Quotes From '1984' About Truth, Politics, and Thought Police

1984
1984. Signet

George Orwell's novel "1984" is one of the most famous works of dystopian fiction. The book, published in 1949, imagines a future where everyone in England (part of a superstate known as Oceania) lives under the surveillance of a tyrannical government led by "Big Brother." To preserve the existing order, the ruling party employs a group of secret police known as "Thought Police," who seek out and arrest citizens guilty of "thoughtcrime." Winston Smith, the novel's protagonist, is a government worker whose "thoughtcrimes" eventually turn him into an enemy of the state.

Truth

Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth, where he is responsible for rewriting old newspaper articles. The purpose of this historical revisionism is to create the appearance that the ruling party is right and has always been right. Information to the contrary is "corrected" by workers like Smith.

"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?" [Book 1, Chapter 7]

"In Oceania at the present day, Science, in the old sense, has almost ceased to exist. In Newspeak there is no word for 'Science.' The empirical method of thought, on which all the scientific achievements of the past were founded, is opposed to the most fundamental principles of Ingsoc." [Book 1, Chapter 9]

"The citizen of Oceania is not allowed to know anything of the tenets of the other two philosophies, but he is taught to execrate them as barbarous outrages upon morality and common sense. Actually, the three philosophies are barely distinguishable." [Book 1, Chapter 9]

"Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them." [Book 2, Chapter 3]

History and Memory

One of the most important topics Orwell writes about in "1984" is the erasure of history. How do individuals preserve the past, he asks, in a world where the government has conspired to destroy all memory of it?

"People simply disappeared, always during the night. Your name was removed from the registers, every record of everything you had ever done was wiped out, your one-time existence was denied and then forgotten. You were abolished, annihilated: vaporized was the usual word." [Book 1, Chapter 1]

"He wondered again for whom he was writing the diary. For the future, for the past — for an age that might be imaginary. And in front of him there lay not death but annihilation. The diary would be reduced to ashes and himself to vapour. Only the Thought Police would read what he had written, before they wiped it out of existence and out of memory.

How could you make appeal to the future when not a trace of you, not even an anonymous word scribbled on a piece of paper, could physically survive?" [Book 1, Chapter 2]

"Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past." [Book 3, Chapter 2]

Politics and Conformity

Orwell, an avowed democratic socialist, was deeply involved in politics throughout his life. In "1984," he examines the role of conformity in political structures. Under a totalitarian government, what happens when the individual refuses to accept the status quo?

"Winston had disliked her from the very first moment of seeing her. He knew the reason. It was because of the atmosphere of hockey-fields and cold baths and community hikes and general clean-mindedness which she managed to carry about her.

He disliked nearly all woman, and especially the young and pretty ones, who were the most bigoted adherents of the party, the swallowers of slogans, the amateur spies, and nosers-out of unorthodoxy." [Book 1, Chapter 1]

"Parsons was Winston's fellow employee at the Ministry of Truth. He was a fattish but active man of paralyzing stupidity, a mass of imbecile enthusiasms-one of those completely unquestioning, devoted drudges on whom, more even than on the thought police, the stability of the Party depended." [Book 1, Chapter 2]

"Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious." [Book 1, Chapter 7]

"If there was hope, it must lie in the proles, because only there, in those swarming disregarded masses, eighty-five percent of the population of Oceania, could the force to destroy the Party ever be generated." [Book 1, Chapter 7]

"It was curious to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same--everywhere, all over the world, hundreds or thousands of millions of people just like this, people ignorant of one another's existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same--people who had never learned to think but were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world." [Book 1, Chapter 10]

Power and Control

Orwell wrote "1984" just after World War II, during which Europe was ravaged by fascism.

The influence of fascism can be seen in Orwell's fascination with power and control, most obviously in the case of the novel's sinister "Thought Police."

"The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed--would have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper--the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you." [Book 1, Chapter 1]

"No one who had once fallen into the hands of the Thought Police ever escaped in the end. They were corpses waiting to be sent back to the grave." [Book1, Chapter 7]

"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever." [Book 3, Chapter 3]

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Lombardi, Esther. "Quotes From '1984' About Truth, Politics, and Thought Police." ThoughtCo, Apr. 19, 2018, thoughtco.com/1984-quotes-740884. Lombardi, Esther. (2018, April 19). Quotes From '1984' About Truth, Politics, and Thought Police. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/1984-quotes-740884 Lombardi, Esther. "Quotes From '1984' About Truth, Politics, and Thought Police." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/1984-quotes-740884 (accessed May 23, 2018).