently in a film viewed by large groups of people helps Big Brother promote the use of Newspeak in casual conversation. Having just been exposed to the language, the jumpy people leaving the film are more likely to use it when talking to one another.
In We, Zamyatin shows a society where individualism is despised and total dedication to the One State is necessary. People must behave (and ideally think) as a single entity. Imagination and creative thinking are considered to be ?worm[s] that gnaws out black lines on the forehead? . The totalitarian leader of the One State, an old man known as the Benefactor, uses public gatherings to encourage a machine-like mindset in the people where only logical, mathematical and precise thoughts are valued. He uses many different mediums, presented at assemblies, to ensure that the residents of the One State remain loyal to his party.
In the One State, giant meetings are held in auditoriums. Poets and songwriters are commissioned to write pieces that can be recited at these meetings, which usually begin by having everyone sing the Hymn of the One State. In We, arts and music play a major part in moving the people towards total devotion to their leader. Because music is viewed in a scientific light (they see ?the mathematician as the cause, music as the effect? ), it is highly valued. The invention of a machine that creates sonatas according to an arithmetical formula is honored at one meeting. It is a tribute to uncreative, mass thinking. This is followed by the projection of a mechanical voice over a loudspeaker, which explains why a unified body of citizens is preferable to a group of individuals, and how the Benefactor improves life for everyone.
In the auditoriums, the citizens of the One State are bombarded with examples of how their government has improved life. One anecdote compares early Europeans (perhaps people of the 20th century) to savages, and praises the savage for his understanding of the cause-and-effect relationship. The people are told that the savage, in thoroughly understanding the consequences of his actions, ?was about to take the first step on that great road? which leads to the supposedly ideal society presided over by the Benefactor. They relentlessly applaud the advantages of acting as a whole, so that when the people walk out in their orderly lines, their sense of self is overpowered by their desire to contribute to the group.
Both 1984 and We use series of smaller get-togethers that lead up to massive, propaganda filled shows where the power and superiority of the totalitarian governments are proudly exhibited. These unite huge groups of people in admiration of their leaders. Much time is spent preparing for these events, and they epitomize the way totalitarian governments influence the mindsets of their citizens.
Oceania?s residents in 1984 spend several months preparing for the celebration of Hate Week. Everyone takes part in the planning; some people collect funds to help finance the event while others compose music. Even the children help out by building giant replicas of Big Brother?s head that can be prominently displayed throughout the city. Anticipation is amplified as posters and banners are hung for all to see, so that no one can forget Big Brother is watching them. The people at the Ministry of Truth, where Winston works, are under pressure because ?stands had to be erected, effigies built, slogans coined, songs written, rumours circulated, photographs faked? . The preparations require Oceania?s residents to work so many extra hours each day that by the time Hate Week arrives they are eager to thank Big Brother for providing them with a much needed break. The unifying feeling of working as part of a team towards a greater cause unites the people and adds to their loyalty towards Big Brother.
By the time Hate Weeks arrives, the people in Oceania are nearly hysterical. They march through the streets and sing the theme song specially composed for the week. ?Roared out by hundreds of voices to the tramp of marching feet, it was terrifying? to Winston Smith. Celebrations reach a pinnacle when the citizens combine all the propaganda in an image that overloads the senses-
?the speeches, the shouting, the singing, the banners, the posters, the films, the waxworks, the rolling of drums and squealing of trumpets, the tramp of marching feet, the grinding of the caterpillars of tanks, the roar of massed planes, the booming of guns? .
The government takes advantage of this excited atmosphere to inform the people that Oceania isn?t at war with Eurasia, rather it is at war with Eastasia and it has always been so. Although this contradicts the message they were sending just days before, and although it is clearly inconsistent with the images of monstrous Eurasian soldiers on the Hate Week posters, the crowd joins together in furious cries against their enemy. Had the messages been delivered to individuals they likely would not have been believed, but breaking the news to an energized groups helps make it believable.
