Language is essential for our sharing of ideas, thoughts, opinions, it is our way of communicating. Through means such as literature and films we are able to express our thoughts but also discover the opinions of others in our society, allowing us to become more aware of the world we live in. While literature does hand us the tool to understand our world it is also conversely able to restrict our understanding of our world. This is a key idea that I initially became aware of in the following dystopias I have read; Nineteen Eighty-four written by George Orwell, the dystopian novel is set in a totalitarian state where through language the only thoughts held by the citizens are in the interest of the state; the film Minority Report directed by Steven Spielberg and the text Clockwork Orange written by Anthony Burgess highlights the same concern but strength my understanding of the invisible forces of the language. Finally reading George Orwell’s essay on Politics and the English Language, I truly become aware that the manipulation through language is an immense power and it’s a common connection between the dystopias. Authors of the dystopian genre use the genre to critically analyse the political and societal structures of our world, and ultimately provide us with a warning of society’s critical problems.

Nineteen Eight-four was intended to be a warning to its readers of a bleak future George Orwell had predicted for the year 1984. A totalitarian world where Air Strip One in Oceania would be ruled by the strict regime of “The Party”. The Party’s used ministries in Air Strip One to extend its control over the party members by channelling The Party’s orthodoxy through the ministries. The Ministry of Truth “which concerned itself with news, entertainment, education, and the fine arts”; however paradoxically to its title the ministry was not concerned with the truth, it was used by the Party to publish lies in order to support The Party’s regime. It is the irony in the name that gives it power, on the surface to readers it seem contradictory but in reality it does contain some truth, depending on the point of view from which it is being read. That the name does “use logic against logic”, both opinions of the name “ministry of truth” have logic but they are both contradictory to each other. The concept of holding two opposite opinions relates back to the manipulative technique of doublethink Orwell is highlighting. To party members anything the Ministry of Truth published was the truth whereas the inner party members understand that the facts published were only the truth of The Party. At first Orwell’s use of Irony is not evident but then when we discover that the true purpose of the ministry the obvious manipulative power becomes clear. The same irony is found in the party’s slogans “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength”, what seems like illogical statements at first are actually the concepts which allow The Party to remain in power. Both sides contain truth in these paradoxical slogans, but again it depends on the point of view, party members believe so long Oceania is at war it is on track to creating peace, by eliminating enemies who may threaten the county’s freedom, whereas the inner party uses the war to deflect all the anger away from The Party. “It is a warfare of limited aims between combatants who are unable to destroy one another, have no material cause for fighting” the war if it even exists (something we never discover) is only in place to allow the Party to explain the state of poverty the party members have to live in. The manipulative construction in names and slogans are used by The Party to aid in its controlling of the masses, it gives them the forces to dominate the lives. The Party does not see party members as individuals they are just one mass of people that need to be controlled for them to live a leisurely life and they achieve this through the language. “It’s a beautiful thing, the Destruction of words… if you want a stronger version of ‘good,’ what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like ‘excellent’ and ‘splendid’ and all the rest of them? ‘Plusgood’ covers the meaning or ‘doubleplusgood’ if you want something stronger still”.  By rewriting Newspeak The Party is intentional limiting the amount of describing words, it is abolishing many words that we could consider frivolous words which aid in describing our thoughts. “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?” the limiting of describing words directly limits the range of thought, describing more than a basic thought is not possible without the words to communicate it. Individualism is being restricted, The Party sees its members as one mass that need controlling, by limiting individualism there is less options and choices for party members. To commit a thought crime would become impossible as the words would not be there to describe anything unorthodox. Ultimately it is this anti-individualist collectivism that allows the party to thrive, this is achieved through the manipulative language.

Minority Report set in the futuristic Washington DC does not only display the Police’s ability to predict crime through the advancement of technology but also the state’s ability to track every movement of its citizens. The non-existent privacy in Washington DC has created a world of fear and oppression for its citizens where the authorities ultimately have the control over the citizens which live in a state of poverty. The use of high angle shot from the point of view from the eye scanners puts us into the position of power where we can see everything but we do feel invasive. It is this power that the state uses to control its citizens, “in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king” the society is blind which allows the authorities to rule. There is almost irony in this statement too, the authorities are “king” because with their one eye they have the power to control the mass of people through the eye scanners who are blind to the actually intention of the state. “Within a year precrime effectively stopped murder in our nation’s capital” the specific use of propaganda techniques such as “Texas sharpshooter” manipulate the citizens in to believing that they are safe with the pre-crime. Pre-crime has created a world where people now trust the state to look after their lives so that they don’t have to worry or fight for themselves. “I was going to be stabbed” pre-crime has saved so many lives it is almost hard for us not to see the benefit of having pre-crime because who does not want a world with no murder? It is this trust which has allowed the invasion of privacy. If the citizens can trust the authorities with their lives then it is of no question that, if they need to watch their private lives in order to keep them safe they can do so. However the citizens have been blinded to questionable theory behind precrime, “The fact that you prevented it from happening doesn’t change the fact that it was going to happen.” this is an illogical statement because you still have a choice to decide whether something will happen but the citizens have been manipulated into believing per-crime works and its done humanly correctly. The assumption precrime makes is unmoral and inhuman it leaves the citizens with no choice and a predetermined fate however the citizens are unaware of this. This relates back to the contradictory statements in Nineteen Eight-four, it is illogical to the authorities but logical to the citizens. We know that something can still be decided even if it has been said it will happen, whereas the citizens can’t have this thought because they only see precrime as a way to live a safe life. “You still have a choice Lamar. Like I did.” Lamar the create of precrime knows he has a choice to decide and ultimately his choice cause pre-crime to fall apart as citizens realise how unmoral it is to rob a human of their choice. But this displays that pre-crime and its propaganda was just another method to allow the state to control the mass of people, “You’ll rot in hell with a halo, but people will still believe in precrime.” It was all the authorities need for people to believe in per-crime to be able to invade their privacy in order eradicate individualism and control the one mass of people.

