Write On The Corruption Of Language As

A Theme And Fear In Dystopian Fiction Essay, Research Paper

In the Dystopian

fiction of Huxley and Orwell, language is a central function in their critique

of utopias: societies formed in subservience to ideology. As ideas have been

seen to usurp reality, then language is seen to overcome thought. Thus

Dystopian fiction also articulates a very contemporary fear (which developed

into Postmodernism) that language, although the very core structure of

perception, is ? in the last analysis ? without absolute foundation. Once

language is manipulated, then reality becomes fluid too: language, as the route

to a dictatorship of consciousness, shows that he who controls the word,

controls the world. Dystopian fiction takes this pairing of language and

society in their controlled, Utopian forms, and uses it not only to question

the consequences of ideological idealism, but to posit an even more worrying

possibility about ?real? society. Crucial to the

concept of the Dystopian novel is the anti-hero. Both Orwell and Huxley are

careful to make their protagonists misfits. The physical weakness of Bernard is

a direct analogue for the insipid, aging body of Winston. Both are given to

solitary, socially marginalised (and hence secretive) pursuits. Bernard is

treated with mistrust because he does not participate in the liberated sexual

play. In the more sinister society of Oceania, Winston?s solitary pursuits are

even more dangerous, such as when he slips out to walk among the Proles. Both

feel the need to throw themselves into communal activities for the sake of

appearances: Bernard?s hollow community Sing is parallel to Winston at the

Two-Minutes Hate.This dislocation

is not accidental: it acts as a way for the insanity of the Utopia to be

defined, and a lost reality or veracity to be evoked. Both Orwell and Huxley

create confidantes for their anti-heroes (Watson and Julia) who partially

validate their dissent. It is also interesting that both writers introduce an

element of objectifying externality via ?The Book? and the critique of John the

savage. However, both these are victim to a certain level of ambiguity: it

becomes unclear whether the Brotherhood is real or a double-layered fiction of

Miniluv, and the self-abnegating, solitary stoicism of John can hardly be

endorsed as a viable alternative to the World State.? Both novels are closed with a fairly long passage of explication

by authority figures (O?Brien and Mustapha Mond) who help to contextualise and

finally validate the suspicions of the anti-heroes, and yet paradoxically

underline their futility. These novels

construct a world where everybody believes a fiction, and the anti-heroes are

isolated figures who still hold tentatively to a sense of reality. Hence,

O?Brien tells Winston ?if you are a man, Winston, you are the last man. Your

kind is extinct?[1], whilst

Bernard ?suffered all his life from the consciousness of being separate.?[2]

The fictions of the World State and Oceania are propagated by language, and

thus a lost veracity (of truth, of words, of communication) is entwined with a

receding humanity.Orwell is

particularly skilled at evoking this sense of loss, through the frequent dreams

of Winston, the motif of the photograph ? the ?momentous slip of paper?[3]

which could bring down the Party ? and the fragments of old English rhymes. Brave New World, achieves the same

effect in rather more general terms; particularly through the contrast between

the World State and the Savage Reservation. Huxley paints the challenging

sacrifice that has been made:Stability isn?t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being

contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of

the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by

passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand. (Brave New World, p.202)In stark terms,

human emotion has been abolished and murder of an individual becomes a lesser

crime than social unorthodoxy. The effect is more shocking to the reader than

it is to Bernard, who is still heavily conditioned. Nevertheless, in passages

such as that when Bernard hovers above the English channel, or the extended

montage sequence of Chapter III, which intersperses Bernard?s weary cynicism

with exultant history, a more elegiac feel is captured.? As mentioned

above, his forsaken humanity is clearly related to a perceived lack in

language. Nineteen Eighty-Four

contains the symbol of Winston trying to reconstruct the Cockney rhyme ?Oranges

and Lemons.? This striving calls to mind Watson?s frustration as he struggles

to articulate something his society has removed. In contrast to the ?pure? uses

of language is set the dominant paradigm of state propaganda. Under Big

Brother?s rule every liberty is taken to twist language. This means not only

straightforward lies and fabrications, which is the purpose of the Ministry of

Truth, but anodyne mass-production culture and the reversal of meanings

encapsulated in the Party slogans. These patterns are also found in Brave New World, which has a meaningless

state motto, degraded propagandist culture (as created by Watson and

exemplified by the largely non-linguistic ?feelies?) and an entire series of

mindless hypnopaedic mantras and ?Fordisms.? Bernard?s ironic distaste at the

evident hollowness of conditioned truisms is mirrored by Winston?s admission

that propaganda abolishes facts until ?everything faded away into a

shadow-world in which, finally, even the date of the year had become

uncertain.?[4]The edifices of

conditioning and Orwell?s Newspeak point to an even more terrifying reality

that welds together language and society. Language is used as a tool which

actually creates reality; an extreme culmination of 20th Century

propoganda into a complete system of social control. As the Director of the

Hatchery notes of the hypnopaedic methods: ?at last the child?s mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the

suggestions is the child?s mind. And

not the child?s mind only. The adult?s mind too?all these suggestions are our suggestions?Suggestions from the


This is exactly the same proposition as that made by O?Brien, as he revels in

the unrivalled power of state espionage, propaganda and Newspeak orthodoxy: ?we control life, Winston, at all its levels.

