Commentary

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Last Updated on June 4, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 625

Nineteen Eighty-Four is George Orwell’s unswervingly grim vision of a dystopian future. The author always intended it as more warning than prophecy, so that even though its title date has passed, its lessons about the dangers of conformity, mental coercion, and verbal deception retain their validity and relevance. Orwell’s careful use of clear, understandable language makes the unfamiliar world of Nineteen Eighty-Four comprehensible to every level of reader, and his theme of personal individuality and human emotion, particularly love, trying to establish themselves in spite of the relentless pressure of the modern industrial state has perennial appeal to young adult audiences.

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The novel depicts a world divided into three totalitarian superpowers that are constantly at war with one another: Oceania, dominated by the former United States; Eurasia, dominated by Western Europe; and Eastasia, dominated by China and Japan. Since the novel belongs to the genre of the dystopia, a negative Utopia, much of its content is necessarily involved in describing Oceanian society—not only in the features of its everyday life, much of which reflects British life in 1948 (a year whose inverted numbers may have suggested the novel’s title), but also in detailed explanations of the historical origins of Ingsoc and Oceania, as well as its official language, Newspeak. Orwell, rather clumsily in the view of some critics, gives much of this information in the form of a book-within-a-book, the supposed handbook of the revolutionaries, and an appendix to the novel itself about Newspeak.

Not until the second main part of the novel does the story really begin. Winston Smith is a writer for the ironically named Ministry of Truth, whose chief job is to assist in the constant rewriting of history so that it conforms with the predictions and pronouncements of Big Brother, the possibly mythical ruler of Oceania, whose minions in the Inner Party are nevertheless omnipotent and omniscient. Winston, who was born in 1945 and thus was named after Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill, vaguely remembers life before the revolution and the establishment of Ingsoc, and he gradually comes to believe that life was not always as dreary, mechanical, and deadening as it now is in Oceania, although he has no means of proving it. Another worker in the Ministry of Truth, Julia, a young woman whom Winston suspects of spying on him, turns out to be attracted to him, and they enter into a complicated, dangerous love affair that they both internally believe can only end in disaster.

O’Brien, an Inner Party member to whom Winston has been vaguely drawn, provides a ray of hope when the lovers become convinced that he is a secret member of the Brotherhood, the revolutionary group committed to the overthrow of Ingsoc and Big Brother. O’Brien—naturally, one is almost tempted to say—turns out to be a double agent, and the last part of the novel depicts in graphic detail Winston’s torture and conversion by O’Brien into an unconditional acceptance of the power of the party and Big Brother. To accomplish this acceptance, Winston must master the mental skill of “doublethink,” a form of reality control involving “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” To some critics, the descriptions and explanations in this section of the novel are the book’s weakest parts. This ordeal culminates in Winston’s betrayal of his love for Julia. A broken man, Winston is set “free” to spend his last days in a semi-alcoholic stupor, mindlessly cheering on huge mythical victories by the forces of Oceania as he awaits the inevitable bullet in the back of the head. Nineteen Eighty-Four ends with the chilling—and inescapable—sentence “He loved Big Brother.”

The Principles of Newspeak

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Last Updated on April 27, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 541

Summary

This section defines Newspeak, the official language of Oceania, and sets forth its purpose: to meet the specific needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism while making all other methods of thought impossible. When Oldspeak has become obsolete, the last link with the past will have been destroyed.

The vocabulary of Newspeak has been built by inventing new words, eliminating old words, and stripping existing words of their finer shades of meaning. Newspeak, based on English, has three classes of vocabulary words:

1. “A” – words used for everyday life; reserved for simple thoughts, concrete objects, or physical actions.

2. “B” – words created for political purposes with the proper mental attitude; all are compound; made up without a plan.

3. “C” – supplementary; scientific and technical terms.

Analysis

The straightforward manner of the appendix and the elaborate care taken to construct the grammar and vocabulary lend credibility to the existence of Oceania.

Some critics believe that Orwell was pointing out the importance of language as a shaper of thought and the inadvisability of narrowing vocabulary to limit its range. When we consider the nature of the words in the “B” vocabulary, the satirical purpose of the novel becomes more obvious, for words like “honor,” “justice,” “democracy,” and “religion” no longer exist. Instead, a few general words cover these terms, and, as Orwell illustrates throughout the novel, destroy them. Winston’s job at the Ministry of Truth makes him an agent of this destruction, just as his attempts to write the illicit diary signify his rebellion against the power of language to destroy thought.

Study Questions

1. What is Newspeak?

2. What is the purpose of Newspeak?

3. When is it expected that Newspeak will become the only language in Oceania?

4. Which dictionary will contain the perfected version of Newspeak?

5. What purpose will be served by cutting down the choice of words in the language?

6. Give the composition of the “A” vocabulary.

7. What is the purpose of the “A” vocabulary?

8. What words make up the “B” vocabulary?

9. What kind of words make up the “C” vocabulary?

10. What is the delay in Newspeak becoming a fully adopted language at the present time?

Answers

1. Newspeak is the official language of Oceania.

2. Newspeak aims to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism.

3. Newspeak will probably supersede Oldspeak (Standard English) by 2050.

4. Perfected Newspeak will be found in the eleventh edition of the dictionary.

5. Cutting down the choice of words diminishes the range of thought.

6. The “A” vocabulary consists of words needed for everyday life, words already in existence. 7. The “A” vocabulary aims to express simple thoughts involving concrete objects or physical actions.

8. The “B” vocabulary is comprised of words made up for political purposes.

9. The “C” vocabulary contains scientific and technical terms.

10. The delay revolves around problems translating classic and utilitarian literature.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. Discuss the structure and composition of the “A”, “B”, and “C” vocabularies. Which vocabulary seems closest to its -final stage of development? Which vocabulary has undergone the most change from its Oldspeak structure? Why is the “C” -vocabulary termed “supplementary”?

2. Discuss the reasons for the delay in implementing the perfected, finalized version of Newspeak. Why does literature present an especially difficult problem? What problems would people such as Winston Smith have in adapting to this new language?

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