The telescreen has the features of television. Messages and videos will play on the telescreens throughout the city, and request programs will play that citizens have to watch. The screens also act as spies, allowing the Thought Police to observe the men and women throughout the city, ensuring no one gets away with anything that goes against the Party’s tenants.
The screens ensured that day and night, people hear about “statistics proving that people today had more food, more clothes, better houses, better recreations—that they lived longer, worked shorter hours, were bigger, healthier, stronger, happier, more intelligent, better educated, than the people of fifty years ago.”
Explore Telescreens in 1984
The telescreen is a dull, mirror-looking device that inset into walls around Oceania. They observe citizens and play propaganda.
It is possible to turn the volume down on a telescreen but not off. This means that when the party wants to share propaganda, they have an easy way. Winston believes that telescreens are incredibly high-tech. Smart enough to see one whenever they’re in front of it and even hear a heartbeat.
From the telescreen, citizens can expect to hear speeches, videos as part of the Two Minutes Hate, and updates on the war. For example, a video of Emmanuel Goldstein plays on a screen towards the beginning of the novel. Winston also observes Julia, who he initially hates, throw the book at the telescreen.
Quotes of Telescreens in 1984
At the beginning of the novel, Orwell describes Winston’s apartment and uses the following line:
The instrument (the telescreen, it was called) could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely.
Inside the flat, Orwell notes, a “fruity voice was reading out a list of figures.” He adds:
which had something to do with the production of pig-iron. The voice came from an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part of the surface of the right-hand wall.
Winston considers the telescreen in these lines:
The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment.
It’s unclear to him and to all citizens of the Outer Party when the Thought Police were watching an individual. It’s conceivable, he adds, that they “watch everybody all the time.” Everyone has to assume they are being watched all the time, an exhausting prospect.
Winston tries to keep his back to the telescreen to get some privacy, but he knows that even “a back can be revealing.” When he faces it, he wears a look of “quiet optimism.”
While in his apartment, Winston attempts to hide from the telescreen and write in a journal he bought. He describes how:
the telescreen in the living-room was in an unusual position. Instead of being placed, as was normal, in the end wall, where it could command the whole room, it was in the longer wall, opposite the window.
He could sit in a shallow alcove next to one side of the screen and remain out of range of the screen.
When writing in his journal, he’s not exactly committing a crime. But “if detected, it was reasonably certain that it would be punished by death, or at least by twenty-five years in a forced-labour camp.”
Mr. Charrington’s Telescreen
At the end of the novel, it’s revealed that there has been a hidden telescreen behind a picture in Winston and Julia’s rented room the entire time they’ve been meeting there. The chilling moment when this is revealed comes at the end of Part II.
‘We are the dead,’ he said.
‘We are the dead,’ echoed Julia dutifully.
‘You are the dead,’ said an iron voice behind them.
Moments later, Winston and Julia realize what’s going on. There was nothing the two could do to save themselves.
Who watches through the telescreen?
The Thought Police are watching through the telescreen. They are prepared to arrest anyone at any time for doing anything contrary to the Party’s beliefs.
Why can’t Winston turn off his telescreen?
Like all other Party members (Outer Party members, that is), he can’t turn the screen off. The Party wants to make sure they flood his mind with propaganda at all times.
Where is the telescreen?
At the end of the novel, the telescreen is hidden behind the picture of the church in the room Winston and Julia rented from Mr. Charrington. They are usually in plain view.
Related Terms in 1984
- Speakwrite: a device used to record speech and transmit it to text on a telescreen.
- 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.
- 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.
- Room 101: a room to which Winston Smith, and others, are taken when they are within the Ministry of Love. It contains everyone’s worst fears. For Smith, this is rats.
- Newspeak: the invented language that shortens words and removes others entirely from the English language.