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[Extract from the author's paper entitled "A study of the television series The Prisoner"]

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As the Village, No.2 has pleasant external features. Only that of HA distinguishes himself by deliberately violent behaviour, and is a called a 'professional sadist' by No.6. As a general rule, No.2 is a charmer, a chatty and witty person. We will now study the way he speaks, keeping in mind his actions in the Village.

The irony of the Village world is first clearly audible when we observe how the various No.2s address the Prisoner. Although they aim at breaking No.6, they actually talk to him in the most gentle way, always full of pleasantries. Rarely is he spoken to rudely and most of the time, his superiors even show great respect for him. Let us study how the locutions used by the different No.2s:

A: 'Old boy, my dear fellow'

CBB: 'My dear chap'

ABC: 'My dear fellow'

FA: 'My dear fellow'

SM: 'my dear chap'

G: 'My dear fellow'

CM: 'my dear friend'

F: 'my dear fellow'

DD: 'old chap'

FD: 'Boy, old boy, my friend'

OT: 'My boy, good boy, boy, young man, son'

FO: 'my dear chap'

The same pleasant terms are also employed by all the other persons the Prisoner is submitted to in the Village, that is to say those who are on the side of the warders. He is then called 'Fellow' (CM), 'my boy' (CM), 'Sir' (A) and he is referred to, indirectly this time, as a 'likely lad' (OT) or a 'gentleman' (FO). These ironic terms are not limited to these examples but are sometimes applied to entire conversations: in many an instance, No.2 and No.6 chat with an apparent bonhomie. The one in a position of authority shows his pleasure at seeing the Prisoner and is often ready to indulge in cheerful discussions about the weather or other light topics. No.2 sometimes approaches No.6 as if the two were old friends who had not met for a very long time:

A: 'At last, delighted to see you!'

'Good day No.6!'

CBB: 'May I join you?'

'Delightful chat!'

'How good of you to come!'

FA: 'Fancy a chat?'

F: 'To what then do I owe the pleasure of your company?'

DD: 'Have a nice day!'

FO: 'How have you been keeping ?'

However, this technique is not innocent and No.2 is far from being the smooth character he strives to play. In the manner of famous tyrants, No.2 is first of all a powerful demagogue, a man who knows how to appeal to people. For instance, he willingly puts forward the fact that the Village is a democratic society where 'every citizen has a choice' (FA). Even if No.6 is not convinced about the possibility of a democratic life ('Elections ?…in this place ?' in FA), the Village authorities pride themselves on the fact on many an occasion. In A for instance, No.2 introduces the newcomer to the Village building and tells him: 'We have our own council, democratically elected'. We then learn in MHR that the elections take place 'once a year' and in F that the assembly is gathered 'in a matter of democratic crisis' and the president speaks of 'those voted to govern us'. In DD, No.6's observer indicates that the rules obey the motto 'Of the people, by the people, for the people' and the female No.2 pretends to believe in the power of the people:

No.6: I have a choice ?

No.2: You do as you want

No.6: As long as it's what you want

No.2: As long it is what the majority wants. We’re democratic, in some ways.

The voice heard over the tannoy also greatly emphasizes the role of the people, so much that it becomes suspect: 'Your local council, and remember it is your local council, democratically elected by you, has decided to organize a great new competition' (CBB, emphasis mine). Indeed, elections in the Village quickly turn out to be just an elaborate device to make the Prisoner talk. No.6 is elected only to be beaten back to his status as prisoner and No.2 even asserts that this is just the beginning of his sufferings (FA). Words are therefore emptied of their original meaning and are used with an intent to deceive. The word 'democracy' used in the Village certainly does not refer to what one would find in a dictionary, something like 'government by the people or their elected representatives'. Words are deprived of part of their meaning, they only keep those which are acceptable in the Village. For instance, the word 'free' has lost much of its significance. It does not mean 'the capacity to act at will, not under compulsion or restraint', the obvious illustration being that No.6 simply cannot move as he likes and above all, cannot get out of the Village. Rather, the word is used in such instances as in 'free sea', a Village sign which denotes a pool (A). 'Free' here designs what it is at the Villagers' disposal and that they can use it to play with their toy boats. The alterations of words to meet the ideological needs of the Village authorities strongly recalls George Orwell's 1984. In this novel, the 'Ingsoc' government created a new language called 'Newspeak' which they wish to gradually impose on the population. In the appendix explaining its principles, we learn that the word 'free' can no longer be used in 'politically or intellectually free', but only, exactly in the same restricted manner as in the Village, to say that a dog is 'free from lice' for instance. In 1984, secondary meanings are suppressed because 'political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts.' In the Village, No.2 still uses words which bear great notions while they are deformed, stripped of some of their meanings which would certainly not apply to the place anyway. They adopt words for the respectability they imply. The policy enforced in 1984 is called 'Ingsoc' (English Socialism) but actually despises the manual workers. Hitler's anti-Semitic policies may have been extremely barbarous, he still called them 'socialism'. The Village's claims to be a 'democracy' do not make it a fact either and they know it. The authorities therefore holds a language using a kind of 'Doublethink', deliberate lying both to others and to oneself, a method used in 1984. It means:

