I recently re-read the famous, classic novel 1984 by George Orwell. What a book!
I only imagine the kind of controversy this novel must have engendered when it was published in the nineteen-fifties. What some individuals do not seem to understand, though, is that the more you attempt to censure a book, the more people want to read it.
Obviously, the right to free speech prevents anyone these days from actively, physically removing a book from society’s reach because of, for example, its dystopian or sexual content.
I read an article yesterday about how the book Catcher in the Rye by of course J.D Salinger was considered to be very controversial and scandalous when it was published. Teachers who gave the book to their high school students as an assignment were fired, and a group of people even counted every single swear word that was uttered in the novel as a way to prove that the book was inappropriate. What a waste of energy.
Obviously, there is no shortage of books who were once censored because of foul language, sexual content or anti-religious content. But what about the books whose authors made sure to water down the possible controversy that was to come after the publishing of the said book by covering up its true meaning ?
I’m thinking, for example, of all the books written in a context different from the one that the author lives in to illustrate a problem in society. Think of The Crucible by Arthur Miller, for example. Miller set his play in 1692, to illustrate the horrid realities of the Salem Witch Trials. He wrote the play to make a parallel between the persecution of the so-called “witches” and what was happening at the time in the United States, the red scare and the McCarthyism in the nineteen-fifties, the time when the play was published. He hid his true message behind the façade of the Salem Witch Trials.
This is the whole concept of the novel 1984 – whereas The Crucible was set in the past to convey a message about the present, 1984 was set in the future to convey a message about the present. Despite the fact that 1984 is not my favorite novel – far from it, actually – I enjoy reading commentaries of the sort. It gives place to good, important reflections on our society the way it was in the fifties, in the eighties and even today, in 2016. I think that reflections ignited by reading are essential – throughout history, society’s biggest problems have been addressed, tackled and disputed by reading and writing, reading and writing.
This is why I say that books are life. Writing and reading are life. It’s not only a way to communicate our ideas, but a way to question them and challenge them.