Symbols in novels often serve several, meaningful purposes that enlighten readers to key themes and intrinsic values concerned with it. In the case of Nineteen Eighty Four, by George Orwell, Symbols serve not only these functions, but also dramatically influence plot development throughout Orwell’s dystopian nightmare. For the reader, insignificant objects such as the Glass Paperweight serve far greater significance than one would assume they would, but on a far greater level, obvious symbols such as Big Brother and the Telescreens show readers the extent to which the Inner Party has severely disrupted through process and individualism in society.
Orwell created a society ridden with conformity and oppression, similar to that of Communist Russia and Spain during the early part of the 20th century. Citizens of Airstrip One are forced to believe what the party says and understands to be true. History, in the eyes of IngSoc, can be changed with ease, and artefacts are not common place in society. The Glass Paperweight, with a piece of coral in the middle of it, is an especially significant symbol. The Glass Paperweight represents a form of rebellion against the party, through its inherent non-monetary value as well as its ethical significance. Objects and items, such as the Glass Paperweight, are not allowed in the Party structure as it compromises the ever-present understanding that History is what is created by the Party, and any reference to what was, or could have been, must kowtow to the Party’s ideals. The Glass Paperweight, especially the piece of coral represents, on another level, Winston himself. It signifies the encapsulation of Winston in a society which doesn’t allow for personalisation and individualism. When it is broken by the Thought Police during the capture of Winston, it smashes – signifying and foreshadowing the “breaking” of Winston, from being a free-thinking individual to a conforming, believing member of society.
Telescreens in Nineteen Eighty Four represent the extent technological control has spread throughout society. They are constantly watching every move made by every citizen in society, and broadcast propaganda, which loops constantly. These Telescreens represent probably the most significant obstacle for Winston in the novel – to overcome the Party, he must be able to do so without them finding out, and with Telescreens, it becomes very difficult to do indeed. The Telescreens, which although were not destined to be, represent significant present controls which various Governments throughout the world operate. CCTV and 24 Hour News channels, which are there to “serve” the public, do so on the basis that those monitoring are primarily “good” and are there to serve the publics best interests. In the case of the novel, it is apparently clear this is not the case, with the constant and blatantly false propaganda being broadcast to change the mindset and brainwash the denizens. In the case of major American Broadcasters, that represent Islamic Nations as being fundamentally “bad” are doing so to brainwash the masses into believing what they wish.
Possibly the biggest symbol in the book is Big Brother, who appears to be the overbearing figure in the book of oppression and control. Throughout the novel, the phrase “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU” appears regularly, and creates a certain amount of control and an existential hero. Big Brother serves two purposes in the novel – to reassure citizens, and to create fear. He symbolises reassurance through his name, “Big Brother”, which connotates a strong, secure family feeling. The fact the he is “watching you”, in a way, creates the impression he is looking out for your best interests. However, he also symbolises fear and creates the conformity in society. The fact the text is upper case, and the posters imply fear, means that Big Brothers symbolism is more scary and upsetting than friendly and warm. However, he also symbolises the vagueness of the existence of the upper echelons of the Party. The reader is confused as to whether Big Brother even exists, and if so, how much influence he really does have. This vagueness is also portrayed through the Inner Party, and the reader is left wondering who really leads this society, what life is truly like for these leaders, and if indeed there is even any leader.
Big Brother also represents historical leaders. Orwell’s presentation of Big Brother was meant to symbolise oppressive rulers, such as Hitler and Stalin, that ruled over totalitarian nations during Orwell’s life. The posters of Big Brother symbolise those used by Stalin to promote the leadership and control he had over the USSR. Likewise, Big Brother represents the respect and control Hitler could gather from his large public speeches, which are similar to the Two-minute hate speeches given each day.
Symbolism in Nineteen Eighty Four represents the past, but represents the future and the present. Much of what is shown in the book represents and symbolises the intrinsic oppression and totalitarian control of Winston and the citizens of Airstrip One. Symbolism is a significant feature of novels; not only for thematic concerns, but also for the implications they have for characters and for the novel as a whole. Much of the technological safeguarding society has today has an inherently Big Brother feeling, almost as if Big Brother is indeed watching you.