What is the "speak write" and "face crime" in 1984?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First mentioned in Chapter Four of George Orwell’s novel of a futuristic dystopian society, 1984, a “speakwrite” is apparently some form of dictation system, in which a user speaks into it and his or her words are displayed on a screen or, more probably given the frequent association of paper to the speakwrite, the words on typed automatically onto paper.  They are presented by Orwell as routine and oft-used pieces of office equipment.  Later in that chapter, Orwell’s protagonist, Winston, notes one of his coworkers busily engaged in using his speakwrite, although under questionable circumstances:

“Winston glanced across the hall. In the corresponding cubicle on the other side a small, precise-looking, dark-chinned man named Tillotson was working steadily away, with a folded newspaper on his knee and his mouth very close to the mouthpiece of the speakwrite. He had the air of trying to keep what he was saying a secret between himself and the telescreen.”

Later, in Part Two, Chapter One, Winston is again using the speakwrite, this time in the service of subversive actions:

“. . .it was with difficulty that he kept his voice from trembling as he murmured his figures into the speakwrite. He rolled up the completed bundle of work and slid it into the pneumatic tube.”

Given the period in which Orwell was writing – 1984 was published in 1949 – it appears as though he his speakwrite was modeled on the late-19th Century Dictaphone, in which one speaks into a tube, very much like the speakwrite, and the words were recorded on a disc.

“Facecrime,” in contrast to the speakwrite, is not a thing, per se.  Rather, it is a concept in which one’s facial expressions, known to be a reflection of one’s thoughts, can be a violation of the law if those expressions are interpreted as subversive or disapproving of the ruling regime.  In Chapter Five, Orwell describes “facecrime” as follows:

“A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself—anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offence. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: FACECRIME, it was called.”

In a novel in which “Thought Police” play a prominent and particularly pernicious role, indicting an individual on the basis of interpretations of that individual’s facial expressions or nervous tics is a part of the totalitarian nature of the society in Winston lives.

missy575 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The speakwrite is a technological device in which the user of the product speaks into a microphone, and the device comprehends the language and records it. It is like most voice-activated software today, but is essentially a recording device that Winston uses at his job.

When a character commits a face crime, their face indicates emotion that can be read by the Thought Police. An example of a face crime would be showing affection for another Party member that is inappropriate, like flirty eyes. Another face crime could be showing disdain or anger at Big Brother when he comes on the big telescreens to speak to the people.