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16. George Orwell's Dystopias: Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four

Erika Gottlieb


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Both utopian and dystopian fiction – visions of the best and the worst of all possible worlds – belong to the genre of political satire. In this genre the reader plays an active role. Through the satirical devices of indirection – irony, allusion, the reversal of cause and effect relationships, apposition, overstatement – the satirist prepares us to recognize the flaws of our own society. When reading utopian fiction, we are invited to see the rationality of bringing into reality the vision of the best of all possible worlds, the society without the flaws of our own. In reading dystopia, we are expected to see the rationality of preventing the nightmare vision of the future – a monstrous world that could develop from the flaws rampant in our own society – from becoming reality. Orwell was familiar with these genres, particularly with dystopias, although, like his contemporaries, he did not yet use the term “dystopia” and called all kinds of speculative literature “utopian.” Undoubtedly, he was closely familiar with Brave New World (1931) and Darkness at Noon (1940), and after he read Zamiatin's We (1920), he wrote: “I am interested in that kind of book and even keep making notes for one myself that may get written sooner or later” (III: 8). In his 1946 review of We , Orwell praised Zamiatin's “intuitive grasp of the irrational side of totalitarianism – human sacrifice, cruelty ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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