Transformations of Language in Modern Dystopias

By David W. Sisk | Go to book overview

1
The Language of Dystopia

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master-- that's all."

-- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Poor Alice. Humpty Dumpty's argument--that words are not immutable, but up for grabs in a struggle for control--challenges one of her most basic assumptions. Beyond Humpty Dumpty's charming image of a speaker wrestling with words for control over their definitions lie darker questions: how far might a speaker go in enforcing acceptance of, or at least stifling dissent over, a given meaning and in eliminating other ones? By controlling language, can a speaker also control the thoughts of others who speak that language? If language can only be controlled within fiction, why is the idea so effective at terrifying readers? During her travels in Wonderland, Alice struggles against other speakers for control over words and meanings. Leah Hadomi and Robert Elbaz argue that:

[M]uch like the development in the utopian genre as a whole, the developmental process in Alice moves from utopia to dystopia. . . . This world based on a fantastic organization of an ideal reality, closed, separated and harmonious, is likely, in its exaggeration or extremism, to become a stifling dystopian reality, static and

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