It is quite surprising when the number one book on Amazon is a book that was originally printed during the 1940’s. However, considering the fact that the number one book is 1984 this is a testament not only to the allegory of life under an authoritarian government, but to the somewhat clichéd phrases the book introduces into American culture. The adjective Orwellian, has been used profusely over the past decade to describe everything from a camera on every street corner to government reading the emails of its citizens. The future presented in 1984 is dystopian, where the difference between up and down are not clear and no one can clearly tell the difference from fact or fiction.
This is a story that resonates very well with the way many people are feeling in America today. 1984 is the kind of story that should be taught in schools across the country, not just because it is a good story, but it is a clever way of commenting on the way one sees the world. This book is a prime example of why students spend time reading stories in their English class, but that message is not often communicated to students. The importance of looking for the deeper meaning of a story and not just completing an assignment is not stressed enough for many reasons. Sometimes there is a communication breakdown between teacher and student, and other times the student(s) have a lack of interest in the subject matter. Not every story fits this criteria, but for those that do it is worth taking heed of the message(s) the author conveys.
One important factor in determining the intent of the author is to know a bit about the author’s background or notice recurring themes in their work. Take for example Orwell’s other famous work Animal Farm. This story is more of a true parable of an authoritarian regime that uses animals as a substitute for human beings, yet has the same central theme as 1984. The use of animals is well suited to subtly get kids interested in the story while delivering a moral message that may be beyond their comprehension. Some parents may believe that kids are too young to be exposed to such themes, but shielding them from the complexity of life does not make problems go away, but it can prepare them to understand how the world works.
Dystopian novels are all the rage in society today which does reflect the mood of a certain segment of the populace. Exposing kids to Orwell’s themes is not meant to depress them, but provides context to understanding the world around them. Ideally, by understanding the themes of a story will spark their critical thinking skills in order for them to make thoughtful decisions when interpreting the world as it exist. Another dystopian novel that recently entered the best sellers list is It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, which has been referenced a lot in the past year. These works of fiction may present a sense that the rapture is coming, but they comment on a possible future that can be prevented if the right steps are taken.
Making It to The Finish Line is the kind of organization that helps to educate kids in the Detroit area. By being a community organization we give kids the message that life does not have to be as dystopian as the novels of George Orwell if people proactively work to make sure that future does not happen. If you are interested in helping you can visit the website mittfl.org or call (313) 460-0596.