Thanks to SAZ for this review!
Writing a review on 1984 is no easy task, and would require the write-up of a whole book in itself. In fact, Mr. Orwell covers so many pertinent topics that each one of them, in relation to the novel itself, would require a book to be written on it. The issues can all be found in philosophy textbooks: State, War, Peace, Language, Thought, Love, Hate, Knowledge, Consciousness, Unconsciousness, Power, Weakness, Work, Human Nature, Nature, Freedom, Alienation, Slavery, Torture, to name only a few.
It would do the book no justice to write a general review on it. Some of the abovementioned topics would find themselves lost and unaddressed, which would be aberrant. That is the reason why this piece focuses on an interesting question that can be formulated in several ways: “does thought need language?” or “does language shape thought?” or “could Newspeak succeed in suppressing certain thoughts or feelings that could be detrimental to the Party?”
Newspeak as a language is probably the only language that does not evolve, but gets reduced to fewer words every time a new dictionary is put together. The aim of the Party in that effort, is not only to restrict language, but also to restrain thought, and alienate the people Oceania to a point where certain thoughts become impossible because ‘inexpressible’.
The notion of linguistic determinism as defined by B. Lee Whorf around 1956, the idea that thought is determined by language, seems to be the basis on which Mr. Orwell designed Newspeak and its principles in 1984. But can it truly be that everything we think is shaped by the language we speak?
It might be, if we restrain language to what the French call la langue. That is, the Newspeak language, the English language, the French language, etc. In that sense, if the meaning of the words in a certain language is restricted, then it becomes difficult to express anything outside the meaning of those words. Therefore, if the word ‘free’ in Newspeak can only be used in a sentence like ‘this dog is free of lice’ (as mentioned in the principles of Newspeak), then freedom cannot be expressed with the abstract connotations that Oldspeak allowed.
On the other hand however, if we consider language in its other form, meaning the ability, through one medium or another, to express oneself, then Newspeak, English, French, Sign Language, become mere media of communication. If we follow this idea, it then becomes possible for two people in Oceania to develop a ‘language’ (understood only by the two of them) that would allow them to express ideas, feelings, or thoughts that are real, but not ‘externalizable’ if one limits him/herself to Newspeak. Language expresses thoughts or feelings, but does not shape them. That is the reason why Oceania needs a Thought Police to make sure that language laws are enforced, and to use different means such as torture and constant watching, to make sure that the people of Oceania are, and remain alien to certain feelings. If we study the meaning of torture, alienation, and power in relation to 1984, we will find that this makes perfect sense, but it would require several other essays.