1984

1984

I read this in 11th grade for school, and it was, at that time, quite different a type of literature than I was used to. It isn’t the typical heroic novel—it’s more like the opposite: the story of a man’s hopeless rebellion against a totalitarian government.

George Orwell’s novel serves as a warning and a message, of what totalitarian society can be, and of what means it can use to sustain itself. Besides physical torment, two devices stand out very strongly: Newspeak and doublethink.

Newspeak is the new form of English. English is a language that, as we know it, gains words as time passes. The totalitarian government in 1984 instead reduces the number of words in English as time passes (p. 50-51):

“The Eleventh Edition is the definitive edition,” he said. “We’re getting the language into its final shape–the shape it’s going to have when nobody speaks anything else. When we’ve finished with it, people like you will have to learn it all over again. You think, I dare say, that our chief job is inventing new words. But not a bit of it! We’re destroying words–scores of them, hundreds of them, every day. We’re cutting down the language down to the bone. The Eleventh Edition won’t contain a single word that will become obsolete before the year 2050.”

The whole point of reducing the verbosity of the language is to destroy its ability to express dissent. Rather than having many words that have more or less the denotation but different connotations, i.e. “dinner,” “supper,” “meal,” and “feast,” Newspeak prefers just having one word for each such case. Words that express degrees are also gone, and are replaced by prefixes: “good,” “superb,” and “excellent” are translated respectively to “good,” “plusgood,” and “doubleplusgood.”

This contrast between English and Newspeak is developed by the showing of slip of paper that Winston receives for his work in the Ministry of Truth: the statement “times 14.2.84 miniplenty malquoted chocolate rectify” (38) actually means something along the lines of “the February 14, 1984 Times issue originally promised no reduction in chocolate rationing; however, it was reduced in the last week, so the article must be rewritten to give the impression that the Party had warned of a reduction in chocolate rationing and that it had never promised that the chocolate rations would stay.” This aspect of Newspeak allows for a highly compressed but emotionless language, the opposite of English, a language full of elaboration and sentiment.

Doublethink is too an interesting idea. It is the simultaneous belief in contradictory facts, often including saying things that are not true, even though the speaker knows it is not true but thinks it is. This allows the Party to stay homogeneous and not incite rebellion. It is very similar to the idea of censorship above, in which history is changed. Pages 34-45:

The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed–if all records told the same tale–then the lie passed into history and became truth. “Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. “Reality control,” they called it; in Newspeak, “doublethink.”

“Stand easy!” barked the instructress, a little more genially.

Winston sank his arms to his sides and slowly refilled his lungs with air. His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word “doublethink” involved the use of doublethink.

This is quite silly because you have to use doublethink in order to understand it–something logically doesn’t make sense. Or rather, it does.

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