1984 is a dystopian novella by George Orwell published in 1949, which follows the life of Winston Smith, a low ranking member of ‘the Party’, who is frustrated by the omnipresent eyes of the party, and its ominous ruler Big Brother.
‘Big Brother’ controls every aspect of people’s lives. It has invented the language ‘Newspeak’ in an attempt to completely eliminate political rebellion; created ‘Throughtcrimes’ to stop people even thinking of things considered rebellious. The party controls what people read, speak, say and do with the threat that if they disobey, they will be sent to the dreaded Room 101 as a looming punishment.
Orwell effectively explores the themes of mass media control, government surveillance, totalitarianism and how a dictator can manipulate and control history, thoughts, and lives in such a way that no one can escape it.
When I completed my student teaching during my last year of college, one of the grades that I had was 12th grade. Since the focus was on British literature, my cooperating teacher told me to look into which novel I wanted to teach: Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, or 1984.
While we had to change plans in order to cover Shakespeare during my time there, I kept those books in mind. One of the first books I read before starting my job at the library was “1984” by George Orwell. I read it because I knew if I ever had the opportunity to teach 12th grade again, I would need to at least know about this book.
I knew going into this that many people had stated that they noticed some similarities between what occurs in the book, and what is happening in the real world; however, it was not until I began reading it that I realized that this was somewhat true.
These similarities mainly occur with the matter of facts and opinions in the media. Because many people stick to one source to gather news, it becomes easier for certain groups to “manipulate public opinion” (Orwell 160).
No matter what side of the argument people are on, it is always important to see what the opposing side argues. I have learned from my time working at my college newspaper, that while news agencies should be unbiased when covering both sides of an argument, many do not.
Why is this chosen?
Just like with many dystopian novels, there are some elements of the real world seen in it; although, they are usually exaggerated.
While the world it portrays is fictional, we are already seeing some aspects of it becoming reality. It is important for students to be active in their learning and questioning ideas that are confusing or contradictory. Teachers should foster an environment where students feel comfortable in asking questions to further their knowledge.
While I have not had my own classroom, I have seen many cases where a student didn’t question the information they are told because the teacher has created the environment where they are the only authority figure. Hopefully, by introducing this novel and encouraging students to become active learners, we can avoid a situation where we only have a Big Brother figure as our only source of authority.
However, this is again one of those novels I question being chosen for summer reading. Again, this is because of how much can be pulled from this, and how sometimes, summer reading books aren’t given the proper room to breathe.
If the class this is assigned to is honors or college-level, then I believe this would work for summer reading. This is because these students are used to delving deeper into these types of novels on their own. On the other hand, on-level English students should have this assigned in class in order to have that opportunity to delve deeper as a group and have more time covering the connections that can be made.