Power And The Use Of Language, Orwell's Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Power and the Use of Language, Orwell's 1984 And Beyond

George Orwell's 1949 dystopian novel 1984 has become almost iconoclastic in its meaning for contemporary society. Almost like the term Machiavellianism, 1984 evokes images in popular culture, along with the author's name as an adjective, and phrases that were used in the book. Even the term "Orwellian" denotes a certain type of society; phrases like "Big Brother," "Newspeak," "Thought-Police," etc. are now part of the vocabulary when describing totalitarian regimes. The novel's premise has become part of a modern archetype, imitated on television, popular music, movies, and even one of the most popular advertisements ever made, the 1984 launch of Apple's Macintosh.

Nineteen Eighty-Four focuses on a new type of society -- repressive, totalitarian, staunch, all-powerful, all knowing, oligarchical, and pervasive. The novel's main character, Winston Smith, is a simple civil servant assigned to the daily task of perpetuating the regime's history (i.e. propaganda). Smith grows increasingly disillusioned with the concepts of society, forms a rebellion against the system, and is eventually arrested and tortured. Society is hierarchical, controlled by "Big Brother," and the irony of dystopia is epitomized when Winston is sent to the "Ministry of Love," for reeducation purposes. The novel ends with Winston finally accepting Big Brother as God, certainly death for his individuality, although the reader is left uncertain as to Winston's execution.

The satirical contractions of education in Nineteen Eighty-Four come in the guise of doublespeak -- a way of assigned thinking that confuses in its complete opposition: "War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength" -- all controlled by the Ministry of Truth (4). Children are brought up in public...

For Orwell, as a British intellectual, we may be certain that his use of language was purposeful. Realizing that language has the power within the political spectrum to hide the truth and mislead the listener, Orwell placed focus on Newspeak. This, of course was the governmental approved language that allows the totalitarian system to inform the population of exactly what it wants them to digest, and the public to willingly believe it without so much as a glimmer of critical thinking. Language, we know, is a tool. In Orwellian society, language is a mind-control tool, with the ultimate goal being the destruction of free thinking, individual will, and imagination. In fact, Orwell's vision of the future contains very little technological weaponry, instead relying on the idea of language being the ultimate psychological weapon that can either destroy or empower (Wain, 343).

That language may be construed as powerful in more than thought is quite obvious when we think of hate speech or negative contexts. Pejorative terminology has been proven to elicit negative psychological feelings and the children's phrase, "sticks and stones" is certainly not true in our media and speech driven culture. Language, for many scholars, is the way that cognitive thought is expressed and made meaningful (some say observable) to others, and therefore is the power behind action. Certainly, language organized early societies, set up hierarchies, and with that, control. The use of language is a powerful too in manipulation, but also a way to set standards of behavior (Lakoff, 436).

The power of language and the way it manipulates though is not necessarily as rare as one might think. In 1984, Newspeak is a politically motivated language. The Party is trying to replace Oldspeak (spoken English) in order to completely pacify the population into thinking a different way. The Party's Newspeak deprives the citizens of memory by giving new meaning to nouns and verbs, so often and so pervasive. For example, continually throughout the book, the Party (media) refers to the Ministries of Truth, Love and Plenty. In actuality…

Sources Used in Documents:


Orwell, G. (1990). 1984. New York: Penguin Books.

Rai, A. (1990). Orwell and the Politics of Despair. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wain, J. (1978). Essays on Literature and Ideas. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Press.

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