The innovative and manipulative use of language is in no way better displayed than in the dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange. Anthony Burgess creation, Nadsat, Russian for “teen”, is the invented slang in which the Protagonist Alex narrates the novel and it is how he communicates with his “droogs” (friends).  Russian influence plays the biggest role in Nadsat although it is influenced by other sources it is mostly constructed of slightly anglicised Russian words. For most readers, reading A clockwork Orange for the first time would have had feelings of discomfort as they struggled to understand what was being said. Burgess’s use of Nadsat does disrupt the flow of the novel but words have been thoughtful placed for Burgess to achieve his desired effect. Alex’s violent acts were always well narrated by him in Nadsat, “So he did the strong-man on the devotchka, who was still creech creech creeching away in very horrorshow four-in-a-bar, locking her rookers from the back, while I ripped away at this and that and the other, the others going haw haw haw still, and real good horrorshow groodies they were that then exhibited their pink glazzies, O my brothers, while I untrussed and got ready for the plunge.”. If you take all meaning away from this passage it can almost seem humours and is a funny use of language but in real fact the description is horrible, the gang raping of a “devotchka” (women). The effect of Nadsat is that it distances us from the real meanings of words, readers are able empathise more easily with Alex’s even after the sickening attacks he describes. Burgess describes this effect of Nadsat as a “brainwashing device”, something he writes about later in “You’ve Had Your Time”. We do become “brainwashed” through the language Burgess has manipulated us into siding with Alex even though many of us would not want any association because of his behavioural acts. The same effect of “brainwashing” is achieved through Orwell’s Irony and Spielberg’s propaganda, through the language features we become blind to problems and are left without a choice but to believe what is said. “When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.” having the ability to choose differently to the states opinions and just hold a different opinion is what allows us to be individual, be a “man”. It all comes back to choosing which allows all of us to be more than just a part of one mass we become individual. “Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities.” the clashing of opposite opinions, good and bad opinions allows us humans to live in an atmosphere where there is hope and where constructive thoughts are created. It is with intention the dystopian genre shows the effect of how we are robbed of choice by the language which has intention to manipulate us, we need to be aware of it.

“In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing.” That political writing is “bad writing” as Orwell puts it in his analysis essay on Politics and the English Language is of no surprise now after understanding the warnings displayed in the above dystopias. Political writing will for always be “bad writing” as its intention is to sway our opinions to that of the political party. Its purpose is to manipulate the reader’s thoughts into think only of how great the intentions of the politician or party are. We are constantly being subject to brainwashing through the literature that we consume ourselves with, new opinions and manipulative opinions are forced upon our minds. “The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved”, to avoid ending up in such a state where the opinions we express don’t involve an educated brain anymore, we need to be aware of the languages power. The dystopian genre is highlighting the importance of consuming literature from all sides of the spectrum so that we can build our own opinions not repeat the ones that have been forced upon us. “will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you” this is the place we don’t want to end up, but with the relationship between language and though it is quite possible. Therefore Orwell as a writer feels obliged to present this power to his readers so that they don’t end up as apart of the masses. “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought” by being aware of this relationship we can see the importance of finding our own opinions though exposing us to a diverse selection of literature. This full circle is one we can not avoid but it is a relationship that we need to be aware of which Orwell is advocating in his essay.

The notion of controlling thoughts through language has been critically displayed in the selection of dystopias all to highlight the manipulative power of language. What the selection of texts has allowed me to do is become aware of the ability to manipulate our thoughts. I have been educated, the dystopian genre has achieved its aim by warning me of a critical problem in our society but also it has succeed in identifying it. “That’s what come of trusting ’em. I said so all along. We didn’t ought to ’ave trusted the buggers.”- Old man post-apocalypse, we aware of the problem now which puts us in a position where we can’t ignore it, we have to protect society.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Hi Janus,

    The two areas that require development here are:

    1) Detail – you’ve explained the ideas well, but often there is a lack of specific reference to the text (primarily in the form of quotations) that you need to fully secure your points. The language effects used in the naming of the Ministry of Truth etc, is an example (irony or paradox). You speak of the manipulation of language, but then a lot of your example is about the manipulation of information – speak to me if you’d like to see how you might analyse the language of Newspeak – or read again the way Syme explains it within the text.

    2) Your written expression. There are times when your own use of language limits your thinking. The best pieces will craft a well-organised answer which also expresses itself with fluency and conviction. I think given your own style of self-expression, I’d encourage you to adopt a more clinical, analytical voice. Be precise. Identify relationships between things. Note differences or incongruences – in a sense, be scientific. This will be much easier if you first take the advice in part 1 of my feedback.

    We can discuss this further on Friday, or before, if you need to.


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