I’m not sure I should have read Animal Farm, The Handmaid’s Tale, Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 so close together, or at least not in this particular day and age. These days I tend to avoid politics and cable news for blood pressure reasons, but these books brought it all too close for comfort. I was angry for weeks on end as I watched current events mimic what I was reading in these classic dystopian fiction novels.
Animal Farm was written in 1945 as Orwell’s criticism of communism as he saw it at the time. The short novel tells the story of a farm run by lazy and abusive farmers that is taken over by its socialist leaning animals. The pig species then uses the ignorance of the other animals, fake news and alternative facts to become the leader and repeats the cycle of abuse on the other animals. In addition to the manipulative, ego-maniacal and self-serving pig, the stereotypes of other peoples are all there as well: the slow and uncommitted donkey, the frivolous and vain riding horse, the superiority complexed cat who refuses to work, the hens who protest with acts of subterfuge, the sheep who unquestioningly repeat political party soundbites, pups trained to be the secret police, and the workhorses who kill themselves in service to the whole.
In 1984, Orwell continues his anti-dictatorship writing, this time with the Thought Police, Big Brother, doublethink and newspeak as the villains. The party controls the ignorant masses with a common enemy to rail against and be afraid of, shifting it to suit their needs. “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.” Winston Smith tries to defend truth, love and real knowledge. He fails and becomes a hollowed out shell who publicly agrees with the party that 2+2 =5 in order to save himself.
What all of these books have in common is the underlying message that an ignorant and uneducated populace will always fall victim to tyrants and dictators. Knowledge and education are the only true freedom paths of any civil society.