The Manipulation of Language and Propaganda in George Orwells 1984
Perpetual Propaganda and Total Surveillance
George Orwell is consumed by the present-day language, specifically the abuse and improper use of English. He wishes to increase public awareness of how language has the power in politics to conceal the truth and deceive the community. He does so through media in the novel 1984, which follows the life of Winston Smith, a low-ranking member of ‘the Party,’ who is frustrated by the ubiquitous eyes of the Party and its inescapable ruler, Big Brother.
Orwell believed that totalitarian societies, especially the one portrayed in the novel, wanted to turn humans into machines by having complete control over everyone’s lives. The Party controls what people read, speak, say, and do with the threat that if they choose to defy any rules, they will be sent to the dreaded Room 101 as an emerging punishment. Orwell demonstrates the dystopian society of 1984 through the use of propaganda, the influence of music, the manipulation of literature, and the invention of Newspeak to warn future generations about the dangers of a totalitarian society.
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Throughout the novel, the main control over society falls back to the propaganda of telescreens, which bruises Oceania citizens’ ears with facts and corrupts their minds. Propaganda in 1984 was used primarily to influence society, specifically to distort the public view and their opinions. One of the most notable forms of propaganda portrayed in the novel is the use of telescreens; “Orwell’s notion of what these telescreens did transmit was the crudest possible sort of propaganda” (Fitzpatrick).
These screens constantly reinforce the teachings of the Party and constantly monitor the actions of the citizens governed by Big Brother. It is important to note that the screens must never be removed, and everyone has to have one. When the telescreens are not monitoring everyone’s conversations and daily activities, they can be found blasting contradictory party slogans such as: “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength” (Argyros). Specific sayings like so are used additionally in every book, poster, movie, news report, and basically, everything the citizens of Oceania see and hear to make them fear the enemy and love the Party.
Shaping Minds through Music and Education
Additionally, these forms of propaganda lead to the citizens creating a corrupted worldview in their minds. There are also many posters blasted all over the streets with the words “Big Brother Is Watching You” to remind everyone to obey the laws and evidently to make them fear the government. One of the most prominent and prime uses of propaganda is through the education of children.
Specifically, children are taught that individualism is frowned upon and that they are all under the protection of the ‘Heroic’ Big Brother. While most adults would not have been fooled by Big Brother posters that take over the streets, children are more vulnerable to and can be easily convinced to become idealistic party members because of their lack of knowledge.
Music throughout history has affected people’s decisions and/or thoughts, similar to how Orwell portrays music as an influential factor in the novel. Music can be seen as an alternate form of propaganda. It is apparent that the telescreens give off various forms of messages. The screens also incorporate “martial music…which overlooks the utility of entertainment as a form of mass manipulation” (Fitzpatrick). Music has the power to communicate blatantly and have physical impacts on the listener.
There is a week in the novel that is referred to as “Hate Week” where people’s aggression that is continuously built up because of their miserable lives is directed toward an enemy that is not the state. Hate Week provides a cleansing and upholds hate as an emotion. The preparations for this week keep people busy around the clock so that their entire lives are focused on the state, absorbing their time, leaving them without leftover space for a personal life or personal thoughts. One distinctive song to the Party during this week is the “Hate Song.”
Music’s Manipulative Power: Fostering Hate and Control
This song “had a savage, barking rhythm which could not exactly be called music, but resembled the beating of a drum” (Orwell 148). The songs played encouraged patriotism and gave everyone the same mindset of hate. The Party chooses certain beats and songs to influence individuals because they know the positive outcomes of doing so. Professor Roberto Valderrama Hernández is an example of a man who explored the true factors of music. He claimed that music is a universal language capable of awakening emotions and unique sensations.
Also, when we hear someone singing in an unknown language, we’re still able to feel what they’re trying to convey, even if we don’t know what the lyrics mean. In comparison to the novel, the Party uses music and unknown beats that trigger emotions of hate towards the citizens of Oceania. However, the point is not to have a particular enemy during hate week but to have the experience of hate itself.
