George Orwell was deeply conscious of the way in which language can be both an instrument of freedom as well as oppression. He saw how the political violence that rose with the Twentieth Century was based essentially on an abuse of language. For example the ways in which imperialist powers in the 19th and early 20th Century used language to white-wash their merciless greed, bringing nothing but harm and destruction to native cultures, is something that underpinned Orwell’s perception of the oppressive power of language. We have seen how Joseph Conrad describes this process in Heart of Darkness, we have seen how the process was and still is being enacted on the Indigenous inhabitants of Australia. So what is Orwell’s remedy? It is simply, but powerfully stated in the opening paragraphs of his amazing essay “Politics and the English Language“:
... it is clear that the decline of language must ultimately have political and economic causes… It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible.
Orwell is here putting into our hands the tools, not only for our own personal freedom, but the tools for freeing the world from its incessant abuse of power. For Orwell, cleansing the way we use language, is the only way in which we can restore our essential humanity.
Blog Topics for Week 8:
1/ “The point is that the process is reversible”. From your own understanding of the way that language can clarify your understanding, write a short paragraph in support of Orwell’s claim.
2/ ” I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalised figure of a sahib.” Write a short paragraph explaining what you understand by this paragraph.
3/ Add a few stanzas to the following poem with references to some of the authors and literary ideas that you have come across in the last two semesters:
Mr Kurtz – he dead
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw…. (T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men)