On Double-think and Newspeak: Orwell’s Language
George Orwell’s 1984 portrays a dystopian society whose values and freedoms have been marred through the manipulation of language and thus thought processes. Language has become a tool of mind control for the oppressive government and consequently a tool of rebellion against the Party. Resultant themes arise such as manipulation, surrender, and ardent rebellion as portrayed by the novel’s protagonists, Outer Party members, Winston Smith and Julia (whose last name is unrevealed), as they fight for the freedom of knowledge that has been so inhibited by the Party’s control of everyday and historical language. The control of semantics has been presented as a new language called, “Newspeak” giving meaning to new, unscrupulous words such as, “Doublethink,” which carries several definitions such as complete mental submission to the party. The role of language in 1984 defines themes of control and the decision to rebel or surrender in a dystopian society where mind control has finally been enforced through language.
The Party’s influence on language becomes crucial for its existence when those in power realize the control of language is transitively the control of thoughts. By drawing the borders of one’s vocabulary, a person could be encouraged or inhibited from certain trains of thought. For example, in Newspeak, there is no word for “science” (159). Thoughts pertaining to science and the advancement of technology are hence repressed as to maintain contemporary living standards that keep the Party in power. If the Party wills its people to have certain motivations, the language will be modified to encourage said motivations and to discourage its converses. Removing the will to make advancements in science means removing the word, “science”. Thought control is as simple as limiting the words inside a person’s head while giving definition and reason to words that will keep the party in power and the people in support.
The Party’s manipulation of language establishes the theme of complete submission with the concept of “doublethink”. The word means “reality control”, as well as many other things, and is generally associated with mental compliance to the Party, allowing the government to control one’s thoughts (178). People need only change the language in their thoughts to change their thoughts and values entirely, giving all the power to the Party. Doublethink can transform the mental processes of a person to change his or her loyalties. In Newspeak, one who uses Doublethink is a “Goodthinker,” and is hence safe from torture and execution (174). There is no greater surrender than that of one’s thoughts, which is exactly what the Party has and will continue to capture through the manipulation of language. Citizens of Oceania will comply to the will of the Party because it is undefeatable; the Party is undefeatable because its citizens will comply. A cycle is formed over the power of language and its place in the minds of people.
With the establishment of surrender comes the theme of rebellion in the use of language. Julia represents rebellion and protests the use of Newspeak to protest the government. In the novel, she says, “They can make you say anything but they can’t make you believe it. They can’t get inside you.” She recognizes the power of language and tells Winston that they can fight it. By retaining a private thought process of one’s choice of language, one can fight the Party and its attempts at mind control. In “The Principles of Newspeak,” Orwell writes, “The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible” (246). The rebellion exists in the idea that Newspeak cannot and will not make these thoughts impossible and people will have freedom of their own mind. Where language is a means of thought control, it becomes a means of revolution.
1984 exhibits the power of language. By changing the words inside a person’s thoughts, they change the thoughts as well. For centuries, conquerors have risen and controlled lands and the actions of people but never their spirit. Manipulating language has allowed such grave subjugation to the point of removing the will to fight for one’s freedom. Julia has only her spirit and her life, both of which she uses to protest the Party and both of which the Party takes. The dystopian society in 1984 works so well because they’ve not only captured humanity; they’ve captured the human spirit.
Work Cited Dean, Mike, and George Orwell. 1984. Harlow: Pearson Education, 2003. Print
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