Other literary forms
Since the mid-1940’s, George Orwell has been considered one of the world’s premier essayists. Combining reportage, the polemical essay, fictional techniques, and refracted autobiographical detail, his works defy precise generic definition. Orwell’s numerous nonfiction works have been compiled in The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell (1968), edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus.
Although George Orwell is widely recognized as one of the best essayists of the twentieth century, his reputation as a novelist rests almost entirely on two works: the political allegory Animal Farm and the dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four. Both have been translated into so many other languages and have been read so widely that the adjective “Orwellian” has international currency—synonymous, as Bernard Crick has put it, with the “ghastly political future.” Indeed, Jeffrey Meyers has asserted that Orwell, the writer of essays, political tracts, and fiction, “is more widely read than perhaps any other serious writer of the twentieth-century.”
How does George Orwell, in such works as “A Hanging” and “Shooting an Elephant,” make vivid the evils of imperialism?
What does Animal Farm owe to the medieval bestiary?
What is a dystopian novel? Is a dystopia an intended utopia that has somehow gone wrong?
Looking back at two of the most famous twentieth century works of the type, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, which seems like a more prophetic book?
Is Orwell correct about the extent of political influence on the English language, or is the “indefensible” use of the English language primarily a result of other influences, such as advertising?
The Nightmare Vision of Nineteen Eighty-Four
By the time Orwell came to write his major novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), his ideas had darkened into a sinister vision of the future. Within this novel England has become a totalitarian society in which every aspect of the lives of its citizens is controlled by the state and even the possibility of independent thought has been destroyed. Much of this oppression has been accomplished through the manipulation of language. A perverted and truncated form of English has been engineered, known as “Newspeak.” The purpose of Newspeak is to make impossible any mode of thought that deviates from the official ideology of Ingsoc, or English Socialism. Undesirable words such as “justice,” “morality,” “religion,” and “democracy” have simply been eliminated from the vocabulary. New words have been invented, and existing words have been stripped of secondary meanings. The range of thought has thus been diminished, and ambiguity of expression—and therefore of thought—is no longer possible. Because Newspeak has not yet been fully established, cruder forms of enforcing orthodoxy are still necessary. This is achieved by the Thought Police, who root out all signs of “thoughtcrime.”
In the nightmare society that Orwell envisioned, no one can ever contradict the ruling party’s version of current or historical events. The party controls all records; the past, as recorded in newspapers, books, photographs, and films, is simply rewritten or remade (“rectified” in Newspeak) when this is considered necessary. For example, when economic output under a three-year plan does not match past forecasts (which is always the case), back issues of newspapers referring to earlier forecasts are simply altered. There is no need for overt censorship. Rather than suppress new information, the past is altered to conform with it. By this continuous process of alteration, every government prediction, every statistic, is made to seem correct. Whenever there is an obvious contradiction between the party’s current version of an event and what was formerly declared to be the truth, party members engage in the practice of “doublethink.” This is a Newspeak term that denotes the ability to hold two contradictory things in mind without acknowledging the...
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