2017, Q5: A text set in a challenging environment has much to teach us
“Literature is an expression of society just like the word is an expression of a human being” and dystopian literature builds an environment that alarms us and makes us unease around this terrifying society that is being built around us. This forces the audience to examine and reflect on their own society. This is the dystopian warning. Dystopias often do this by the use of extreme totalitarian control over their people, increased surveillance and technological growth. The world they create often suppresses the individual. Dystopias warn us what may happen if we sit passively and don’t question or take action the people in control to prevent this from becoming our reality, and this is the lesson they come to teach us. The mother of all dystopias, Nineteen eighty-four warns us of precisely this by showing a society that does not question or take action against their government and how this has led society where even their thoughts are controlled. This shows the reader that the challenging environment of a dystopia teaches us to pay attention to the world around us so we do not become sheep to the slaughter. Nineteen eighty-four does this by the control of language, history and the dry nature of controlling people itself, all to teach us why we shouldn’t passively sit back and let the people in power have free rein.
Language is the railways that guide and direct our thoughts, creativity and originality; however, it also has the ability to limit, restrict and control our thoughts as well. This is an idea Orwell explores throughout the novel Nineteen eighty-four by creating an environment where a government that understands the power language can have and uses it to control the minds of there citizens. This is primary done through the language of Newspeak where we find out “The whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought” and one way this is done is by “destroying words, hundreds of them a day. We’re cutting the language down to the bone”. By removing so many words, recreating syntax and reinventing gramma we find out that Newspeak removes many underlying elements that make sentences more than just a way to convey facts and surface-level information. This is ironically shown with the metaphor used in “We’re cutting the language down to the bone” where giving a sense that they are removing all the flesh which is the elimination of emotional, creativity and the originality from Newspeak. Instead, they are left with a language that is bare which primary purpose is to convey facts and information. We see the devastating effects this has on the society of Oceania in the novel as “Thoughtcrime will become literally impossible because there will be no words to express it”. The citizens literally do not have the language to speak against the government without sounding unorthodox and therefore the idea sounding alien to themselves and everyone else. This has to lead to their thoughts being unwilling and unknowing controlled and being experimented with. Orwell has built this environment to teach and warn us to pay attention to the language used in our everyday lives because much of it is used to capture our attention by people who want something from us. Otherwise, if we remain unaware there will be consequences, whether it be buying a product you don’t need, or suffering a similar fate as the citizens of Ninneteeneighty four.
Orwell presents to the reader the disturbing power the authors of history books have over our society and how they could subtly, or sometimes not so subtly, influence our thoughts and therefore our actions. Nineteen eighty-four goes to the polar extreme to shows us to what extent our thoughts could be controlled by being set in an environment where the State has total control of every written book and record. By presenting the past as a gloomy time where the standard of life was low and controlled by the wealthy, the State is able to trap their citizens in the mindset that the Party has improved the wellbeing of its citizens more than any other government had. This then leads to the “The Party member… tolerates present-day conditions because he has no standards of comparison” because “He believes that he is better off than his ancestors“. Which raises the question how reliable is history given, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past”. This paired with Newspeak makes the citizens of Nineteeneighty four to not even question the State if what they are being told is true as their language doesn’t allow it and the history books say they are living in the best era. But this, of course, is an illusion written by the State. As Winston Churchill once said, “History is written by the victors” which is exactly what Orwell is trying to teach us in this disturbing environment. It is the winners of war, the conqueror of nations that are able to write the history books, and they like every other nation have there biases and of course, believe that it is the other nation that is at wrong. All too often is history in the boots of one side rather than a collective. This is why it is important that we question past events and find their motives while putting our selves into other’s shoes.
Alteration/manipulation of History
“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
“When memory failed and written records were falsified—… the claim of the Party to have improved the conditions of human life had got to be accepted because there did not exist, any standard against which it could be tested.”
“The Party member… tolerates present-day conditions because he has no standards of comparison. He must be cut off from the past… because it is necessary for him to believe that he is better off than his ancestors “
“Whatever happened you vanished and nor you or your actions were ever heard of again. You were lifted clean out of the stream of history”
“for how could you establish even the most obvious fact when there existed no record outside your own memory?”
Perhaps one Orwell most dire warnings is that we humans in masses can be controlled much easier than we think. In Nineteeeneighty four this idea is spread through out the novel such as “Men are infinity malleable”. Here the masses are being sybomilsed as metal as large numbers of humans can achieve amazing achievemnts in short peiods of time. But we are malable, we can be shaped and influced while we are not aware. One way this is shown in the novel is the 2 minutes of hate where large amounts of people gather together were shown pictures of the “enemies” “Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in.”
Other methods and the nature of control
“Until they have become conscious they will never rebel, and until they rebel they cannot become conscious”
“The hate continued exactly as before, but the target had been changed.”
“Wealth and privilege are most easily defended when they are possessed jointly”
“A party member lives from birth to death under the eye of the thought police”
“Power is tearing human minds into pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of our own choosing”
“Men are infinity malleable”