Big Brother (1984)

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For other uses, see Big Brother.
Big Brother as portrayed in the BBC's 1954 production of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

"Big Brother" is a fictional character in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the enigmatic dictator of Oceania, a totalitarian state taken to its utmost logical consequence. In the society that Orwell describes, everybody is under complete surveillance by the authorities, mainly by telescreens. The people are constantly reminded of this by the phrase "Big Brother is watching you", which is the core "truth" of the propaganda system in this state. The physical description of "Big Brother" is reminiscent of Joseph Stalin or Lord Kitchener.

In the novel, it is not clear if he actually exists as a person, or is an image crafted by the state. However, since Inner Party torturer O'Brien at one point tells Winston Smith that Big Brother can never die, the apparent implication is that Big Brother is the personification of the party. In a book supposedly written by the rebel Emmanuel Goldstein (but later revealed to have a more complex origin) it is stated that "nobody has ever seen Big Brother. He is a face on the hoardings, a voice on the telescreen… Big Brother is the guise in which the Party chooses to exhibit itself to the world. His function is to act as a focusing point for love, fear, and reverence, emotions which are more easily felt towards an individual than towards an organization." (See Goldstein's book)

In Party propaganda, however, Big Brother is presented as a real person, who was one of the founders of the Party along with Emmanuel Goldstein. At one point in the year 1984, the protagonist of Orwell's novel tries "to remember in what year he had first heard mention of Big Brother. He thought it must have been at some time in the sixties, but it was impossible to be certain. In the Party histories, of course, Big Brother figured as the leader and guardian of the Revolution since its very earliest days. His exploits had been gradually pushed backwards in time until already they extended into the fabulous world of the forties and the thirties, when the capitalists in their strange cylindrical hats still rode through the streets of London in great gleaming motor-cars or horse carriages with glass sides. There was no knowing how much of this legend was true and how much invented."

In the year 1984, Big Brother (as seen on posters and on the telescreen) appears as a ruggedly handsome man of about 45. If so, he could hardly have had an active role in politics already in the 1940s or even earlier, suggesting that his evolving biography is pure invention. If his image was first introduced in the 1960s, 45 would then have been a reasonable age if he had been politically active since the 1940s. But like any (other) cartoon character, he apparently stayed the same age indefinitely. Goldstein's book comments: "We may be reasonably sure that he will never die, and there is already considerable uncertainty as to when he was born."

Big Brother's supposed real name is never mentioned. It is not clear from Orwell's novel if it is even publicly known.

Big Brother (on the telescreens) in the 1984 film version.


[edit] Love of Big Brother

The loyal citizens of Oceania do not fear Big Brother, but in fact love and revere him. They feel he protects them from the evils out there. The purported love is illustrated in the end of the Two Minutes Hate:

At this moment the entire group of people broke into a deep, slow, rhythmic chant of 'B-B! .... B-B! .... B-B!'—over and over again, very slowly, with a long pause between the first 'B' and the second—a heavy murmurous sound, somehow curiously savage, in the background of which one seemed to hear the stamps of naked feet and the throbbing of tom-toms. For perhaps as much as thirty seconds they kept it up. It was a refrain that was often heard in moments of overwhelming emotion. Partly it was a sort of hymn to the wisdom and majesty of Big Brother, but still more it was an act of self-hypnosis, a deliberate drowning of consciousness by means of rhythmic noise.<ref>Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four.</ref>

Though Oceania's three other ministries are considered to have names with meanings inverse of the organization's purpose, the Ministry of Love is perhaps the closest to the truth in that it works to restore a prisoner's love towards Big Brother.

[edit] Purported origins of Big Brother

In the essay section of his novel 1985, Anthony Burgess states that Orwell got the idea for Big Brother from advertising hoardings current during World War II for educational correspondence courses run by a company called Bennett's.

The original posters are claimed to have shown Bennett himself - a kindly looking old man offering guidance and support to would-be students, with the slogan "Let me be your father."

When Bennett died, his company was inherited by his son, whose rather aggressive-looking face appeared on the posters instead, accompanied by the unappealing slogan: "Let me be your big brother".

The ideological basis for Big Brother likely comes from Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace, particularly the discussion of the science of history in part two of that book's epilogue. Napoleon Bonaparte and various other military and political figures traditionally revered as geniuses, are presented in the theory of history Tolstoy opposes as the cause of the movement of humanity and nations. Orwell appears to call upon this previous work by his invention of just such a patriarchal figure.

The historical background during which Orwell wrote his work included several national leaders who had held considerable power, including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Soviet premier Joseph Stalin. Stalin, among other leaders, is often cited to have developed a cult of personality around himself.

[edit] Response to Big Brother today

Since the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the phrase "Big Brother" has entered general usage, to describe any overly-inquisitive or overly-controlling authority figure or attempts by government to increase surveillance. The reality TV program Big Brother takes its name from Nineteen Eighty-Four and a similarly named figure is big mama — the informal name for the Internet censor on web boards in the People's Republic of China.

The magazine Book ranked Big Brother #59 on its 100 Best Characters in Fiction Since 1900 list.

In October of 2006 USA Today listed Big Brother as #2 on their list of Imaginary Luminaries: the 101 most influential people who never lived.[1]

[edit] References


[edit] See also

Nineteen Eighty-Four <span class="noprint plainlinksneverexpand" style="white-space:nowrap; font-size:xx-small; {{{style|}"> |
}}v  d  e</span> 
By George Orwell
Characters Winston Smith | Julia | O'Brien | Big Brother | Emmanuel Goldstein
Places Oceania | Eastasia | Eurasia | Airstrip One | Room 101
Classes Inner Party | Outer Party | Proles
Ministries Ministry of Love | Ministry of Peace | Ministry of Plenty | Ministry of Truth
Concepts Ingsoc | Newspeak | Doublethink | Goodthink | Crimestop
Two plus two | Thoughtcrime | Prolefeed | Prolesec
Miscellaneous Thought Police | Telescreen | Memory hole | The Book
Newspeak words | Two Minutes Hate | Hate week
Other media 1956 film | 1984 film | 1953 TV programme | 1954 TV programme
Opera | 1985 | Me and the Big Guy
bg:Голям брат

cs:Velký bratr da:Store Broder (1984) de:Großer Bruder fr:Big Brother it:Grande Fratello (1984) nl:Big Brother (George Orwell) pl:Wielki Brat fi:Isoveli (yhteiskunta) sv:Storebrorssamhälle

Big Brother (1984)

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