Even if someone leaves these thoughts unspoken, it is still a crime to think them. It is one of the scariest parts of Winston Smith’s world in the novel. The person who thinks these thoughts is held responsible for them as though they said them out loud or committed the act they were thinking about.
When thinking about thoughtcrime, Smith notes that it:
was not a thing that could be concealed for ever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you
The term “thoughtcrime” is used to describe a thought that’s antithetical to the Party’s teachings and beliefs. For example, if one felt sexual desire towards another person, thought something negative about Big Brother, doubted Oceania’s war, and more. Winston Smith repetitively commits thoughtcrime throughout the novel and works hard to try to keep it from showing on his face.
The term is part of Newspeak, the language used by Party members throughout the novel. Every edition of the Newspeak dictionary removes more words, compressing them. Ideally, the novel implies, once complete, there are going to be very few things anyone can think about outside what the Party desires. This is going to whittle down the possibilities of ever committing thoughtcrime.
What are the Thought Police in 1984?
To understand thoughtcrime, it’s important to understand the consequences of committing it. If one were to have illegal thoughts and those thoughts showed on their face, or they expressed them in some way, they’re going to be arrested by the Thought Police. This group is responsible for hunting down thought criminals and bringing them to the Ministry of Love. This aptly named ministry reforms and kills thought criminals.
The implications of the Thought Police are wide-ranging. Citizens are frightened into policing their own thoughts and further giving in to the demands of the Party. Every means of independence is stripped from the citizens of Oceania.
Winston and others who are trying to avoid the Thought Police are aware that they could be observed at any time through their telescreens. Orwell writes:
There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.
It is this paranoia that results in most citizens becoming too frightened to even conceive of betraying Big Brother and the Party ideals. Most, who are not thoroughly indoctrinated, would rather preserve their lives and betray their beliefs.
Examples of Thoughtcrime in 1984
Parsons and his Daughter
Winston’s neighbor, Parsons, is arrested by the Thought Police for thoughtcrime in one particular section of the novel. He was turned in, Parsons says, by his own daughter who heard him talking in his sleep. Orwell writes:
‘It was my little daughter,’ said Parsons with a sort of doleful pride. ‘She listened at the keyhole. Heard what I was saying, and nipped off to the patrols the very next day. Pretty smart for a nipper of seven, eh? I don’t bear her any grudge for it. In fact I’m proud of her. It shows I brought her up in the right spirit, anyway.’
This attitude is common among Party members but is not the way that Winston Smith sees the situation. It’s horrible how at risk every person is, even from their family members. The Party has removed much of the attachment between husbands and wives and children and parents.
Smith knows that whether or not he writes “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” in his illegal diary that the Thought Police are going to give him. He considers:
The Thought Police would get him just the same. He had committed—would still have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper—the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it.
He is “already dead, he reflected.” It seemed to him, Orwell adds, that he had “when he had begun to be able to formulate his thoughts, he had taken the decisive step.” So, he wrote down: “Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime IS death.”
What happens if you get caught by the Thought Police?
You are put to death, eventually. O’Brien reveals that the Party prefers to completely transform one’s thinking before they are “destroyed,” though. This occurs within the Ministry of Love.
What is the purpose of the Thought Police in 1984?
They are used to monitor the actions of men and women in Oceania, ensuring that no one is plotting against or even thinking slightly negative thoughts about, The Party and Big Brother.
What is an example of thoughtcrime in 1984?
Any thought that goes against the Party is thoughtcrime. For example, if one thought, “I hate Big Brother and wish the Party would fail,” they’ve committed thoughtcrime and could be arrested.
Related Terms in 1984
- 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.
- 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.