Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

The Major Concepts of the Dystopian World in Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Nineteen Eighty-Four is a novel written by George Orwell, first published in 1949. It is classical dystopian literature that presents a terrifying vision of our future in a totalitarian world. It is believed that as the object of satire, Orwell chose the former Soviet Union, where the novel was forbidden to be published until 1988. But in his essay “Why I Write”, Orwell insists: “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936, has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it” (Orwell, 1968).

The main idea of the novel is to show that totalitarianism, with its restriction on civil rights and personal development, is the way to the collapse of a state and nation. The story is of the intellectual Winston Smith who lives in the totalitarian country called Oceania, working for the ministry of Truth, is convincing evidence of this.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell examines every aspect of the dystopian world to create a picture of the frightening future and invents such concepts as: Newspeak, thoughtcrime, Big Brother and memory hole. In general, Orwell describes a world in which the history is entirely rewritten by the ruling party or current government to show what they wanted it to be. All inconvenient facts were “erased”, as if they had never existed. It is a world “without colour”, because everything is under severe control. There is no art, no joys of life – no freedom in general.

Let’s take a look at the major concepts of the dystopian world in detail.

Newspeak is a reduced language that was created by the totalitarian government to limit free thought. Its vocabulary was constructed in a way to provide the exact meaning with excluding all other meanings. Newspeak consisted of three vocabularies: A, B and C. The “A” vocabulary included words that were needed for daily business: for instance, such actions as working, eating, drinking, gardening, cooking, etc. Words like sugar, house, tree, dog still existed, but their usage was much less. All ambiguities and polysemy were eliminated. The “B” group of words was constructed for political purposes. Such words as democracy, morality, justice, religion ceased to exist. The “C” vocabulary was supplementary and included technical words. Oldspeak (current English) was still used among the citizens of working class, or the Proles.

“Thoughtcrime”, or “crimethink”, “doublethink” is a thought which is different from the one that imposed by the Party. “Doublethink” is a kind of parody on the concept of dialectics. The essence of it is blackwhite. Similarly to many Newspeak words, the word “doublethink” has two mutually exclusive meanings. As to the Party members, they had to say that black is white and moreover – to believe in this when Party policy demanded this. It means that in contradiction of the common facts, black can be white and vice versa. That is why, the main slogans in the Orwell’s world are: “War Is Peace”, “Freedom Is Slavery”, “Ignorance Is Strength”.

Big Brother is the head of the tyranny of the government in Oceania, a fictional character. He is the quasi-divine leader who is delighted with a cult of personality. It is remarkable that Big Brother may not even exist, but people still blindly believe in him. Every citizen of Oceania is under the complete supervision of telescreens. “Big Brother is watching you” is the phrase that constantly reminds people about that. It is the core of the propaganda system. According to T. Pynchon, the prototype of Big Brother is Stalin (Pynchon, 2003).

A memory hole is an aperture into which the Party members put politically inconvenient records and documents to be destroyed. The papers placed in the memory hole were presumably transported to an incinerator to disappear forever.

As the famous writer Margaret Atwood observed, the passage about Newspeak is written in the past tense and in standard English. It gives us a reason to think that the regime has fallen (Atwood, 2003). That is why we should not accuse the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell for pessimism. Instead, we should perceive it as a warning of the perils of a totalitarian government.

List of References:

  1. “George Orwell: Why I Write” // The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. – 1968.

  2. Margaret Atwood: “Orwell and Me”. The Guardian, 16 June 2003.

  3. Thomas Pynchon: The Road to 1984. The Guardian, 3 May 2003.

  4. “1984 Thoughtcrime? Does It Matter that George Orwell Pinched the Plot?”, Paul Owen, The Guardian, 8 June 2009.