You are imagining that there is something called human nature which will be

outraged by what we do and will turn against us. But we create human nature.

Men are infinitely malleable.?[6]Naturally, there are a range of social

control methods. The World State has soma, Oceania has the Thought Police. The

World State endorses free sexual love with no attachment, Oceania aims to

abolish the orgasm and eradicate love (two poles of thought on how to control

the introverted male/female sex relation.) Both subsume the family in the

community. Oceania fights perpetual wars whilst the denizens of the World State

play endless games of centrifugal bumble-puppy. Both suppress real science

despite a gloss of progress, whilst work is reduced to mere sinecure.? However, language control represents the subtlest

of all these methods, and their inevitable culmination. The suppression of

pre-Utopian culture and the creation of propaganda departments is one step. Yet

the ultimate goal, resting on the assumption that language is the base of

perception, is to use language to control thought without any need for

coercion. Coercion is pointless when dissent is no longer a viable mode of

thought. To ignore the role of language in these novels is to make the same

mistake as Julia does when she states that Big Brother cannot get inside you.

It is this very dictatorship of the interior, as O?Brien notes, that

differentiates these Dystopias from their historical forebears.This is where

conditioning and Newspeak play their roles as arbiters of reality. Doublethink

does this by distorting the logical structure of language, so that the

contradiction between two statements is ignored, facilitated by the technique

of Crimestop. Orwell points out the symbiosis between thought and language

through the invention of Newspeak, a language which purges all unnecessary vocabulary

and creates inverted neologisms (eg.Ministry of Plenty) in order to frustrate

any instinctive grasp of language. The eventual aim is to make dissenting

thought quite literally impossible to articulate. This theory is carefully laid

out in Orwell?s appendix on the principles of Newspeak. By cleansing language

into a reductive and mechanical system, the same process would cleanse thought

into an ideologically controlled process; a flight from individual identity

into subservience to the Party. Whereas the

process of language control embodied in Newspeak is only partially, it is fully

realised in Brave New World. Although

the World State does not appear to be so explicitly autocratic, its methods are

no less sinister. The eugenic global caste system is the foundation of their

society, and the caste-members are reconciled to their situation with

hypnopaedic control. Crimestop ? the suppression of dissent ? has a distant

relation in the automatic recital of soothing sleep-learnt mantras. These

mantras ensure social cohesion by reinforcing the caste hierarchy and the

sexual liberty ethos, as well as being the lynchpins on which acceptance of

soma consumption, passion surrogates and contraception revolve. The mantras are

linguistic markers for a deeper language/thought interface that signals a

complete regulation of the mind. As Mond points out, the lower castes are

trapped in bottles of existence, and it is language-control that has forged the

glass.Both Dystopias

also engage with the Idealist theory that reality cannot exist independent of

perception, and thus take the principles of language control one step further.

A cornerstone of Oceania?s politics is that the past is mutable. The Ministry

of Truth ensures that every written document is altered in accordance with

Party wishes, whilst the Thought Police prevent the keeping of personal written

records and the possession of cultural material dating from the days before

Ingsoc. A similar process is seen in Brave

New World, partially by a historical ?campaign against the Past?, partially

by keeping all old literature suppressed. History, as a rule, is not taught,

simply because there is no point; the Wold State exists in a Utopian present

moment: ?We don?t want to change. Every change is a menace to stability.?[7]Carried by the

Thinkpol maxim that the present is controlled by the past, it becomes apparent

that the very fabric of reality is being manipulated. With all thoughts and all

reference-points (be they ideologically-suspect ideas, history, failures of the

State etc.) under state control, then reality becomes mutable itself. O?Brien

outlines the collective solipsism that lies at the heart of Nineteen Eighty-Four?s false

consciousness, and interrogates Winston until he comes to accept as truth the

equation 2+2=5:Once again the sense of helplessness assailed him. He knew, or he

could imagine, the arguments which proved his own non-existence; but they were

nonsense, they were only a play on words. Did not the statement, ?You do not

exist?, contain a logical absurdity? But what use was it to say so? His mind

shrivelled as he thought of the unanswerable, mad arguments with which O?Brien

would demolish him. (Ninteen Eighty-Four,

p.272)Although less

explicitly, Huxley also creates a similar sense of false reality, even allowing

one character to speak the line ?pain?s a delusion?[8],

presumably another hypnopaedic. Although not going to the lengths of Orwell,

Huxley?s Dystopia is conditioned so there is the barest hint of free-will, and

certain concepts ? liberty, love, parenthood ? have been erased just as

effectively as in Newspeak. Particularly among the lower castes, the ideas have

simply ceased to exist in their old forms, as shown by the fact that

Shakespeare can no longer be understood. This is brought home by the way the

words ?mother? and ?father? have been transformed into obscene and scatological

slang. Language and thought have been moulded in the same crucible of

conditioning: the words still exist, but their 20th Century meanings

have been ripped from them, as well as all means to express the old senses.The use of

