I am concerned about Winston Smith's description of Rutherford in chapter 7 of 1984, with his use of the words "thick negroid lips." Is this an example of racism? If so, is it the character or the author who is at fault here? All thoughts welcome!

One could argue that Winston Smith's description of Rutherford's "thick negroid lips" is indeed an example of racism. The responsibility must lie with the author, George Orwell, who, despite his progressive political opinions, was not exempt from some of the racial prejudices of his day.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The word negroid is generally regarded today as being outdated and offensive. As such, it is no longer used in science or anthropology to relate to the indigenous people of large swathes of Africa.

The word was devised in order to classify a certain race of people as part of...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The word negroid is generally regarded today as being outdated and offensive. As such, it is no longer used in science or anthropology to relate to the indigenous people of large swathes of Africa.

The word was devised in order to classify a certain race of people as part of an attempt by scientists to demonstrate that humankind was divided up into distinct races, some of which were supposedly superior to others. Such biological racism has long since been discredited along with its vocabulary, which was used to belittle and dehumanize those deemed to be racially inferior to white people.

Given its association with biological racism, it's perfectly understandable that a reader of George Orwell's 1984 should take offense at the word negroid, which Winston Smith uses to describe Rutherford's thick lips. It is a thoroughly horrible word that stirs up unpleasant historical memories, such as the hideous medical experiments carried out on African Americans for decades in the twentieth century.

And yet, there is no sense from the immediate context of Smith's use of the word that he is saying anything shocking or out of the ordinary. And this is because, when Orwell wrote 1984, the word was still in use among scientists and anthropologists. It's safe to say, then, that Orwell most probably didn't think that he was saying anything particularly offensive.

Although the book is set in the future, Orwell cannot help but project certain of the values and prejudices of his time into the fictional world he creates. What this means, among other things, is that the word negroid, which was still widely used and considered acceptable in 1949, when 1984 was first published, also has a place within the dystopian society depicted by Orwell in such terrifying detail.

George Orwell was very much a man of the political left, a strong supporter of progressive causes. Yet, like most people of his time, of whatever shade of political opinion, he unthinkingly held a number of prejudices concerning race, and the classification of humanity according to pseudo-scientific theories was undoubtedly one of them.

Though Orwell was a staunch opponent of racial oppression wherever it reared its ugly head, he was clearly blind to the way in which language, including words such as negroid, can so easily be used to dehumanize, repress, and subjugate millions of people simply on the basis of the color of their skin.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on