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English Detective # 113-- 1984 and its Echoes
September 04, 2018

George Orwell wrote 1984 just over sixty years ago. The world has changed in ways that could hardly be imagined then—and yet it continues to sound a warning. Changing technologies have not negated Orwell’s insights into the ways people get and keep power by manipulating human weaknesses.

Read a little about the conditions under which Orwell wrote his masterpiece, then a couple of perspectives on the ways it is still relevant-- including a high school teacher’s efforts to make his students more aware of the ease of social manipulation.

Orwell wrote much of 1984 while coping with serious illness. The Guardian tells the story, as well as discussing the book’s continued impact. It also talks about Orwell's concern with the deliberate misuse of language to twist the truth and make it difficult to recognize reality. At the end of the article, it defines several of Orwell’s key phrases (thoughtcrime, doublethink, newspeak, etc.)

A high school teacher describes how he prepares his students for reading 1984 by demonstrating techniques used to manipulate or intimidate people. He starts by warning his students about “senioritis”—an invented disease that makes high school seniors careless about their classwork. It’s frightening how easily he can persuade students to cooperate with his campaign and even report on each other. Helping students recognize manipulation seems more urgent now than ever.

This New Yorker article was written in 2013, just after Edward Snowden’s revelations about the extent of American surveillance of individuals. Like the other articles, it points out the current relevance of Orwell’s warnings.


Dictator- a leader with absolute power over his nation

Manuscript- the author’s written or typed version of a book before it has been prepared for publication

Narrator- the person telling a story

Surveillance- spying: keeping watch over everything possible that someone says or does. (These techniques are usually used by a government to track its citizens—or other people it considers to be possible threats.)

Totalitarian-an adjective describing a movement or government aiming for complete control over its people

Until next time,

Catherine Simonton,

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