Control through the use of language
In this essay I will explore how the authors use specific language to show how people in powerful positions, control people without power. Each of these texts explore the idea of determinism versus free will. The texts I will be discussing are Nineteen-eighty Four written by George Orwell, The Handmaids Tale written by Margaret Atwood, 2+2= 5 by Radiohead and Minority Report directed by Steven Spielberg. These are all texts of the dystopian genre. Dystopian texts explore how people in powerful positions protect their power and how the main characters choose free will in their rebellion against those in control. Dystopian texts serve as a warning to us, showing what could happen if we let power slip into the wrong hands.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four newspeak is used to control the minds of the people of the state. They manipulate language by removing words from the vocabulary and changing the definitions of words. In the novel it is expected that by the year 2050 ‘oldspeak’ will no longer exist and the only language spoken in Oceania will be newspeak. This revised language removes individuality and the ability to express one’s own feelings. This is beneficial for Big Brother to control the state as it makes it harder for anybody to rebel. Newspeak moderates thought through the removal of words like ‘excellent’ and ‘splendid’ and replaces these adjectives with ‘good’. When something is better than ‘good’ it can be described as ‘plusgood’ or even ‘doubleplusgood’ and the same goes for the antonyms, by the final stages of converting to Newspeak there will be nothing other than these words. Syme explains; ‘what justification is there for a word, which is simply the opposite of some other word?….Take ‘good,’ for instance. If you have a word like ‘good,’ what need is there for a word like ‘bad’? ‘Ungood’ will do just as well – better’. This means that there is limited vocabulary for people to express free thought and will restrict their individuality. The ‘dumbed down’ language is a deliberate oversimplification of intellectual content allowing the government to manipulate it’s citizens by narrowing the range of thought.
Another idea in the text Nineteen Eighty-Four is that people in powerful positions maintain control over other people and history can be manipulated and changed. The idea is that if an event or article is critical of the regime or shows the regime in a bad light, it will be erased and or changed by the Records Department in the Ministry of Truth. It is said that if you are told a lie enough times it will replace your existing knowledge of what truly happened at that event. “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past”- The Party. This means that eventually there will be no accurate record of the past. Thereby those in power, control the actions and thoughts of people resulting in them having no differing experiences. Sooner or later they will all have ‘experienced’ the same events and all have the same perspectives as Big Brother.
In the text ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, language is used to control the people of Gilead. Gilead is under the totalitarian rule of a Fundamentalist Christian government. They control the people by using biblical and military vocabulary which reinforces their beliefs. An example of this is the titles which the males are given, ‘Commander’, ‘Guardians of the Faith’ and ‘Angels’. The following quote shows how they use biblical language to make it sound as if what they’re doing is respectable and give it credibility. “Give me children, or else I die. Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? Behold my maid Bilhah. She shall bear fruit upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.” This language reflects the emphasis on religion in Gilead. The purpose of using this language is so the people will obey the law and comply with the government. This quote also demonstrates the power and control which men have over the women in Gilead. It demonstrates how they use womens bodies for the purpose of reproduction and they are treated almost as farmed animals. If women are sterile they will be sent to the ‘colonies’ to suffer and die in the nuclear wasteland. This area was heavily effected by the nuclear war years before.
The Handmaids are named as a possession of their commander. The main protagonist in the text is a handmaid named Offred (Of Fred). She states, ‘My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter.’ This example shows the government’s attempt to restrict people’s individuality with the result of them becoming more like one another. This makes it easier for the government to control and have power over the handmaids.
In the film ‘Minority Report’, Steven Spielberg explores the idea of free will over predetermined events. The film shows that we have free will: ‘the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion’ rather than that our actions are predetermined by fate. ‘You have a choice, walk away, do it now’- Agatha. This quote tells us that even the precogs, people who can supposedly see into the future, agree that we have free will and can make our own decisions in the moment.
Minority Report also uses visual language to show control. Eyes are used as a symbol of surveillance to control the people’s actions. This symbol is trying to tell us that the government is always watching. There are constantly images of eyes throughout the film for example on the side of the building in the scene where the spiders invade the apartment building. This is similar to the telescreens in Nineteen Eighty-Four which make it almost impossible to do anything without being watched by big brother. This also relates to the ‘eyes’ in The Handmaid’s Tail who are the guards who watch over the women, playing a similar role to the telescreen. The constant presentation of ‘eyes’ has an effect on the population which makes society feel watched in every movement. This surveillance is a form of control, making people feel as though they can’t be free even in their own private homes.
The song 2 + 2= 5 by Radiohead presents the same idea as Nineteen Eighty-Four in that if you are told something over and over again you will be brainwashed into believing it’s true. This is similar to Orwell’s character, O’Brien, who tortured Winston to make him believe that he loves big brother. “You can scream and you can shout it is too late now because you have not been payin’ attention”. These lyrics refer to how it feels like it has become normalised for us in today’s society to be watched in every moment of every aspect of our lives through the continual growth of technology and surveillance. This is a warning that we need to be very mindful of protecting our privacy before we have come too far with technology and surveillance.
In this essay I have discussed how the authors used language to show how people in powerful positions control people without power. These four texts explore the idea of determinism versus free will. The texts I have discussed Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Handmaid’s Tail, the song 2+2= 5 and the film Minority Report are all examples of the dystopian genre. These dystopian texts show us the techniques which people in powerful positions may use to maintain their power and control over other people’s free-will. The texts demonstrate how they gain and maintain their power through control of language, manipulating history, imagery and religion. These texts serve as a warning to todays society that we must be vigilant in protecting our privacy and individualism.