The style of 1984 is bleak and depressing, mirroring the functional style and aesthetics of the Party, where adornment is looked down on, individuality is discouraged, and beauty and refinement are considered politically suspect. Orwell uses straightforward grammar, reflecting his belief that uncluttered language is the most honest form of communication. In an essay called “Politics and the English Language,” he states that “to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration.” For Orwell, in order to think clearly one had to be able to first write clearly, and 1984 models the clarity and concision critical to independent thought. At the same time, the language is markedly oppressive and dull – mimicking the deadening effect of life under Party rule, where everything is ugly and gray. For example, the book’s opening is clear and straightforward, but also evokes a sense of discomfort and misery: “Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.” The few adjectives Orwell uses – vile, gritty – paint a bleak picture of the scene.
Although for the most part the style of 1984 is as functional and unadorned as the world it describes, Orwell sometimes modifies his style to match Winston’s thoughts or emotional state. For example, when Winston writes in his diary, emotion often overtakes him and his writing changes from grammatically correct and precise to uncapitalized, unpunctuated, and with run-on sentences, mirroring his racing thoughts. At one point he writes DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER over and over again, as what his heart knows to be true overwhelms his caution and capacity to suppress emotion. Similarly, when describing beautiful objects, such as the paperweight with the piece of coral, Orwell uses more ornate, sensory language, describing “the soft, rainwatery glass.” Winston believes the paperweight is more beautiful because it is useless, suggesting that in some instances language, too, can be purely poetic, with no larger political function.
Orwell also shifts the register of dialogue to differentiate characters and point out class differences, subtly commenting on the Party’s ability to eradicate social inequity. Members of the Outer and Inner Party speak in Standard English, but proles, who make up 85 percent of the population, speak with Cockney accents. Characteristics of the proles’ speaking style include dropping “h” sounds from words that begin in the letter H; using different verb forms, such as “I takes” instead of “I take” and “it were” instead of “it was”; leaving out vowels in the middles of some words, like “reg’lar” for “regular”; and using colorful slang terms. This difference in speaking style between the proles and the Party members marks each person as a member of a social class. By showing the differences in speaking styles, Orwell implies that despite the Party’s supposed commitment to social equality, the old British class system is still in full effect.
The most striking stylistic effect of 1984 is Orwell’s use of Newspeak, an invented language which corrupts English until it is unintelligible. For example: “reporting bb dayorder doubleplusungood refs unpersons . . .” Newspeak, as it sounds when spoken aloud, is “a gabbling style of speech, at once staccato and monotonous.” Truncated words and standardized grammar make speech both ideologically loaded and apparently meaningless. Syme explains to Winston in Book 1 that Newspeak will finally accomplish the Party’s totalitarian goal of making rebellion impossible by negating the possibility of independent thought. The Newspeak sentence “All mans are equal” means that every person is of uniform height, size, weight, etc., as the concept of political equality has been abolished. The epilogue tells us that in 1984 there is not yet anyone who speaks Newspeak as their primary language but that it is intended to take over and replace Standard English by the year 2050. However, the epilogue itself is written in standard English, a stylistic choice that injects a note of hope that the Party has not entirely succeeded in eradicating independent thought.