Have you ever heard of the term Orwellian before? It sounds like a funny word, doesn’t it? This word describes a rather harsh form of government and environment that we probably cannot imagine and yet, it has become a part of our lives without us knowing it.
The word Orwellian comes from the name George Orwell which was the pen name of an author whose real name was Eric Arthur Blair. The term Orwellian describes a totalitarian government as Orwell describes it in his book ‘1984’.
The book 1984 was written in 1949, almost 40 years before the year in which this book is set. Orwell wrote this book based on what he knew about the then existing Soviet Union which is modern day Russia and the Nazi Germany.
Orwell, in his book 1984 describes a totalitarian government set in a rather gloomy and depressing London. A Totalitarian government is one that tries to control every aspect of life; what people do in every minute of their lives, even in private, who they meet with and even what they’re allowed to say. Such a government even tries to control what the people think and believe. Orwell through this novel wanted to give a clear picture of what it would be like if a free country like England would come under a totalitarian rule.
1984 takes place in London. However, here London is portrayed as a depressing, sad place where there is never enough food to eat and what remains is not edible. There aren’t enough clothes or shoes or other necessities for everyone. All the buildings are dilapidated, in very bad condition, and look like they may fall at any moment except for the giant pyramid shaped government buildings that are taller than all the rest. There is a war going on but no one knows what it’s about.
The worst part about the city is that the government is always watching you. There are posters on every corner that say ‘Big Brother is watching you’. Big brother is the head of the government. There are the thought police that have hidden cameras and microphones everywhere to keep an eye on everything you do. The government can even watch you through your television (called telescreens in the novel) and that is why you are never allowed to turn the TV off.
There are many things you are not allowed to do and if you do something you aren’t supposed to, the police take you away and send you to labour camps. People cannot have any close friends and they can’t fall in love. They aren’t allowed to express their thoughts and opinions, they cannot even write their thoughts down in a diary. If they are caught, they are punished.
Orwell was opposed to all forms of tyranny or rule. But the most important of his insights was the important role that language plays in shaping our thoughts and opinions. Orwell, through this novel describes something called ‘Doublespeak’ where words are used not to convey the meaning of something but to undermine it, corrupting the very ideas they refer to.
Examples of Doublespeak are seen throughout the novel where the Ministry of Truth changes information by rewriting the truth and creating lies that are then fed to the people, The Ministry of Love where they would torture people and the Ministry of Peace that was the military. The Labour camps were called Joy camps. Thus we can see how words were used not to give out its true meaning but to confuse the people and to make them think just what the government wanted them to think.
This control of language by the government goes even further with the language that they used. The language was called Newspeak. This language was designed in such a way that it limited one’s freedom of thought, personal identity, self-expression and also one’s free will. The language eliminated the words that would encourage these ideas from its vocabulary. This created a phenomenon called Doublethink in the minds of people. Doublethink is having two opposite beliefs and believing that both are true, or to purposely believe in lies while knowing that they are false. The result of this is a world in which the privacy of one’s own thought processes is violated.
The government in this novel is one that wishes to control the minds of its people even if they have to twist the truth and feed lies to the people. They would even teach the people to believe that 2+2=5 just so that they would have control over what the people believed. They wanted people to believe the false information that they fed them even if it was wrong. They did this for no other purpose but simply to have power over them.
Thus to sum up, by understanding what doublespeak and doublethink mean, we understand Orwellian to be a society in which language is controlled and manipulated or twisted in order to gain power over the masses. We may think that this is only possible in an authoritarian or totalitarian government but Orwell warns us that this is even possible in a democracy and we can see it happening today in our own societies. Orwell urged us to protect our language because in the end, our ability to think and communicate is what protects us from a world where War is Peace and Freedom is Slavery.