Depending on the type of propaganda, and the person/group spreading it, it might be a positive or negative influence. It could shape ideas, actions, policy and spread incorrect or correct information. Whatever the information, though, it is used in order to try to change something. Propaganda is most commonly associated with governments and organizations that have a financial, social, or political agenda.
Definition of Propaganda
In literature, propaganda is a way of sharing information in order to influence public opinion. It can be used creatively, within works of fiction as well as in the real world. The latter can be seen through political ads, public service announcements, political policy and speeches, and more. Advertisements are the most common way that propaganda is spread. They are created by companies, written by writers, and designed by artists, with the intention of making the customer feel a certain way about a product and then be willing to buy it. Usually, the word “propaganda” is associated with negative information or that which is used to create a negative/dangerous outcome.
Historically, propaganda has been used by governments around the world. For example, throughout the Cold War, the United States sent musicals around Eastern Europe. This was done in an attempt to foster an attachment to U.S. culture and draw people away from the Soviet Union.
Types of Propaganda
There are several efferent types of propaganda. They include emotional appeals, xenophobia, and logical fallacies. The latter refers to arguments that seem logical but aren’t when someone takes the time to break them down. Propaganda is a great example because pieces of misinformation are created on purpose. With another interesting type of propaganda, the speaker presents themselves as a normal person, someone who understands the average person’s troubles and is willing to help them. This is common in the political world.
Examples of Propaganda in Literature
1984 is a dystopian masterpiece. In it, readers can find numerous examples of the ways that the Party controls and influences its citizens. Men, women, and children are under the sway of Party propaganda. The daily television messages, the banners, and signs in the street, as well as the way that the citizens comport themselves around one another, are all ways that propaganda is spread. Consider these lines from 1984 as a good example:
And the Records Department, after all, was itself only a single branch of the Ministry of Truth, whose primary job was not to reconstruct the past but to supply the citizens of Oceania with newspapers, films, textbooks, telescreen programs, plays, novels – with every conceivable kind of information, instruction, or entertainment, from a statue to a slogan, from a lyric poem to a biological treatise, and from a child’s spelling-book to a Newspeak dictionary.
The “Ministry of Truth,” whose job it really is to spread disinformation and spread the past, is at the center of the propagandized world Winston Smith lives in. He is also a participant, though, working to alter history in the form of newspaper clippings and destroying that which the Party no longer wants to exist.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
This novel sits right alongside 1984 as a great example of how propaganda can be used in fictional worlds. Within the novel, Bradbury depicts a world in which books are constantly burned. The main character, Guy Montag, a fireman whose job it is to burn books, starts to question censoring literature. Here are some influential lines from the novel:
If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information.
In this passage, Bradbury lays out the way that the government considers information and, therefore, how it’s controlled. “Two sides to a question” is not something they want to contend with. Interestingly enough, the novel itself has been banned from schools and organizations on occasion.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Animal Farm is Orwell’s second most popular novel. It describes the dynamics on a farm in which the animals rebel, taking over control from the humans and create their own dysfunctional society. The pigs assert control over the working animals, deeming themselves more worthy and more “equal.” One of the best examples of propaganda in this novel occurs when the pigs create the Seven Commandments, changing the original rules to something else entirely. For example, “No animal shall be killed by any other animal” becomes:
No animal shall be killed by any other animal without cause.
This allows the pigs to excuse certain acts of violence if it’s the kind they approve of. Throughout the novel, readers can also find a great deal of anti-communist propaganda, pointing out the flaws in Communism through the example of the Russian Revolution.
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Related Literary Terms
- Bandwagon: a persuasive style of writing that is used to convince readers of an argument or make them understand a certain perspective.
- Metaphor: used to describe an object, person, situation, or action in a way that helps a reader understand it without using “like” or “as.”
- Ambiguity: a word or statement that has more than one meaning. If a phrase is ambiguous, it means multiple things.
- Moral: the meaning or message conveyed through a story.
- Plot: a connected sequence of events that make up a novel, poem, play, film, television show, and other narrative works.
- Antiphrasis: a rhetorical device that occurs when someone says the opposite of what they mean, but their true meaning is obvious.
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