I reread Nineteen Eighty-Four each time I teach it, so this is almost an annual event. I’ve read it enough times now that it no longer shocks me nor surprises me as I remember so vividly it doing the first times I read it. Now it’s almost simply a reaffirmation of the ideas and the general story line so I can share with my students as they discuss their reactions in reading it for the first time.
So this isn’t going to be a traditional review, but I did want to comment on something that struck me this time that I haven’t always paid a lot of attention to in the past, and that’s the sections Winston reads from The Book while hiding away above Mr. Charrington’s shop.
These sections can seem a little dry when one is reading to find out what happens next. But I think I read them with an extra care and level of interest this time because of what is going on in America today. It is even more chilling than I remember. The discussions of the tactics of oligarchies in sustaining power for the sake of power, and how totalitarian regimes control people so that the pyramid structure of power is forever maintained, are so thoughtful but so eerily accurate.
The whipped-up hatred of The Other, the economic means of keeping the Proles from ever escaping poverty and ignorance, the climate of fear and intolerance… it’s hard to type those phrases and not think of today’s political climate. It won’t surprise me if the White House has some version of the Two Minutes Hate each day, possibly with a picture of Obama in Goldstein’s place.
The warning Orwell gives us in this book has perhaps never been more relevant than today.
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH