George Orwell’s Uses of Literary Devices in 1984

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In a Washington Post article written in 1988, journalist David Remnick states that “Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union was the model for the dark totalitarian society George Orwell portrayed in his 1984” In 1949, when 1984 was published, the Iron Curtain had risen, effectively separating the Eastern Bloc from the former European and American allies. As many know now, the Soviet party controlled the spiritual, social, and creative lives of its citizens, but the concepts of such control could not be fully comprehended by prosperous citizens in western countries at the time. It was not until 1984 was published that westerners began to understand how closed and depraved the Soviet model really was. George Orwell’s depiction was brought to life by his skillful use of the literary devices dystopia, dysphemism, and distortion.

Orwell’s 1984 was inspired by the Soviet totalitarian regime to create his own dystopian society where Winston, the main protagonist, goes through the book questioning the Party’s motives and ideas. The Party, with its leader known as O’Brien, are the main antagonists of the book. They force citizens to believe they are equal even though they are not. Readers are able to see this world through Winston’s eyes. Orwell narrates, “Outside, even through the shut window pane, the world looked cold. Down in the street little eddies of wind were whirling dust and torn paper into spirals, and though the sun was shining and the sky a harsh blue, there seemed to be no color in anything, except the posters that were plastered everywhere (Orwell)

.” This description of a colorless, toxic, and gloomy environment makes it much easier for the reader to understand the injustice that Winston and the proles face. When Winston narrates, he describes that Oceania lacks color except the Party’s propaganda posters which read “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.” As Orwell states this in his book, he uses the literary device dystopia to set up his imaginary, totalitarian-based society. His imagery of an unsettling, toxic, and gloomy society affirms an environment of the injustice that Winston and the proles face.

This societal inequality is a hallmark of a dystopian society. In the book, both society and the Party itself is made up of unequal rights and injustice. For example, Orwell states, “Always in your stomach and in your skin there was a sort of protest, a feeling that you had been cheated of something that you had a right to.” Orwell shows Winston’s thoughts and how he believes that there is something he should have a right to, but can not seemingly have, even if it’s simply better coffee or food.

 Inner Party members like O’Brien experience a much better lifestyle and better rights. O’Brien is able to turn off the telescreen in his room and later on O’Brien gives Winston and Julia, Winston’s lover, wine. In the beginning, the book says, “The instrument (the telescreen, it was called) could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely.” Orwell also writes, “Wine was a thing he had read and dreamed about.” Winston and others like him are not able to turn their telescreens off, nor are they allowed to drink wine, however when meeting with O’Brien, an Inner Party member, Winston and Julia find it possible to turn off their telescreens and drink wine. This shows the inequality to the forefront of a dystopian society.

Orwell’s use of dystopia shows injustice in societies that are controlled by totalitarian regimes. A majority of individuals that make up Oceania are the proles. Compared to O’Brien, they do not have luxuries. The proles are at the bottom of society, and in the book, they experience daily bomb attacks and they live in poor conditions that are dirty and unsafe. Orwell describes the: “vague, brown-colored slums to the north and east,” “a cobbled street of little two-story houses with battered doorways which gave straight on the pavement and which were somehow curiously suggestive of rat holes,” and “there were puddles of filthy water here and there among the cobbles.

” Even though the party says everyone is equal, Winston shows the inequality and poorer living conditions that the proles face. By using the proles as a group of people in his dystopian society, he shows the inequality that the proles are forced into when they themselves do not realize that it is an injustice. Orwell narrates that “the Party taught that the proles were natural inferiors who must be kept in subjection, like animals, by the application of a few simple rules.” As stated in the beginning, the Party requires everyone to be equal when they are not and as mentioned, the proles do not know that they are unequal. As a whole, Orwell uses dystopia to depict a society of inequality and injustice that is ruled by a government that controls what everyone else does.

Besides the literary device dystopia, Orwell also uses dysphemism. Dysphemism is a literary device used to slander, humiliate, or degrade a character. When Winston is taken to Room 101, O’Brien degrades him when Winston answers a question. He says “That was stupid, Winston, stupid!” he said. “You should know better than to say a thing like that.” He degrades him by calling him stupid for not believing the same principle or ideas as O’Brien and the Party believes in. 

