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George Orwell

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Introduction

Language as the "Ultimate Weapon" in Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell, like many other literary scholars, is interested in the modern use of the English language and, in particular, the abuse and misuse of English. He realises that language has the power in politics to mask the truth and mislead the public, and he wishes to increase public awareness of this power. He accomplishes this by placing a great focus on Newspeak and the media in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Demonstrating the repeated abuse of language by the government and by the media in his novel, Orwell shows how language can be used politically to deceive and manipulate people, leading to a society in which the people unquestioningly obey their government and mindlessly accept all propaganda as reality. Language becomes a mind-control tool, with the ultimate goal being the destruction of will and imagination. As John Wain says in his essay, "[Orwell's] vision of 1984 does not include extinction weapons . . . He is not interested in extinction weapons because, fundamentally, they do not frighten him as much as spiritual ones" (343). Paul Chilton suggests that the language theme in Orwell's novel has its roots in the story of the Tower of Babel (2). When God destroys the Towel of Babel, the civilizations which have contributed to the construction of the Tower suffer ever-after from the Curse of Confusion. The Curse both makes languages "mutually unintelligible", and alters their nature so that "they no longer lucidly [express] the nature of things, but rather [obscure] and [distort] them" (Chilton, 2). ...read more.

Middle

Swine! Swine!'" (16). Certainly, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, "[media information] does control some of the ways in which [people] think about and assess the world" (Lewis and Moss 47). The Party is interested in masking the truth, and so the media manipulates language to present a distorted reality. As Orwell says in his essay Politics and the English Language, "Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind" (150). In the novel, these lies are quite obvious. For example, the media (controlled by the Party, of course) continually refers to the Ministries of Truth, Peace, Love, and Plenty. In reality, however, the Ministry of Truth is concerned with the falsification of records, and the Ministry of Peace deals with warfare. The Ministry of Love is "the really frightening one" (6) as it is essentially a place for the questioning and torturing of suspected criminals. The Ministry of Plenty makes up economic figures to convince the public that the economy is in good shape, even though there are great shortages of all commodities due to the war. Although the irony in the titles is blatantly obvious, Orwell is making a point about how the media can use language to mask the truth. The totalitarian state of Oceania is in a constant state of war, and part of the Party's ongoing struggle is to keep the public satisfied with this warfare. ...read more.

Conclusion

Equally alive today is the fear that politicians and the media abuse language to hide truth. Orwell gives examples of how politicians can twist words to deceive people in his essay Politics and the English Language: "Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside . . . this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers" (148). Woodcock refers to the modern jargon-filled English used by "newspaper editors, bureaucrats, radio announcers, and parliamentary speakers" who have, just as Orwell feared, a heavy "reliance on ready-made phrases" (92). Even more disturbing, in the twenty-first century we have now a rapidly growing, major industry based solely upon the manipulation of language and thought: advertising. Orwell's novel carries a well-founded warning about the powers of language. It shows how language can shape people's sense of reality, how it can be used to conceal truths, and even how it can be used to manipulate history. "Language is one of the key instruments of political dominations, the necessary and insidious means of the 'totalitarian' control of reality" (Rai, 122). While language in the traditional sense can expand horizons and improve our understanding of the world, Orwell's novel demonstrates that language, when used in a maliciously political way, can just as easily become "a plot against human consciousness" (Rahv, 182). ...read more.

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