to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them; to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the party was the guardian of democracy.

In 1984, the minister which deals with law and order is called 'the ministry of love.' Likewise, the Village authorities never believed in democracy nor in the decisive power of the individual. They nevertheless use the word to denote the Village and its dictatorship and give a respectable facade to the whole, knowing themselves that this is a lie. The most ironical use of language is probably the sign seen outside No.6's cottage and which reads '6 private.' The word 'private' has also lost his true significance as the Prisoner's every move is observed. To build their reality of the place, the authorities therefore use words which have lost parts of their meaning but manage to utter lies with great seriousness:

No.2: Won't you ever give up?

No.6: What do you think?

No.6: We have ways of making you see sense, ways that are carried under the strictest medical supervision of course

No.6: I can guess what, from the state of the man you took yesterday!

No.2: The rook? Oh, he will come to no harm, he's been put on a rehabilitation course.

No.6: You make it sound very attractive. What do you want me to do, envy him ?

No.2 tries to make his acts sound respectable. Nevertheless, the 'rehabilitation course' will prove to be merely a euphemism which refers to Pavlovian conditioning. In Politics and the English language, George Orwell attacks such speeches which are 'the defence of the indefensible.' He goes on to explain that the kind of language enforced in The Prisoner is also used in real life and that atrocities like the Russian purges or the dropping of atom bombs can perfectly be justified through vague expressions or euphemisms: 'Defenceless Villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.' In the Village, language is corrupted and one could appropriately say that it is 'designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.' That is how we come to understand that when No.2 says to No.6 'We want you to be happy!', one has to understand that he hopes all his aggressiveness and rebellion will disappear. The result is a large number of lies uttered without any shame. Their authors are either the authorities or those who side with them, guardians and submitted Villagers. What remains is a great irony in their speeches:

'It's improper to listen' while microphones are hidden everywhere (DD)

'Anyone would think you were locked inside the way you talk!' while they are indeed (DD)

'You'll be cured No.6' not meaning that he will be looked after but psychologically tortured. (CBB)

'Humour is the very essence of a democratic society' while there is no democracy nor humour in the Village.

This aspect of the series is greatly emphasized by the soundtrack which uses the same kind of double language. As No.2 who calmly uses words in complete opposition to his actions, soothing pieces of music are heard during the most violent (either psychologically or physically) scenes of the series:

A: No 6 smashes his radio set to pieces to a lullaby

Fight on the beach to a jazz theme

Burial ceremony to the sound of a brass Band

ABC: No 6 drugged into unconsciousness to a lullaby

CBB: No6 morally broken to the sound of a Brass band

HA: Violent fight between no 6 and 14 to Vivaldi

FO: submachine guns to The Beatles' All You Need Is Love

In the Village, lies are uttered with great seriousness under the appearance of friendly and trivial discussions. This constitutes the irony of the series and first makes us doubt the apparent jollity of the place in which it takes place. The nice and colourful holiday camp now turns out to be a society which manipulates language. No.2 is the one who makes the greatest use of this perverted language. He therefore appears as a powerful demagogue who deceives his audience.


Books referred to in the paper:

Breton, Philippe, La Parole manipulée, Paris, La découverte, 1997.

Orwell George, 1984, Paris, Gallimard, 1991.

Orwell George , The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, Vol.4 In Front of Your Nose, 1945-1950, London, Routledge, Secker&Warburg, 1968, p136.

Packard Vance, The Hidden Persuaders, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1986.

Tchakhotine Serge, Le Viol des foules, Paris, Gallimard, 1952.

Text © Guillaume Granier on behalf of le rÔdeur, 12/1999.

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Dernière mise à jour le 5 mai 2001.