The following five books are must reads for anyone who wants to be counted among the well-read. However, the current political climate has made them more relevant than ever. On January 26, 2017, The New York Times newspaper published an article titled, “Why ‘1984’ Is a 2017 Must-Read“. The following list includes another Orwell novel, and three more books that many believe to be prophetic in nature.
Synopsis: The novel 1984 was originally published in 1949. It was George Orwell’s warning to the world about what he thought was in its future. He feared totalitarianism – a political system with no limits, in which the government regulates every aspect of public and private life with no respect for human rights. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) is described as a dystopian novel. It is set in Airstrip One (once known as Great Britain), a province of Oceania superstate and world power. Oceania is constantly at war. It is under constant government surveillance and the government manipulates its citizens. The government has invented a language (Newspeak). Oceania is under the control of the privileged “Inner Party”. The Inner Party persecutes anyone who tries to practice independent thinking, which is considered to be a “thoughtcrime”. The “Thought Police” enforces the law. “Big Brother” is the tyrannical party leader. “Big Brother” (who may or may not actually exist) has a cult following. The “Inner Party” wants power for its own sake, with no interest in the good of others.
In the following excerpt from 1984, “Inner Party” member O’Brien describes the Party’s vision of the future:
There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always—do not forget this, Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever. — Part III, Chapter III, Nineteen Eighty-Four
2. Animal Farm – George Orwell
Synopsis: An allegory is a type of writing in which a character, place, or event represents real-world issues and occurrences. Animal Farm is an allegorical novella published in 1945. The original title was Animal Farm: A Fairy Story. U.S. publishers dropped the subtitle when it was published in 1946. Orwell wrote the novel between November 1943 and February 1944. At that time the UK was in a wartime alliance with the Soviet Union. The British people and intelligentsia held Stalin in high regard, which Orwell hated. Just prior to writing Animal Farm, Orwell quit his job at the BBC. He was upset about a booklet for propagandists the Ministry of Information had put out. Animal Farm is a protest novel against totalitarianism.
The preface of Animal Farm was written by Orwell. He explains his decision to use a farm as the setting for his novel:
…I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge carthorse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.
3. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Synopsis: Ray Bradbury published dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451, in 1953. It is set in an unspecified city at an unspecified time (presumably in the future – beyond 1960 at the time it was published). The novel presents a future American society where books are outlawed. The novel’s title was chosen because fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns. According to Wikipedia, “In a 1956 radio interview,Bradbury stated that he wrote Fahrenheit 451 because of his concerns at the time (during the McCarthy era) about the threat of book burning in the United States.” Bradbury later said the book was a commentary on how media reduces the interest in reading literature. “Bradbury was bitter and concerned about the workings of his government, and a late 1949 nighttime encounter with an overzealous police officer would inspire Bradbury to write “The Pedestrian“, a short story which would go on to become “The Fireman” and then Fahrenheit 451.”
4. The Giver – Lois Lowry
Synopsis: The Giver is an American young adult utopian/dystopian novel written by Lois Lowry. It was originally published in 1993. It is set in a society which initially appears to be utopian, but it is revealed to be dystopian as the story unfolds. The protagonist of the novel is Jonas. The society he lives in has done away with emotional depth. It has solved the problems of pain and suffering by converting to “Sameness”. Jonas is selected to become the Receiver of Memory. That title requires him to store all the past memories of the time before “Sameness”. At times Jonas would be expected to draw upon the wisdom gained from history to aid the community. Jonas has problems accepting his new position. In The Giver, “The Community lacks any color, memory, climate, or terrain, all in an effort to preserve structure, order, and a true sense of equality beyond personal individuality.” The novel is a part of a quartet of books set in the same future time. The other three books are: Gathering Blue (2000), Messenger (2004), and Son (2012).
Synopsis: Wikipedia describes The Bible as, “a collection of sacred texts or scriptures that Jews and Christians consider to be a product of divine inspiration and as a record of the relationship between God and humans.” Opinions of the The Bible vary widely. However, with over 5 billion copies sold, The Bible has been considered to be the world’s best-selling book. For Christians, the Book of Revelation found in the New Testament, is believed to be prophetic or apocalyptic. Even for those who do not accept The Bible‘s religious teachings, it has historical and literary significance.
On the Wikipedia website John Riches, professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at the University of Glasgow, gives his view of the historical influences of The Bible:
It has inspired some of the great monuments of human thought, literature, and art; it has equally fuelled some of the worst excesses of human savagery, self-interest, and narrow-mindedness. It has inspired men and women to acts of great service and courage, to fight for liberation and human development; and it has provided the ideological fuel for societies which have enslaved their fellow human beings and reduced them to abject poverty. … It has, perhaps above all, provided a source of religious and moral norms which have enabled communities to hold together, to care for, and to protect one another; yet precisely this strong sense of belonging has in turn fuelled ethnic, racial, and international tension and conflict.
The United States government does not currently practice censorship or totalitarianism. Some media sources have warned that both could be practiced in the future. The intent of this article is to make readers aware of how totalitarianism and censorship work. Totalitarian governments stay in power by using propaganda. They control the mass media and the system of education to create an uninformed citizenry. They control the economy, practice political repression, and practice unlawful capital punishment. They restrict speech using censorship and use mass surveillance. Under a totalitarian government, internment or forced labour camps are often implemented. In the words of the author of The Giver, “Submitting to censorship is to enter the seductive world of ‘The Giver‘: the world where there are no bad words and no bad deeds. But it is also the world where choice has been taken away and reality distorted. And that is the most dangerous world of all.”
See the related article: Movies that speak to the current political climate