Big Brother

Big Brother is a character and symbol from George Orwell’s ‘1984.’ He is the leader of Oceania. 

Big Brother is the much-revered leader of Oceania whose face is plastered on building around the city. His eyes follow the citizens of Oceania around, just as the telescreens and thought police do. His signs are accompanied by the phrase “Big Brother is watching you.” Today, the term “Big Brother” is often used in connection to governmental overreach and any totalitarian system that attempts to control its citizens’ personal lives through mass surveillance. 

Big Brother inspires love in the citizens of Oceania. During the Two Minutes of Hate, they chant “B-B! … B-B! … B-B!’—over and over again, very slowly, with a long pause between the first ‘B’ and the second.” 



Big Brother Definition

Big Brother is the leader of Oceania. He serves as a symbol of the control the government has over its citizens and the fear it hopes to strike in them.

No matter where one goes, Big Brother is watching them. For those who are loyal to the Party, this might be of some comfort. But for someone like Winston Smith, it’s a horrifying prospect. He knows that he can’t let his guard down no matter where he is. He can’t even risk letting his thoughts show on his face for fear of being accused of thoughtcrime. 

Big Brother himself is a middle-aged man with dark eyes and a black mustache. 

Big Brother is defined in Part I Chapter III of 1984 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


Is Big Brother a Real Person? 

This is one of the primary questions that readers are left with after reading 1984, is Big Brother real? Or is he just a character created by the government in order to give a face to their faceless control of the populous? Winston Smith, the main character, is unsure when he first heard of Big Brother. At one point, the narrator states: 

[Smith] tried 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.

He goes on, saying that there is no way to know how much of Big Brother’s persona as legendary leader of the revolution “was true and how much was invented.” Smith can’t bring to mind “what date the Party itself had come into existence,” a terrifying prospect in and of itself. 

Big Brother and Emmanuel Goldstein

Emmanuel Goldstein is Big Brother’s arch-nemesis in the fictional conflict the Party created. He is part of “The Brotherhood,” a group that is attempting to overthrow Big Brother. He also wrote a book, The Theory, and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism.

Goldstein features in videos that the Party plays for the populous in which he was “denouncing the dictatorship of the Party, he was demanding the immediate conclusion of peace with Eurasia, he was advocating freedom of speech, freedom of the Press, freedom of assembly, freedom of thought, he was crying hysterically that the revolution had been betrayed.” 

Behind his head, marched the Eurasian army:

—row after row of solid-looking men with expressionless Asiatic faces, who swam up to the surface of the screen and vanished, to be replaced by others exactly similar. The dull rhythmic tramp of the soldiers’ boots formed the background to Goldstein’s bleating voice.

This terrifying piece of propaganda is meant to strike fear into the hearts of the citizens of Oceania, and it does its job. No one doubts that Goldstein is real and that, in some way, he poses a threat to their way of life. 

FAQs 

What does Big Brother represent in 1984?

Big Brother represents the totalitarian government of Oceania and the control the Party has over its people. He is synonymous with the Party, whether or not he’s actually a real person.

Does Big Brother appear in 1984?

No, Big Brother never appears directly as a character in the novel. But, his face and presence are everywhere. No matter where one goes, they are reminded that Big Brother is watching.

Is Big Brother good or bad in 1984?

For some citizens of Oceania, like Winston, and for all readers, he’s an extremely negative force. For others who are infallibly loyal to the state, he’s a symbol of good and righteousness. 

What effect does Big Brother have on Winston in 1984?

Big Brother is the force against which Winston is attempting to rebel. But, by the end of the novel, after his experiences in Room 101 and alongside O’Brien, he feels love for Big Brother as the Party intends him to. 

When was Big Brother introduced in 1984?

Big Brother features in the novel from the first page. Winston Smith is walking up the stairs of his apartment and sees one of the many posters that features Big Brother’s eyes. It is described as an “enormous face” that gazed from the wall.


Related Literary Terms 

  • INGSOC: newspeak for English Socialism, the governing system used throughout Oceania. 
  • Doublethink: cognitive dissonce. Or the act of thinking two contradictory things at once. Or believing that the two things are true. 
  • Newspeak: the language used to diminish the range of thought in Oceania. 
  • Ministry of Love: responsible for brainwashing the citizens of Oceania. 
  • Ministry of Truth: the ministry responsible for changing history to suit the Party. 
  • Thought Police: the group responsible for arresting those charged with thoughtcrime. 
  • Thoughtcrime: any thought that goes against what the Party believes or what one is supposed to be doing. 


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