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George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) is a science fiction novel based in a critical dystopia, written at the end of the Second World War. The start of the twentieth century brought about advancements in technology and was a catalyst for a new modern society. However, this was a time where fascist regimes were starting to come into power, and the abusive ferocity of these ideologies were witnessed first-hand by Orwell. Lots of ideas in the book came from previously existing ideologies and regimes, and most of the technology Orwell had predicted has a lot of resemblance to what we see today. The purpose of the text was for the audience to receive a warning about what would happen if a totalitarian ruling world were to materialize and that we should pay attention to how language is becoming increasingly corrupt, as it can eventually control our opinions.
As we know the dystopia Orwell envisioned did not come into fruition as democracy ultimately won out in the cold war, showcased by the fall of the berlin wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. However, this remains an important novel even to 21st Century readers, as a lot of aspects in today’s society, such as surveillance, can be compared to an Orwellian dystopia. In this investigation I will be using “Orwellian” to describe different articles. The adjective “Orwellian” is still a term thrown around today – however the way most people use it today actually contradicts the meaning of Orwell’s message. From the surface it seems to describe something as authoritarian, as 1984’s dystopia was based around a totalitarian regime. However, its true meaning takes a lot more insight. “Orwell spent most of his life fighting anti-democratic forces from both the left and the right wing, and was concerned with how such ideologies proliferate. One of his most profound insights was how language shapes our thoughts and opinions. ”
In 1984 we see clear methods of controlling the population, such as surveillance. However, brainwashing also occurs through a constant influx of propaganda and facts manufactured to support the party’s claims. The regime also uses doublespeak which uses words “not to convey meaning but to undermine it, corrupting the very ideas they refer to”. For example, the motto of Oceania is “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength”. This is a deliberate contradiction, written on the ministry of truth, to condition those who read it into undermining their true meaning. The official dialect of Oceania, Newspeak, has further influenced the society into narrower minds. The language contains only simple acronyms and concrete nouns, eliminating language complex enough to encourage critical thought. This affects what Orwell calls “doublethink” – the act of holding two opposite ideas and believing in both simultaneously, using logic against logic or suspending disbelief in the contradiction. The regime does this to eradicate individuality almost completely, and leave ones thought in uncertainty about where the truth actually lies.
The novel is based in a future version of London which is now part of super state Oceania. The city is constantly under threat from bombings, as it is the frontline of a long war Oceania has had with the other 2 super states. Surveillance haunts the back of every citizen’s mind, as this and Big Brother, a personified face that appears everywhere as propaganda, brainwashes its population into being easily controlled. The protagonist of the novel is Winston Smith, a member of the outer party that works in the Ministry of Truth. This name is a misnomer as it is actually accountable for any creation of information or falsification of historical events. Despite being in control of an important job for the party, Winston is still put under rigorous brainwashing. By the end of the story he awfully rejects his love for Julia in favour of the IngSoc party’s principles.
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