- The Two Narrators and Happy Ending of Nineteen Eighty-Four
Given the central role played in Nineteen Eighty-Four by documents, it is noteworthy that the book makes a gesture toward documenting itself: barely a thousand words into the text, we come upon a footnote to the first occurrence of the term "Newspeak": "Newspeak was the official language of Oceania. For an account of its structure and etymology, see Appendix" (5). Whereas most readers have deemed Orwell's self-censoring language a brilliant invention, praise for the Appendix is often general, focusing only on the essay's thematic importance.1 There has been little agreement about how the appended document, "The Principles of Newspeak," functions in the book.
Attempting to explain its narrative function, recent criticism has drawn attention to two puzzles surrounding the Newspeak essay. The first concerns the identity of its speaker. The main narrator, who supplies the footnote that leads us to the Appendix, calls the document simply "an account," leaving unclear the extent of his own responsibility for it. Although most readers seem to take it for granted that there is a single narrative voice in both the Appendix and the novel proper, a number have claimed that the Appendix has its own speaker, distinct from the main persona. The second puzzle is whether the Appendix implies [End Page 587] a happy ending to Nineteen Eighty-Four: from certain details in the Newspeak essay, several critics have optimistically concluded that the power of the Party will collapse some time after the year 1984.
I will argue here that the persona of the Newspeak essay both must be and cannot be the narrator of the novel proper. The paradoxical identity of this "second" narrator makes it impossible to establish the authority of the Appendix and therefore renders untrustworthy the essay's clues to the future downfall of Big Brother. I believe this result places the narrative, function of the Appendix in a new and significant light. Under the guise of explaining the "structure and etymology" of Newspeak, what the Appendix actually does is to reinforce our sense that, within a totalitarian world, "objective truth" (in Orwell's somewhat contentious phrase) does not exist.
A careful reading of the Appendix reveals that its narrative point of view is not that of the novel proper. Throughout the novel we are addressed by a third-person narrator whose stance coincides with Winston's. Everything the speaker tells us about Winston or about the other characters or about events in Oceania is filtered through the mind of Winston himself. Presumably Orwell's choice of this narrative method was governed by his declared disdain for novels written in the first person ("Extracts from a Manuscript Note-book," CEJL 4: 511), and by his conception of Nineteen Eighty-Four as a fantasy cast "in the form of a naturalistic novel" ("Letter to F. J. Warburg," CEJL 4: 330).2 Once we accept the premise of a setting in the future, we have no difficulty giving credence to the unobtrusive third-person narrator's description of events in Oceania.
But when we reach the Appendix—surely most readers finish the story completely before they try to penetrate the essay—we suddenly find a narrative voice that sounds like this:
It was expected that Newspeak would have finally superceded Oldspeak (or Standard English, as we should call it) by about the year 2050. . . . The version in use in 1984; and embodied in the Ninth and Tenth Editions of the Newspeak dictionary, was a provisional one, and contained many superfluous words and archaic formulations which were due to be suppressed later. It is with the final, perfected version, as embodied in the Eleventh Edition of the dictionary, that we are concerned here. . . . Newspeak was founded on the English language as we know it, though many Newspeak sentences . . . would be barely intelligible to an English-speaker of our own day.(198)
The speaker here, unlike the main storyteller, is conscious of his audience, and he stresses the temporal bond between himself and his readers ("we," "we now," "our own day").
The sense that we are listening to a new voice is reinforced by...