Big Brother (Nineteen Eighty-Four)

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Big Brother is a fictional character in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. He is the enigmatic dictator of Oceania, a totalitarian state taken to its utmost logical consequence - where the ruling elite ('the Party') wield total power for its own sake over the inhabitants.

In the society that Orwell describes, everyone 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. Since the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the term "Big Brother" has entered the lexicon as a synonym for abuse of government power, particularly in respect to civil liberties.

Contents

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 billboards for educational correspondence courses from a company called Bennett's, current during World War II. The original posters showed Bennett himself; a kindly looking old man offering guidance and support to would-be students with the phrase "Let me be your father" attached. After Bennett's death his son took over the company, and the posters were replaced with pictures of the son (who looked imposing and stern in contrast to his father's kindly demeanour) with the text "Let me be your big brother."

Speculation has also focused on Lord Kitchener[1], who among other things was prominently involved in British military recruitment in World War I. As a child Orwell (under his real name Eric Blair) published poems praising Kitchener and war recruitment in his local newspaper. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin could also have been an inspiration for Big Brother.

Appearance in the novel

Existence

In the novel it is not clear whether Big Brother is a real person or a fiction invented by the Party, or is a personification of it.

In Party propaganda Big Brother is presented as a real person: one of the founders of the Party, along with Goldstein. At one point in 1984 Winston Smith, 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..."

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