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The power of words is enough to control an entire nation. Although many would consider physical power and brute force to be absolute power, George Orwell’s 1984 demonstrates a dystopian society where language is the ultimate form of power. The Party, the ruling force over all of Oceania, has dominion over its citizens mainly through the manipulation of language. Typically physical power has the means to control, and seems to be effective. However, the power of language is able to control the mind, which is the center of a human being. The Party reaches all the way into and mutates the minds of its citizens using language, so that each citizen is controlled absolutely. Used through propaganda, the manipulation of literature and history, and the invention of Newspeak, it is clear that the power of language is nearly absolute.
One of the most powerful forms of language in influencing the mind is music. “In the belligerent Oceania of Orwell’s 1984, music is tightly controlled because of its power to communicate overtly and affect covertly the various physiological functions that influence human behavior.”(Haack 27). The music that is unique to the party is the “Hate Song”, which Winston describes as more of a “barking” sound and the beating of a drum. Music has a physiological impact on every listener. The “Hate Song” encourages intense patriotism and gives everyone the same mindset. They all share the same mindset of hate. The Party implements every kind of language in the society in order to force everyone to share the same ideals.
Revolt against the government begins with writing. Although Winston feels that he is helpless while he is writing in his diary, he is slightly aware that what he is doing is powerful. If it did not pose some threat to the government, the act would not be punishable by death. This is the first step that Winston takes to actively rebel against the Party. This is an outward expression of his thoughtcrime. “Apart from very short notes, it was usual to dictate everything into the speakwrite, which was of course impossible for his present purpose” (Orwell 7). It is impossible for his present purpose because in order to be able to speak to the future in a way that would unsettle the future, he must express himself with the old language, not the power-stripped language that the Party uses. Julia and Winston’s rebellion against the government only happens because she gives him a scrap of paper that reads “I love you”. Those powerful words leave Winston unable to focus on his work and they keep his emotions darting back and forth. They give him a burning desire to take action, as though there is no other option. “At the sight of the words I love you the desire to stay alive had welled up in him and the taking of minor risks suddenly seemed stupid” (111).
Communication through writing is what enables any form of action through citizens. Winston mentions that it is unsafe to send letters because all letters are opened in transit to prevent any sort of privacy in communication. The Party does this because language in print is a huge threat. Language is what structures power. Winston and Julia are able to challenge the Party by having secret meetings because of the love note, and Winston and O’Brien are allowed to meet up to discuss the Brotherhood when O’Brien writes down his address on a slip of paper. Although the government will do whatever they can to control all forms of language, including language in its written form, the very thing that they are always desperate to destroy is the only thing that is able to sneak past them for at least a short time and fight against them.
The Party controls all forms of language, including the form of books. The Party knows that books are powerful because they keep trying to destroy Goldstein’s book. Julia works in the Fiction Department and she tells Winston that all the books are just rubbish. “Books were just a commodity that had to be produced, like jam or bootlaces” (132). Books have lost their meaning because the Party does not want imagination of the individual to exist. The Party manufactures books for proles like One Night in a Girl’s School. The books are made for the entertainment of the proles, but even those books do not allow much room for imagination. Julia explains that all of these books really only have 6 plots. The Party only allows the creation of books that fit the purpose of the government, which is to maintain a society that Big Brother controls completely.
The Party can manipulate language to be whatever they need it to be. Strong writes, “The society of Oceania required that Love and Hate, War and Peace be synonymous: it was necessary there to be able to say them both with no feeling of moral contradiction. For such purposes, one needed a language with which to talk of them” (248). The Party invents Newspeak for this purpose, and the Party rewrites any sort of print so that it fits the needs of society. The Party needs to be able to control the past, present, and future if they are to have absolute power. “’Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’” (Orwell 36). The Party will literally destroy all history that is written and they will replace it with their own history, making it so that the history that happened before never existed. When the Party decides that Oceania is at war with Eastasia instead of Eurasia, everyone in the Records Department is required to destroy all documentary evidence for the war with Eurasia. Some would argue that history still exists in memory, but because the Party has control over the mind, they also have control over memory, meaning that the Party has control over everything that exists and has existed. The Party is able to do this because they have taken away the power of language in writing and have made it their own.
Claiming dominion over an individual begins and ends with having control over the mind. Having power over the mind claims all thought and imagination. Although physical power has the means to control, no one is completely submitted to an authority until he has no control over his own mind. The Party has control over the actions of the citizens in Oceania because the mind controls the body. True absolute power rules from the inside out. “The Party is not interested in the overt act: the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies; we change them” (Orwell 261). The party believes that simply forcing the citizens to act a certain way is not enough, because their aim is power. “Power is tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing” (276).
Before Winston and Julia have their experience in the Ministry of Love they are not controlled by absolute power because they still have freedom in their minds. Winston mentions that a man owns just the small space inside of his head. Winston and Julia thought that they had some hope in being against the Party but once the Party got hold of their minds, that hope was lost. “’They can’t get inside you, she had said.’ But they could get inside you” (301). As soon as the Party has control over the mind of a man, they control the entire man. In The Abuse of Power in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four Bryfonski writes, “By taking away freedom of speech and by weakening the desire for intellectual freedom through socialization, the space inside the skull becomes not a temple of privacy and liberty, but a void” (127). When the Party removes freedom and the mind is a void, the Party is able to fill the void with whatever they please. They even remove the way that each individual perceives the world. People do not see or believe for themselves; the Party tells them what to believe. “For the citizen of Oceania, everything is seen as if for the first time, day after day, forever. Time is excluded from the neurobiology of perception” (Clune 32). The Party removes the power of an individual over his mind and they use language to implant their own ideals so that they can take absolute power.
