In his essay, “Politics and the English Language”, George Orwell presents a theory of the use of language that is supported not only by his career of work, but also by the historical use of language in order to manipulate an audience, and at times, an entire nation. As Orwell often did, he used language as a tool to combat the spreading of totalitarian and socialistic ideas around the world. The essay explains this theory:
“Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible…If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.”
A perfect example of this lingual and political degeneration in Orwell’s writing is the society of Oceania in his novel, 1984. In Oceania, the language is that of Newspeak. Orwell displays the use of language to manipulate the general public of Oceania in order to accomplish a political goal. Newspeak reduced the intellect of the society of Oceania and closed its minds to the beauty of what language can become within a culture. Mirroring the language of the Russian Socialist Party, Newspeak was also used to catch the attention of the citizens with words like “Comrade”– making them feel accepted and as though they were actually part of something that was productive and world changing.
The language of Newspeak only furthers Orwell’s objection to totalitarian governments. By creating a simple, almost obnoxious language for the novel, Orwell depicted his own opinions of socialist governments– manipulative and deceptive, and never providing what they promised to provide, despite the government’s own affluence.
This idea that language itself can alter or cloud the mind is also slightly reflected in Orwell’s work, “Animal Farm”. By maintaining the illiteracy of the animals, the pigs were able to either maintain or change the three rules of Animal Farm as they wished. Much like the government of 1984, the pigs used the terms of the Russian Socialist Party to rally the animals to a common vision.
At the same time, though, Orwell also used language to manipulate his readers against Totalitarian governments. By creating absurd scenarios, Orwell was able to portray his own views regarding Socialism. The difference between the language of the socialist party and the words of Orwell, however, is made evident by the success of both.
Labels: Analyzing Orwell: 1984 and Politics and the English Language