Similarly, citizens in We?s One State spend great periods of time preparing for Unanimity Day before uniting in mass celebration of the Benefactor. On Unanimity Day, public elections occur where everyone raises their hands to re-elect their leader. The propaganda used is less blatant and more artistic. Poets are selected to craft odes to the leader, which are read to feverish audiences. Background music is the rhythmic ticking of a pendulum, creating a peaceful environment for the voters. Rather than celebrate rowdily like the residents of Oceania, people wait respectfully in a ?prayerlike, worshipful silence? to show their allegiance to the Benefactor. The ceremony becomes as close to religious as something can in a society that does not acknowledge spirituality, as the citizens have total faith in their leader. Creating these feelings of dedication towards the Benefactor ensures that the government of the One State will continue to have power over its citizens.
The Unanimity Day ceremonies are especially effective at promoting the One State?s belief in the uselessness of the individual and the benefits of acting as a group. Having everyone raise their hand publicly to re-elect their official does just as the day?s title suggests- it creates a feeling of unanimity amongst the people. The sound of millions of hands being raised in the air has the same effect as 1984?s theme songs- it is a unifying noise. As the books protagonist, known simply as D-503, says, ?I see everyone voting for the Benefactor; everyone sees me voting for the Benefactor? . The behavior becomes mechanized and is repeated at each Unanimity Day without question. It is a tradition promoting loyalty to the One State.
Finally, both the totalitarian governments in 1984 and We flaunt their power by making public events out of executions and hangings. While other ceremonies unite the people in praise of their leaders, public killings unite the people in fear and awe of the government that controls their daily lives. They are far less likely to commit a crime or challenge the authority of their leaders when they have seen the consequences. This is especially true when they have seen the public reaction to these killings- an execution is far more humiliating when performed in front of the victim?s peers.
In 1984, people flock to see public hangings of war criminals. The hangings become popular events for families, who can bond over their hatred for anyone who betrays Big Brother. Winston?s neighbors, the Parsons family, have two small children who clamor to see the hangings. Too young to even form a proper sentence, they run around the apartment pretending to be spies for Big Brother and chanting, ?Want to see the hanging! Want to see the hanging!? Other adults get pleasure from watching other people suffer, and they forget about whether the hanging is justified as they are entertained by the killing. Winston?s co-worker Syme enjoys watching the dying enemy kick his feet ?and above all, at the end, the tongue sticking right out, and blue a quite bright blue. That’s the detail that appeals to [him].? People forget about the moral reprehensibility of openly killing someone, and praise Big Brother for it?s efficiency in eliminating it?s opponents. Big Brother has the power to take anyone?s life, and they use public killings to make sure it is known.
In We, people who deliberately act as individuals instead of acting as part of the whole group are killed in massive public ceremonies supplemented with poems and songs. D-503?s friend, poet R-13, uses mathematics to compose a poem commemorating the killing of one such criminal. When he ?versified a sentence? , he actually created an ode to the murder of one of his fellow poets, who somehow went against the wishes of the Benefactor. They tie the victims hands with a ceremonious purple ribbon and watch as the Benefactor himself appears, then pulls the lever which reduces the victim to a ?a small puddle of chemically pure water? . Creating a ceremony out of a killing draws the people together and increases their allegiance to the One State. They are given terrifying examples of what happens to people who act as individuals, and having the Benefactor perform the execution reinforces his ultimate power.
George Orwell in 1984 and Yevgeny Zamyatin in We show that totalitarian governments control the lives of their populations at mass gatherings of people. Bringing all the citizens together creates a feeling of unity, and adding propaganda such as posters and songs unifies the people in their common admiration of their leaders. By allowing the citizens to help in the preparations for a major celebration or ceremony, the totalitarian governments make the people feel like they have a hand in the government, when in fact that government has total control over their lives. The total control is most evident in the public hangings featured in both novels that intimidate the residents of Oceania and the One State into total submission. By playing on the emotions of mass hysteria and mass excitement, totalitarian governments are able to gain and keep control.