The purpose of the invention of “Newspeak” in 1984 is to limit the range of thought. The Party empties the minds of the Party members and fills them with its own doctrine. Newspeak is an effective means of control because its aim is to make all other ways of speaking and thinking impossible, removing any sort of individualistic ideas and removing all freedom of thought. The Party has complete control over the citizens of Oceania with the use of its language. Because language is the foundation of civilization, destroying language and replacing it with Party doctrine will destroy civilization in the sense that it will no longer be free and human. When we become insensitive to the power of language, we are “dehumanized”. If we are not able to recognize that language is being misused, then we are exposed to powers which would victimize us (Bartel 46).
Many citizens do not recognize that they are being oppressed. Freedom is nonexistent. Winston’s friend Syme argues, “How can you have a slogan like ‘freedom is slavery’ when the concept of freedom will be abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand now” (Orwell 54). If there is no independent thought, then the Party can implant any thought into any individual and make it truth. It was the job of the party “philologists” to reduce the dictionary because they believed that conduct would also be able to be controlled. Performance is related to the essence and framework of language (Bryfonski124).
The Party first limits the old language to ideas that are simple and universal. McGuinnis writes, “By using allness as a basis for the language, the Party is able to eliminate the personalities of its citizens, to keep the minds of many like the mind of one” (109). The citizens are easier to control when the government removes individuality. If the body is of one uniform state of mind with one goal and no divided loyalties, they can be controlled and the Party has absolute power over them. The process of forming everyone into equals involves what has always unified humanity: the power of language. The Party takes the power to the extreme and uses it to control absolutely. Courtine writes, “Power must then become master of language since language is the living memory of man and offers him a space for inner resistance” (70). The Party gets rid of this space and takes control over the whole man by simplifying his language and by leaving him with only universal terms that make him equal with everyone else.
In order for the Party to have absolute power, people must be relieved from their old language. The old ideas, the things that cannot be defined, ambiguous thoughts and doubts have to be destroyed. Everything has to be cleansed of its meaning and then replaced. (Courtine 70). Syme says that the revolution will complete when the language of Newspeak is perfect. “Purification of language thus constitutes the imaginary horizon of totalitarian power: the final solution, the completion of the Revolution, the end of history” (Courtine 71). The goal of newspeak seems to be to take complete control of the mind and produce a brainless class of citizens. “Ultimately it hoped to make articulate speech issue from the larynx without involving the higher brain centers at all” (Orwell 319). This applies to the man that Winston observed in the lunch queue who seemed to be quacking like a duck. The Party wants the kinds of people who will simply vocalize and throw out opinion that agrees with the ideology of the Party. It has no meaning, but simply restates what the citizens have been forced to believe. These kinds of people will never be vaporized because the Party depends on this class of mindless citizens.
The Party will develop Newspeak to the point where it will be impossible to turn against the party because certain ideas will not even exist. The citizens will have no idea what freedom is, so they will not know anything different from being oppressed. “In Newspeak it was seldom possible to follow a heretical thought further than the perception that it was heretical; beyond that point the necessary words were nonexistent”(317). Thoughtcrime will be impossible because the people will only know what they have been taught by the Party to be true as a result of the developed language of newspeak. If thoughtcrime is impossible, then it will be impossible to revolt against the government. If the government cannot be overturned, then the government has absolute power because it has the power of language.
The power of language has been taken away from the citizens, but the proles are still somewhat free. The Party slogan runs “Proles and animals are free” (Orwell 74). They make it seem as though being free is undesirable because they are comparing proles to animals, but in reality the citizens of Oceania are more like animals because their language is dwindling down. “’The proles are human beings,’ he said aloud. ‘We are not human’” (169). Winston says this because the proles still have the human emotions that come with having the power of language. The Ministry of Truth provides music for the proles and the proles keep their strength alive because they keep singing; they are more human that way. “The birds sang, the proles sang, the Party did not sing” (227). Winston believes that one day in the future only the proles will overthrow the government, but that is only possible if the proles retain the power they have in the freedom to use their language.
The Party has created a system that is nearly impossible to break free from. Winston and Julia believe that they can somehow be a part of a distant revolution. Winston is referring to the proles when he says, “You were the dead; theirs was the future. But you could share in that future if you kept alive the mind as they kept alive the body, and passed on the secret notion that two plus two make four” (227). A revolution could never succeed because of the way that the Party dominates over the rest of the population. If the citizens try to revolt, they die physically. If the citizens do not try to revolt, then they die in the sense that they die to themselves.
The individuality of the citizen is dead because the individual mind is molded into a uniform mind that the Party creates. Julia and Winston believe that they can retain their own knowledge, but because the Party is able to use language to control their minds, their minds are not their own. Although Winston and Julia try to keep their minds sane with their individual thoughts, it is all in vain so long as the Party has the ability to control minds through language. In the end both of them are won over, just like the rest of the ordered citizens. Every other tyranny has failed, but the Party succeeds because they know how to use the most supreme form of power, for the sake of gaining more.
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