1984 by George Orwell in the literal sense conveys precisely what the book insinuates, “The Big Brother is Watching You.” A brother magnified in the background is has eyes wide open depicted in the cover image as the rest go about their business. This image shows a monitoring situation of a totalitarian government on its people, and figuratively, the enlarged head represents the state. The story is about government control, the image on the cover depicts an anxious population, perhaps their workings, sleeping, and thinking or talking; living, in general, is under the control of the state. No one knows for sure the agents of the “Big Brother,” might be a sister, a husband, a son, a friend or a father. The cover portrays an act of watching in its literal sense as all the characters have someone watching, some directly and others only stealing a glance but watching all the same.
The state has its eye fixed on the rest of the population. It is evident that the state is always watching. However, it is unclear who else is watching in the direct absence of the state. It is perhaps the reason the concentration of the rest of the characters is not apparent. They might be citizens going about their business or government watchdogs. Spies are everywhere, with cameras that can identify the faces of those opposing the regime, Oceania.
For this reason, some citizens are cautious while some are scared as depicted in the mixed reactions on the cover image. The cover theme is dark. This dark theme is not a coincidence, instead imagery to the fact that 1984 is a dark time. Security agencies have secret cameras, audio recorders, and face recognition software that anyone going against a dictatorial regime can face a jail sentence since the regime is hell-bent on oppressing all manner of opposition. The use of hard technology also affects the present society, according to the present day scholars examining government surveillance strategies now (Qin 731). In the book, Orwell writes, “Freedom is slavery….war is peace…ignorance is strength”. Perhaps at times of war, government control reduces, citizens are actually free, and the perceived freedom only means avenue for government control. Considerably, the cover arguably reflects the context of the book. For instance, an open source developer from the book, Winston Smith, is fearful enough to write source code offline since he has an ISP with parked sniffers regulated by the government under the Patriotic Act. This fear is depicted on the faces of the characters popularized in the foreground; some of whom keep looking over their shoulders, the second character from right in the cover image.
The cover is an attestation of the dystopian literature, which is the genre of this book. Dystopian literature focuses on how good constructs such as government, religious structures, and politics or democracy can make the life of citizens difficult and turns out to be a bad thing or idea after all. The author presents that one of the fears among citizens is that it does not matter who leads the authoritarian regime, it is always out to exert control, and consequently, the subjects are always agitated or fearful. The author depicts this notion of the cover image in the lines, “ A nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, thinking the same thought and shouting the same slogans, ……perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting-three hundred million people all with same face” (Orwell 76).
The image is eye-catching in a negative way. It attracts a feeling of animosity, anxiety, and sadness. Ideally, these are the real feelings in a dystopian environment. The government turns the right institutions and machinery achieved through strife for freedom and democracy to represent the filth in the society such as using technology to infringe on the privacy or the right to free speech. A big eye invokes a feeling of devastation, the fear, and anxiety are seen in the characters in the foreground captivate feeling of animosity or anxiety among the readers or audience without even opening a single page.
Qin, Xuan. “Ethical Consciousness under Totalitarianism—Review on George Orwell’s 1984.” Journal of Language Teaching and Research 9.4 (2018): 731-737.
Orwell, George. 1984. 317th ed., Paris: Le Livre De Poche, 1970.