Shakespeare in Brave New World shows

us that literature is totemic in these Dystopian novels. The literature of the

past is systematically purged in both Oceania and the World State, and replaced

by a safer form of propaganda culture. In Nineteen

Eighty-Four a section of Minitrue is dedicated to translating the classics

into ideologically-distorted Newspeak versions. The plight of the propagandist

Watson and the dilemma of the unintelligible Othello in Brave New World

have already been mentioned. ?The Book? written by Goldstein is a tangible and

tactile link with the literature of the past, an icon of subversion simply

because it is an object in the old style. Why is literature treated by these

writers as such an important concern?Firstly, art in

its traditional role mediates between life and representation, and thus

literature threatens the stability of that relationship (the control of which

is at the heart of both states.) Literature represents a kind of independence,

particularly in Brave New World, a

method of subversion. Reading is a solitary activity, and as represented by

John the savage, it also opens up an alternative existence of striving, passion

and idealism. Huxley expounds exactly why the passion of literature must be

sacrificed to the contentment of Utopia, and Mond?s analysis could equally be

applied to Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Reading is not communal, and it might introduce subversive ideals into the

sanitised climate of Oceania. As such, literature can be associated with any

dissenting voices against the stasis of ?post-humanity.? Both as an independent

mode of language, and one traditionally linked with dissent and idealism,

Winston?s prime act of defiance is to write a diary and reclaim language and

memory for the individual. Watson represents a similar longing to make the word

more than a brute instrument of social control.Yet literature

is important for another reason. It is considered to be the freest form of

linguistic expression, and as such the pinnacle of a whole range of culture:

journalism, history, popular songs and so forth. Dystopia?s twin programs of

propaganda and suppression mark a recognition of other discourses that might

challenge the establishment. As both dystopias rest their stability heavily on

control of discourse ? manipulation of thought through language, Newspeak,

Conditioning ? these dissenting discourses must be quashed. The electroshock

conditioning in Brave New World

represent an attempt to suppress discourses of truth and beauty as symbolised

by the book and the rose. Newspeak is an attempt to destroy the ability to form

any discourse other than one ideologically acceptable to IngSoc; to abolish figurative language in favour of functional. The

anti-heroes represent human embodiments of alternative discourses, and as such

they too are either removed from society, or forced to submit.This foreshadows

the Postmodern spectre of discourse ?truth effects.? In these Dystopian novels,

the writers show what can happen when a society controls language: it, in turn,

controls discourse, thought and ultimately reality. Both Orwell and Huxley,

through use of external verification, show us that Winston and Bernard have the

true perception of reality, even though they must pay the price for their

inability to reject truth. Yet the question is raised as to how far the

discourse hypothesis can be taken? The Dystopian novels do not remove a

stabilising narrative authority, but nevertheless they root the ideologies of

their Dystopias in contemporary modes of thought. IngSoc is clearly seen to be

a corruption of Socialism. The future of eugenics was a live issue in the

pre-Nazi era when Brave New World was

written. Orwell and Huxley silently pose the Postmodernist question and a

warning to the future: if language controls reality, how do we know our

discourse is valid? Are we also unwitting victim of various unacknowledged

modes of thought control? Are the World State and Oceania logical extensions of

1940?s societies? The writers of Dystopian fiction paint a bleak extreme to

question to the present.This is

ultimately the meaning and the argument behind Dystopian fiction?s treatment of

language. The lost veracity of language points to a lost meaning and a lost

freedom in human society. The control of language by the hypothetical states

allow their controlled discourses to contain freedom, thought, dissent, history

and even material reality itself. In an era of ideological extremes – Fascism

and Communism ? the dilemma was powerfully relevant. Resting on the assumption

that the structure of language has a direct effect on the structure of thought,

Dystopian fiction is a critique of the dangers involved in ideology, where the

ideas ?dangerously fluid and malleable as they are ? overcome the human

element. Black can become white, freedom can become slavery. By rooting their

novels in contemporary issues, they also approach the frightening semiotic

question about discourse and truth, image and reality, and leave us wondering whether,

as O?Brien puts it, sanity really is statistical. [1] Nineteen Eighty-Four,

p.282 [2] Brave New World, p.60 [3] Nineteen Eighty-Four,

p.161 [4] Ibid. p.44 [5] Brave New World, p.25 [6] Nineteen Eighty-Four,

p.282 [7] Brave New World, p.205 [8] Ibid. p.229


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