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Week 2

Teen Readers

1984

Audio Version of 1984

Text Version of 1984

About the Author

George Orwell

George Orwell (1903-1950)

George Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair on June 25, 1903 in India, the son of a British colonial civil servant. He was raised and educated in England as an adult joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, then a British colony. He resigned in 1927 and decided to become a writer. He was not initially successful as a writer, leading him to work in a series of menial jobs.

Orwell was politically active, becoming an anarchist in the late 1920s, and by the 1930s he had begun to consider himself a socialist. In 1936, Orwell travelled to Spain to fight in the Spanish Civil War, joining the Spanish Republicans against Franco's Nationalists. Orwell was shot in the throat and arm during the conflict; for several weeks, he was unable to speak. Orwell and his wife, Eileen, were charged with treason in Spain, forcing them to flee in fear of their lives from Soviet-backed communists who were suppressing Spanish revolutionary socialist dissenters. The experience turned him into a lifelong anti-Stalinist.

Orwell worked on propaganda for the BBC from 1941-1943.  This experience gave him a deep distaste for his job and the BBC. In 1943, he quit the BBC to became literary editor of the Tribune, a weekly magazine.

In 1945, Orwell published Animal Farm, a political allegory set on a farm but based on Joseph Stalin's betrayal of the Russian Revolution. Orwell became famous from the book and became financially comfortable for the first time in his life. Nineteen Eighty-Four was published four years later. Orwell died from tuberculosis one year later.

In 2017 a statue of the author funded by the George Orwell Memorial Fund was installed outside the BBC in London.  The inscription bears a quote from George Orwell: "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

George Orwell’s masterwork Nineteen Eighty-Four was his last book, published in 1949, just one year before he lost his fight with tuberculosis, dying at age 46. Nineteen Eighty-Four gives readers a view into a dystopian world where the government controls every detail of a person's life, even their own private thoughts.  The novel examines the consequences of government totalitarianism, mass surveillance, revisionist history, propaganda, and perpetual war.  

Nineteen Eighty-Four contributed several words and phrases to our language that are still used today: unperson (“a human who has been stripped of rights, identity or humanity”), newspeak (“the fictional language devised to meet the needs of Ingsoc,” or English Socialism, and is “designed to restrict the words, and hence the thoughts, of the citizens of Oceania.”, memory hole (a slit in a building leading to an incinerator where inconvenient evidence was destroyed), thought crime (the crime of having unorthodox or unofficial thoughts”), and Big Brother (the omniscient and all-powerful personification of mass surveillance).  Though the year 1984 has passed the book remains relevant to our society, warning us of the consequences of letting society go down the path of totalitarianism. 

Questions for reading Nineteen Eighty-Four:

What themes do you notice in Nineteen Eighty-Four?  How do they relate to the plot?

Do you like the characters?  Do you feel you could depend on any of them?

How is technology used by Big Brother and The Party?  Are there any stories in our news in the last few years that remind you of that aspect of Nineteen Eighty-Four?

Do you agree with the idea in the novel that limiting language limits thought?

What elements from Nineteen Eighty-Four do you see in our own society?

What warnings can we take from this book?

 

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