As O’Brien keeps torturing Winston, he humiliates him, saying “Look at this filthy grime all over your body. Look at the dirt between your toes. Look at that disgusting running sore on your leg. Do you know that you stink like a goat? (Orwell).” O’Brien also says, “Look! He plucked at Winston’s head and brought away a tuft of hair.” “Open your mouth. Nine, ten, eleven teeth left. How many had you when you came to us? And the few you have left are dropping out of your head. Look here!” He seized one of Winston’s remaining front teeth between his powerful thumb and forefinger.” “He tossed it across the cell.” “You are rotting away,” he said; “you are falling to pieces. What are you? A bag of filth. Now turn round and look into that mirror again.” The way Orwell uses dysphemism to degrade Winston is so powerful. 

Throughout the book, Orwell is able to captivate readers in a way where readers are able to sympathize and grow with Winston, and believe that Winston can escape this world he is stuck in; however, when Winston is taken away, everything that was built up crumbles apart. Orwell is able to use dysphemism to show how sinister the Party is in degrading and brainwashing the people of Oceania. Finally, O’Brien humiliates Winston by using his greatest fear against him, rats. O’Brien uses a cage of rats in order to get Winston to betray Julia and to humiliate him. By humiliating and degrading Winston again, O’Brien and the Party are successful in getting Winston to betray everyone except the Party, and the Party is able to get Winston to believe everything that the Party says. For example, Winston writes down that two plus two equals five rather than four. As stated, Orwell uses dysphemism in order to drastically kill Winston’s spirit and arguably getting Winston to murder himself and in everything he once believed. As a whole, Orwell’s use of the literary device dysphemism works in humiliating Winston and changing him.

Finally, Orwell uses the literary device distortion to twist and change society. For example, Orwell uses distortion to exemplify how the government has twisted society in a way where everything that everyone thinks and speaks has changed to eliminate certain concepts and phrases. For example, the Party’s slogan “WAR IS PEACE FREEDOM IS SLAVERY IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH” is a distortion of the real definitions behind war, freedom, and ignorance. 

The concept of freedom being equal to slavery distorts the concept of freedom. The whole aim of Newspeak is to change words and definitions so they only become one meaning rather than several. Syme, Winston’s friend, goes into detail talking about Newspeak. Syme says “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.” Syme continues by saying, “Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.” An example of this is the definition of orthodoxy,” as Syme says, “Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think.

 Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” In reality, orthodoxy means “authorized or generally accepted theory, doctrine, or practice (Bing).” Orwell is able to distort the way people think by twisting words to the point where the thought of thoughtcrime will no longer exist and in a way, only further the fact that the Party will be able to get everyone in Oceania to believe their ideas. Aside from Newspeak, the Party is able to exterminate history and distort it in order to make it mean only what the Party wants it to mean. Winston’s job involves him rewriting history in the Ministry of Truth; however it is ironic to say that he is writing the truth because he is rewriting lies. For example, Winston distorts a story that talks about Big Brother predicting when an attack would happen in Africa rather than India; however “as it happened, the Eurasian Higher Command had launched its offensive in South India and left North Africa alone.

” Orwell then writes, “it was therefore necessary to rewrite a paragraph of Big Brother’s speech, in such a way as to make him predict the thing that had actually happened.” This shows the distortion that Orwell uses in order to manipulate and rewrite history. As a whole by using Newspeak and a means of rewriting history, the Party is able to distort society, its language, is history, and its culture as well.

To conclude, Orwell brought to life his depiction of a totalitarian society by using the Soviet Union as his model. To do this, Orwell used the literary devices dystopia, dysphemism, and distortion to show others that what the Soviet Union was really doing and what a society like the Soviet Union’s really looked like. Orwell shows 1984 as a controlled society where everything to social, spiritual, and the everyday lives of its citizens becomes nothing more than a government’s idea of a perfect society.

Works Cited

  1. Orwell, George. 1984. New York, Harcourt Inc, 1949.
  2. Remnick, David. “Soviets Will Publish `1984′; Decision Ends a Strict 40-Year Ban on
  3. Novel.” Soviets Will Publish ‘1984’, 1988.
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George Orwell's Uses of Literary Devices in 1984. (2021, Nov 29). Retrieved October 1, 2022 , from
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