Power and Emotion in Orwell’s 1984

“How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?” O’Brien asks. Winston’s answer: “By making him suffer” (214). These two characters inhabit George Orwell’s vision of a future totalitarian government that has evolved to its most terrifyingly efficient. In 1984, one organization, the Party, rules everything and everyone in Oceania, creating and destroying the past at will, inducing in its subjects a slavish submission. There is no escape from the Party or its godlike leader, Big Brother, who declaims his rhetoric from every telescreen. No one is ever alone; somebody always watches from the telescreens with a predatory eye. In the final part of the book, the powerful Party official O’Brien pronounces this definition of power to Winston, a man completely at his physical mercy.

In a novel where the governing Party is as much a character as any individual person, the intricacies of power certainly give each scene deeper implications. While asserting power by causing pain might be an arresting theme, the driving power in the novel derives from the linked notions of annihilation and reconstruction. Power is the ability to annihilate someone by destroying their personal emotions, and then to recreate them until the world is...

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