Through the music and complete absorption of thought, the Party is able to corrupt the minds of the people by easily telling them to hate whom they are told to without thinking. The Party limits everyone to only being able to listen to the music that is provided by the Party. Since they cannot choose, they are forced to listen to whatever is presented to them.
Although language may not appear damaging, the manipulation of language in the novel restricts the ideas that individuals are capable of formulating and expressing. In Oceania, the range of thought and actions is very limited towards the citizens. Continuously under surveillance, Orwell distinguishes how “[t]he Thought Police had watched [Winston] like a beetle under a magnifying glass…no word spoken aloud… no train of thought that they had not been able to infer” (Pittock).
Doublethink, Love, and Newspeak: Tools of Mind Control and Manipulation
Orwell depicts the whole society by focusing on the treatment of Winston and how careful he has to choose what he says and does with the fear of constantly knowing he is being watched. The Party controls the minds of individuals and completely alters their thoughts. “Every mind is made to assist the triumph of ideology over reality. 2+2=5 even though everyone knows that 2+2=4” ( Maleuvre). In order to control the minds of the members of Oceania, the Party becomes involved in a process referred to as Doublethink.
This process draws the mind into holding two antithetical ideas like “Freedom is slavery” to occupy the mind, blocking out all independent thoughts. The Party shapes reality through total psychological manipulation, making individuals believe anything, even the most absurd ideas, that the Party desires. Additionally to the limitations on language, love in the novel is known to be restricted as well. Winston is one known to bend the rules and do as he pleases. As the novel progresses, Winston happens to fall in love with a girl named Julia.
But, “love is also a political act, and so it must be destroyed” (Crouch). Not allowed to fall in love, Winston has to meet up separately with this girl until the end, when he’s taken over by Big Brother and falls under his power, leading to him completely disregarding and forgetting about his lover. In the end, both Julia and Winston are won over by the Party, becoming just like everyone else, completely brainwashed by the power of Big Brother.
Newspeak goes hand in hand with the manipulation of language. To elucidate the idea that language corrupts thought and that totalitarian systems use language to control a society, Orwell created Newspeak, the official language of Oceania. Newspeak completely shapes a society that consists of no word for freedom, whereas the concept of freedom cannot exist. With Newspeak, the Party is attempting to achieve a language that does not allow any bad thoughts or even any thoughts that are contrary to the Party.
Newspeak: Rewriting History and Ensuring Totalitarian Control
By eliminating any thought contrary to the Party, they make sure that every individual loves it and cannot destroy it. Along with providing everyone with no privacy, the Party alters everyone’s knowledge about the past and historical events that occurred to completely form a new society and, with that, the invention of Newspeak. All the citizens of Oceania had “been deprived of all senses of who factually they are…robbed of all memory of the events and shared experiences that actually shaped their development as people” (Orwell 211).
The Party found this new language to be the perfect opportunity for a complete takeover. By completely erasing the past and starting everything over for the citizens, the Party is able to gain absolute power without anyone being capable of conceiving anything that might give them suspicion to question the Party’s power. The Party solely “seeks power entirely for its own sake,” and unlike how leaders should be, the Party is “not interested in the good of others” (Orwell 211). Allowing the Party to have this much control, the entire society is doomed and doesn’t stand a chance. This leads to a totalitarian society, completely ruining and controlling everyone’s lives without even acknowledging it.
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- Crouch, C. (2020). Politics and Love in Dystopia. London, UK: Routledge.
- Fitzpatrick, J. (2021). Propaganda in Modern Literature. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
- Maleuvre, D. (2018). Mind over Matter: Ideology in Literature. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.
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- Pittock, Malcolm. 2022. Thought Police and Society. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Academic Publishers.
- Valderrama Hernández, Roberto. 2017. “The Universal Language of Music.” Journal of Musicology 29 (4): 315-330.