1984 is a dystopian novel, set in a seemingly post-apocalyptic world. It seeks to portray a chilling “what-if” scenario, in which most of the world is ruled by a totalitarian regime. Great Britain, now known as Airstrip One, is also one of them. Winston, the main character of the novel, recalls the leading party being called “English socialism” in the past – or Ingsoc in Newspeak, the new official language of this all-encompassing superstate. The subject matter of the novel is inspired by the context of rising Stalinism, following the end of the Second World War and the start of the Cold War. The novel paints a grim picture, one in which every citizen is constantly monitored by authorities, and people who are deemed problematic are “vaporized” – erased from existence, not only physically but also from pictures and newspaper articles, a tactic also employed by the Soviet Union. Nothing is sacred, historical documents can and will be altered, if need be. In other words, the leading party holds what many would consider absolute power.
This absolute power is exercised in many different ways, both directly by arresting and torturing dissidents and subversively by monitoring citizens at all times. This is where the concept of the “Panopticon,” introduced by Bentham, first ties in.
The Panopticon is, in simple terms, a prison. It’s not just any prison, however. Its peculiar spherical shape, with a tall watchtower in the middle, allows guards to monitor inmates at all times from a vantage point. Foucault argued that “power only exists when it is put into action” (Foucault info 1), so from a different perspective, authority is meaningless if not taken advantage of. What the Panopticon enables is an ingenious way of exerting pressure, authority, and power without needing to physically or actively do anything at all.
To their knowledge, the inmates are under constant surveillance. The guards can see them, but inmates ...