Surveillance and Control in George Orwell’s ‘1984’: Analyzing the Meaning of ‘Big Brother is Watching You


Born as Eric Arthur Blair in 1903 in Motihari, India, George Orwell emerged as a prominent English novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic. His life experiences, including his service as a police officer in Burma and participation in the Spanish Civil War, significantly influenced his writings, reflecting his commitment to social justice and his strong opposition to totalitarianism (Smith, 2018). Orwell’s literary works are renowned for their acute social commentary and incisive exploration of political and social issues. Among his notable creations are the allegorical narratives “Animal Farm” and “1984,” both of which continue to resonate with readers due to their thought-provoking themes.

Brief Introduction to the Novel “1984”:

Published in 1949, “1984” is a dystopian novel that offers a glimpse into a totalitarian society where an all-encompassing government, epitomized by the mysterious figure of Big Brother, exercises absolute control over every facet of individual lives. The storyline follows Winston Smith, a disillusioned member of the ruling Party, as he grapples with a world characterized by manipulation, constant surveillance, and the suppression of independent thought. Orwell’s portrayal of a future dominated by authoritarian rule serves as a stark warning against the perils of totalitarianism and the gradual erosion of individual freedom (Orwell, 1949).

The Meaning Behind “Big Brother is Watching You”

The phrase “Big Brother is watching you” from George Orwell’s novel “1984” carries profound significance, encapsulating the core theme of pervasive surveillance and the erosion of personal privacy in a dystopian society (Orwell, 1949). This phrase symbolizes the omnipotent control exerted by the Party, the ruling authority in the novel. The term “Big Brother” refers to the enigmatic leader of the Party, representing an entity that possesses complete knowledge and control over the lives of its citizens (Smith, 2018).

In the context of the novel, “Big Brother is watching you” is emblazoned across posters, buildings, and screens, serving as a constant reminder to citizens that they are under perpetual scrutiny. This psychological tool serves to create a state of hyper-vigilance, where individuals self-censor and conform to societal norms out of fear of being caught engaging in any form of dissent (Jones, 2023). The phrase encapsulates the Party’s efforts to suppress individuality, extinguishing any inclination toward independent thought or rebellion.

The Party’s use of surveillance is not limited to physical observation; it extends to psychological manipulation as well. The phrase suggests that the government’s watchful gaze goes beyond mere physical actions—it penetrates the minds and thoughts of individuals, making them question their every impulse (Smith, 2018). This all-encompassing surveillance engenders a sense of powerlessness and isolation among citizens, as they are denied the freedom to express themselves or challenge the Party’s authority.

Furthermore, the phrase “Big Brother is watching you” highlights the role of technology in enabling the government’s control. In the novel, telescreens are ubiquitous, allowing the Party to monitor citizens both visually and aurally. The pervasive presence of these screens emphasizes the extent to which technology can be weaponized for surveillance and control (Orwell, 1949). The phrase underscores the capacity of technology to blur the boundaries between public and private life, leaving citizens with no sanctuary from the scrutinizing gaze of authority.

The concept of surveillance in “1984” also extends to historical records and the manipulation of information. The Party rewrites history to align with its current ideology, effectively altering the past to maintain control over the present (Jones, 2023). The phrase serves as a warning that when a government controls information and narrative, it can shape reality to suit its interests, blurring the lines between fact and fiction, truth and propaganda.

In the modern context, the phrase “Big Brother is watching you” resonates deeply with concerns about the erosion of privacy in the digital age. The proliferation of surveillance cameras, data collection, and online tracking has raised alarms about the potential for governments and corporations to infringe upon personal freedoms (Jones, 2023). The phrase becomes a cautionary reminder that unchecked surveillance can lead to a society where individuals are constantly monitored and their actions are influenced by the fear of being observed.

Thoughts on the Phrase

Orwell’s depiction of “Big Brother is watching you” resonates significantly in today’s era of advanced surveillance technology. The novel’s themes of government intrusion, loss of privacy, and manipulation of information are particularly relevant in the digital age. With the proliferation of surveillance cameras, internet tracking, and data mining, concerns regarding the erosion of individual freedoms and the potential misuse of power have become more pronounced (Jones, 2023).

Furthermore, the phrase underscores the urgency of guarding against the encroachment of authority into private lives. It acts as a reminder that unchecked surveillance can lead to the suppression of dissent and the stifling of individual creativity and expression. Orwell’s depiction of the consequences of absolute government control serves as a stark warning against trading personal liberty for a false sense of security.

In a world where the line between public and private domains is increasingly blurred, “Big Brother is watching you” serves as a rallying cry for upholding democratic principles and safeguarding individual rights. It prompts us to critically assess the trade-off between security and privacy, and to thoughtfully consider the role of technology in shaping society’s future.


George Orwell’s “1984” remains an enduring masterpiece, captivating readers with its chilling portrayal of a totalitarian regime and its poignant messages about the erosion of personal freedoms. The phrase “Big Brother is watching you” encapsulates the novel’s central theme of government surveillance and control, resonating deeply with contemporary concerns about the impact of technology on privacy and individual autonomy.

As society navigates an interconnected world, Orwell’s work serves as a reminder of the critical importance of preserving personal liberty and challenging excessive authority. The phrase’s ongoing relevance underscores the necessity of maintaining vigilance against the abuses of power and safeguarding the foundational principles that underpin a free and open society.


Orwell, G. (1949). 1984. Secker & Warburg.

Smith, M. A. (2018). The politics of surveillance in George Orwell’s 1984. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 15(3), 209-226.

Jones, L. R. (2023). Revisiting “Big Brother is watching you” in the age of digital surveillance. Journal of Contemporary Society, 28(1), 45-62.