Government Surveillance

the strongest theme in the novel, in my humble opinion, and the one that represents the book’s message in the best manner is by far the theme of government surveillance. As previously discussed, Marcus and his peers are subject to a great dial of trial and torture, both when they are detained and when they are forced to go about their daily lives in compliance with the DHS’ constant observance. The same is the case in the novel 1984, what with Winston Smith being constantly bombarded with propaganda from his Oceania’s governing body-  in Little Brother, Marcus is exposed to the images of daily mass arrests and temporary taking of custody by DHS officials.

This is proved accurate in this segment of the novel: “’Let them hire a billion pigs and put a checkpoint on every corner… We’re jamming up the system because we hate Homeland Security, and because we love our city” (Doctorow, 139). The preceding excerpt depicted a passage in the book wherein a member of the Xnet called in to a local radio station and told the station what he thought of the DHS checkpoints. His view outlined the story Marcus told throughout the novel- the government had taken San Francisco security into its own hands and heavily occupied civilian territory. It also outlines the frustration and desperation most people in Marcus’s society had built up in the wake of Homeland Security’s intrusive actions. These actions are what triggered the mass revolt of the “Xnetters” and the ultimate termination of the DHS’s occupying of the city by the end of the novel.



The theme of paranoia is also prevalent in Little Brother. Most citizens of Cory Doctorow’s dystopian San Francisco are all constantly in fear of being arrested or detained- the exceptions being busybodies and whistle blowers. When Marcus creates the Xnet, he creates the system because he knows he is in danger of getting caught for his activist movements and his exposing the Department of Homeland Security. The same is the case for the other people who join his rally to overthrow the DHS in their city- they are protesting in the name of what is right, but they know that what they are doing is punishable, so they are always looking over their shoulders.

To further illustrate the existence of paranoia as a theme in Little Brother, one may look to the instance in the novel wherein Marcus, operating later on in the book under the screen name M1k3y, is asked to do interviews by several newspapers and radio shows- in response, he instructs them to log on to Xnet so he can host a press conference through one of the Xnet games. It is evident through this section of the book that Marcus does not want to be exposed as the leader of the underground movement, as he does not wish to face the consequences of his actions, even though he knew he was in the right. He takes these kinds of precautions because he is afraid, or paranoid, that the DHS will expose his true identity and his quest for justice will be put to an end.


The theme of censorship plays a heavy role in the novel Little Brother. Many people are accustomed to reading books about censorship with regards to literature- this novel, however, discusses the somewhat undiscovered world of internet censorship. However, we can still draw a parallel between Little Brother and some great literary works in the past- an example with regards to censorship would be the novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, which introduces the concept of a world without books. Although the form of censorship is very extreme in Ray Bradbury’s novel, Little Brother echoes its somewhat dystopian society.

After Marcus is tortured and interrogated by the Department of Homeland Security, he returns to San Francisco to find his home to be a virtual base for the DHS, and as he finds out later, the organization is tracking the internet usage of San Francisco citizens, and detaining them if they even come close to browsing pages on “controversial topics” such as security systems or communicating with large groups of people. Thus, their freedom of expression is limited, as they mightn’t feel comfortable having someone read their posts and view their history.

This is evident in the following excerpt from the book: “My technology was working for me, serving me, protecting me. It wasn’t spying on me” (Doctorow, 88). In the passage, Marcus is outlining the difference between the ParanoidXbox system he created and his regular computer, which is being monitored by the DHS. He also inadvertently points out what the DHS should be doing- working for him, and protecting him- rather than spying on him. This passage also shows that the only way Marcus truly feels comfortable about using the web is by creating his own undiscoverable system.

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