Doublethink

The term “doublethink,” as first seen in George Orwell’s ‘1984,’ is used to describe one’s capacity to hold two contradictory beliefs at one time.

The term is used several times throughout the novel and is experienced by multiple characters. It is also one of the three most important principles of INGSOC (along with the mutability of the past and Newspeak). 

When discussing the use of doublethink and its definition, the narrator states that “doublethink” is required to understand the use of “doublethink.” 

Often, Smith wonders if “he alone” is “in possession of a memory?” It seems to Smith that everyone, including those he believes, is more intelligent, has entirely forgotten the past and is willing to erase any parts of their memory that Big Brother tells them to. For example, their memories are as quickly erased as Winston changes the information in news articles while at work at the Ministry of Truth.



Definition of Doublethink 

Doublethink refers to the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts in one’s head. They are a result of political indoctrination.

Meaning, they are only present because an overwhelming force convinced the thinker that both are true. The term “doublethink” is a Newspeak word. It is a pithy way of describing a complex phenomenon in Oceania. 

The best definition of doublethink is found on pages 44 and 45 of 1984. Winston Smith is thinking about doublethink, and the narrator states: 

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. 


Examples of Doublethink in 1984 

The Party Slogans

The party slogans are one of the clearest examples of doublethink. It purports that one thing is another, even though those reading/hearing the slogan know it means something else entirely. For example: 

WAR IS PEACE 

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

 IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

The phrase “war is peace” suggests that pursuing war is going to bring about peace. This feels wrong at first glance but is seen through Oceania’s war with Eurasia/Eastasia. Turning their citizens’ attention to the war and a clear enemy keeps them from focusing on who the true enemy is. The second element, “freedom is slavery,” is even more evocative. Again, it seems false and entirely contradictory at first.

But, when analyzed in more depth from 1984, it’s clear that the Party believes that freedom from choice is the kind of freedom they need to present to their citizens. Finally, there is “ignorance is strength.” By not knowing the truth of their world and fully allowing themselves to comprehend the magnitude of what’s been lost, the individual citizens are in a stronger place. But, their ignorance makes the Party stronger. 

The War with Eastasia and Eurasia 

This is another excellent example of how doublethink is used. Winston knows that Oceania has been at war with both superstates but, the Party presents it as one unending war that has never changed. The narrator states: 

He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated.

He considers that “all others” may be accepting the lie that the Party imposed that: 

‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’

In conclusion, the narrator notes: 

It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. ‘Reality control’, they called it: in Newspeak, ‘doublethink.’


The Proles 

The proles, or proletariat, are a group of men, women, and children who live in poverty and are outside the Party’s structure (at least to an extent). The Party teaches two contradictory things when it comes to the Proles. First that they: 

have liberated the proles from bondage. Before the Revolution they had been hideously oppressed by the capitalists. 

At the same time, Winston explains: 

the Party taught that the proles were natural inferiors who must be kept in subjection, like animals […] 


FAQs 

What are the characteristics of doublethink?

Some of the characteristics of doublethink are: to know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, and to know two opinions that should cancel one another out but they don’t.

Why is doublethink so important to INGSOC?

It allows the Party to control what its citizens think and to force them to believe anything at once. The contradictory beliefs put them more in control of the populous. 

What did Thoughtcrime mean in 1984?

Thoughtcrime is a newspeak word that refers to incriminating thoughts that could lead to one’s arrest in 1984. These are any thoughts that are contrary to the ideological indoctrination of the Party. 

 

Related Terms in 1984 

  • Newspeak: the language used to diminish the range of thought in Oceania. “Doublethink” is a Newspeak word.
  • 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. 
  • Big Brother: the leader of Oceania and the face of the Party. He’s desired as a war hero, inventor, and more. He may also not be real. 
  • Syme: a character in 1984 and the man responsible for the newest addition of the Newspeak dictionary.


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