Transformations of Language in Modern Dystopias

By David W. Sisk | Go to book overview

3
"It's a Beautiful Thing, the Destruction of
Words"

No other twentieth-century literary genre has been so closely identified with one work as the dystopia has been with George Orwell Nineteen Eighty-four, published in 1949. Nineteen Eighty-four typifies dystopian fiction to a large audience: readers who know of no other dystopian work--indeed, readers unfamiliar with the word dystopia--will almost certainly know (or know of) Orwell's proleptic nightmare. Many of Orwell's terms and images have permanently entered Western political discourse of the late twentieth century. Fears of an intrusive totalitarian government are terrifyingly personified in Big Brother; distorted language intended to mislead through obfuscation finds embodiment as "doublespeak," and "1984" has become a handy catchphrase for any government action deemed repressive. 1 Even Eric Arthur Blair's pen name, George Orwell, has become a buzzword, as when a political structure accused of abridging personal liberties (or a fictional depiction of such abridgment) is labeled Orwellian. In the wake of the McCarthy witch-hunts, the Vietnam War, the Watergate burglary, the Iran-contra affair and numerous other scandals, Orwell's portrait of a government concerned only with staying in power has become the dominant paradigm, effectively giving the lie to early criticisms that his conception of the ambition to achieve power was unrealistic. Nineteen Eighty-four represents the most powerful dystopian view to oppose the vapid happiness of Huxley Brave New World, and its influence on subsequent dystopian fiction has been enormous. Dystopian writers since 1949 have been

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