Orwell Impacts Culture Today

Photo depicting the cover for George Orwell’s novel 1984. Courtesy of Google Images.

By Gaby Martinez

Within the first month of this new year, sales of George Orwell’s 1984 are at an all time high. The widely acclaimed novel, often listed under “required reading” in many American high schools, has suddenly gained popular interest. It can be assumed that some of those who begrudgingly only read the first few chapters now have renewed motivation to finish the entire work.

While this doesn’t indicate direct correlation and causation, it does demand some portion of our attention—at least for the sake of coincidence.  

Like so many pieces of literature in the dystopian genre, Orwell’s 1984 has received its fair share of criticism and censorship since the time of it’s publishing. During the McCarthy era, it was accused of perpetuating pro-communist messages by parents and educators alike.

Fast forward to present day, the works of Bradbury, Huxley, and Orwell are fully integrated into state language arts’ standards. We’ve certainly come a long way in appreciating the contribution of these works to class and cultural awareness.

Although this renewed interest in the novel might be indicative of some kind of great awakening in a time of political unrest on both sides, it may also reflect or paint a picture of how we as americans are evaluating the current climate and state of affairs.

With televised examples of violence, protests, and police brutality, it is definitely possible that Orwell’s character, Big Brother, is part of the picture. Anonymous, the online group of activist hacktivists, would certainly assume that information is withheld and demands to be exposed to the masses.

However, there is also the possibility that, according to Huxley’s premise, our consumption of these spectacles are not a means for information but a means for distraction because of their shock value. Oceania, in 1984, gives us a concrete scenario to compare ourselves to, in hopes that we can make sense of everything going on around us.

Bradbury presents a dystopia as well, but at a different angle to consider. This real danger, he posited, was that, “you don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”