Date of Award
Languages & Literature
The first time I read George Orwell’s 1984 was in 1984. I spent my allowance on the Commemorative Edition after hearing Walter Cronkite on the evening news comment about how close we’d come to Orwell’s predictions. That’s enough to entice any 13 year-old, but, unfortunately, the novel was a disappointment; I was expecting the amazement of Nostrodomus and found a story only slightly more interesting than my math book. Four years later, 1984 was required reading for senior English, and by that time I had learned to appreciate the gruesome plot and recognize the boring interruptions as political satire. I didn’t realize how genuinely profound Orwell’s vision of the future was, though, until our class began discussing Orwell's observations about language.
By imagining a fitting language for his fictitious future world, Orwell isolated the interdependent relationship between deteriorating communities and the aberrant language their people use--or, in essence, the ability of the two to reflect each other’s health. This notion of language struck me as particularly insightful, but it wasn't until I read Anthony Burgess's A Clock-work Orange and Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker that I truly began to understand what political statement Orwell was attempting to make with his satire: namely, the necessity of clear language for a community’s political well-being.
Like Orwell, Hoban and Burgess have created dystopias as vehicles for particular satiric messages. And like Orwell, both have realized the potent role language must play in their fictional worlds, but they've also taken Orwell's observations one step further. A Clockwork Orange and Riddley Walker do not openly discuss language within the narrative (as 1984 does); instead their authors invent narrative languagos that make their satiric points through narrating voices with original vocabularies, syntax, rhythms, and tones. As contemporary writers, all three authors explore one of the main intellectual concerns of the Twentieth Century, analysizing language to understand culture. And in doing so, each, in varying degrees, has redefined and reinvented language to construct and reflect his own dark vision of the future.
Kennedy, Colleen, ""It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words" The Function Of Language In The Contemporary Dystopia" (1993). Languages and Literature Undergraduate Theses. 48.