1984 by George Orwell
|July 27, 2012||Posted by Jane Lu under culture, reviews|
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian novel about life in Oceana, where everyone is oppressed under the dictatorship of the government; where every aspect of life, including the mind, is under control by the government and Big Brother, whom everybody in society is supposed to worship. In Oceana, the population is divided into three classes: the Inner Party, which is the upper-class ruling minority; the Outer class, which is equivalent to the middle class; and finally the Proles, the majority working class that is also the lowest class. The government controls the population through four ministries: the Ministry of Peace, the Ministry of Plenty, the Ministry of Love and the Ministry of Truth.
The story follows the story of Winston Smith, a member of the Outer class who works for the Ministry of Truth. His job is to rewrite history to suit the party line, which is always changing. Ever since Winston was a child he has secretly hated and despised the government, and he has always wanted to rebel against Big Brother; these thoughts have haunted him as he believes that sooner or later the Thought Police will get hold of his rebellious thoughts and condemn him or perhaps even torture him – which they eventually do.
One day at the Ministry of Truth, as Winston is helping a woman named Julia, a beautiful and attractive young lady who repairs novel-writing machines at the Ministry of Truth, she hands him a note that reads: “I LOVE YOU.” Although Winston had loathed the sight of her and refused to believe that she was the type of girl for him, they nevertheless secretly develop a love affair in hiding places, and later in a rented bedroom where they think they are free from the surveillance of the government and the Thought police – of course, they are wrong.
Matters get worse when O’Brien, an Inner Party member, approaches Winston and tells him that he wants to give him a copy of the Dictionary of Newspeak, a new language that the government has introduced in order to have more control over peoples’ minds. Winston thinks O’Brien is a member of the Brotherhood, which intends to overthrow the dictatorship, and is convinced when instead O’Brien hands him a copy of The Book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, written by Emmanuel Goldstein. Goldstein is an infamous and publicly reviled leader of the Brotherhood who is also the principal enemy of the government. That night, Winston and Julia meet secretly in the rented bedroom and read The Book together, but are captured by the Thought Police. While at the Ministry of Love, where both Winston and Julia are sent for “conversion,” Winston discovers the true identity of O’Brien and that he is in fact a leader of the Thought Police. Winston is tortured by O’Brien in order to force him to see the apparent “reality” that the government wanted him to see, so that he could be “cured” and returned to sanity. Fearing further torture, Winston betrays Julia during his political re-education by O’Brien.
Winston is then given the right to be reintegrated into society again when he meets Julia in a park and they both confess that they had betrayed one another. At the end of the novel, Winston fully accepts life in Oceana and lives the life the government wants him to lead. Moreover, he will now always love Big Brother.
This book has really interested me with its excellent plot and revelations of the darkness under a strict and oppressive political regime. Through the unfortunate events of Winston’s life as well as the description of life under such a strict system and society, Orwell has drawn my attention to the theme of language.
Language and words, in Orwell’s opinion, have strong links with political and economic issues. He believed that the decline of a language will affect the economy as well as politics.
The development of language is a natural process; it slowly develops with our culture and society. As the human race improves society, bringing great change to the world, so more words are brought into the ever-expanding language. For instance, the introduction of the internet and the Google search engine have become so popular that the verb “google” has been invented, referring to use of Google to obtain information from the internet. This is an example of a verb that has been extracted from our daily life as we learn to “google” stuff that we don’t understand. The Google website was not invented for the sake of introducing the new verb “google”; rather the word “google” was introduced only after the invention of the internet and its development. This is a natural process: as more and more people use the internet and the Google website, the term “google” spread from groups of teenagers to the wider public and a new word was formed, expanding the collection of the English language in our dictionaries. So, we know that as our social, economical and political environment improves, the language also expands – but is the reverse also true?
Have you ever had the experience of going to a foreign country and trying very hard to communicate with a foreigner who does not speak your language? Have you ever played a game with your friends in which you are forbidden to speak certain words and the first to break the rule loses? Both situations are similar in the sense that the person usually finds it very hard to communicate effectively and accurately with the other. A decline in the language, and hence the reduction of words and phrases that we use, acts the same way to make communication difficult. That could mean messages are not conveyed and hence thoughts could not be passed on, which may consequently lead to social and cultural decline and then further expansion into political and economic decline.
In the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the government has invented a new language, Newspeak, which was introduced to secure more control over peoples’ minds. Newspeak is based on the English language but with a significantly reduced grammar and vocabulary, especially when dealing with words that express anti-government concepts, such as freedom and individualism, in order to prevent any alternative thinking, also known as “thoughtcrime” in the novel, as that could pose a threat to the party and its dictatorship.
Imagine that we now live in the Nineteen Eighty-Four era and the word “freedom” has become a taboo word and has been erased from our dictionaries by the government. We would be the only people who know and understand what “freedom” means; by the next generation, the word would already be lost and gone. Without the word “freedom,” we would not know what “freedom of speech” means, or what terms like “the freedom to vote” or “freedom of trade” stand for. In other words, without “freedom” and the existence of the word, we would live in an oppressed world, a world where the political and economic systems decline. Indeed, the decline of the political system has also led to a decline in the language. And through the decline of the language certain thoughts are prohibited, and over time those thoughts and perhaps even concepts would be lost. A huge gap would be formed between the civilized world and the world that the people of Nineteen Eighty-Four are living in. The decline of the language has led to the decline of politics and the economy.
Thankfully, all I have discussed so far are theories and imagined examples; throughout human history there has not been any significant evidence to support the theory that George Orwell suggests in this book. This does not deprive the book of its interesting plot and themes, however, which will definitely captivates readers right from the first pages. I therefore strongly recommend Nineteen Eighty-Four.