When I was in the eighth grade, our language arts class read George Orwell's book Animal Farm. I didn't think much about the greater implications of the book at the time, as I didn't take literature that seriously. Sure, I liked to read a good book, but I was more interested in reading for pleasure than for talking about what the book meant.
I do remember how the plot worked. The animals on a farm are taught by Old Major, the old boar, that humans are holding them down and suggests revolution. After Old Major, two pigs named Napoleon and Snowball lead the rest of the animals against the farmer, Mr. Jones, driving him out, then establish the Seven Commandments of Animalism. While Snowball preached the idea that all animals were equal, Napoleon has his own ideas, having his dogs chase Snowball away, revamped the commandments to suit his needs, and eventually celebrate a new alliance with the humans.
We didn't discuss it language arts class then, but Animal Farm was a satirical version of Joseph Stalin rising to power in the Soviet Union. Napoleon was George Orwell's shot at Stalin -- in other words, the guy who claims to be part of a revolution promising change, but in reality has his own agenda to advance.
It was several years that I bought the book Orwell might be most well known for, 1984. For those who are familiar with the work, the phrase "Big Brother is watching you" should spring to mind. It followed a man named Winston Smith, who works for the Ministry of Truth, an agency responsible for historical revisionism. He deals with his dislike for the ruling Party of Oceania, all while forming relationships with Julia and O'Brien, which eventually lead to him being captured by the Thought Police and brainwashed into accepting Big Brother.
In the book, Orwell critiqued nationalism, censorship and surveillance -- all methods used to control the populace in the dystopian world. Those themes, along with his satirical world of Animal Farm, still hold relevancy today.
For example, I can't imagine Orwell being a fan of the Patriot Act. I could imagine he would be skeptical of every movement embraced by a politician, because he would suspect either the politician had bigger plans in mind or that those close to the politician would be a bad influence. Orwell would certainly support some of the grassroots movements that have happened in the United States, but he'd warn against putting too much trust in most leaders to embrace those grassroots movements.
I haven't modeled my book entirely on Orwell's writing, but I like to think there is some influence there. I touch a lot upon the right of people to speak out when they disagree with a government policy. In 1984, such disagreement is not tolerated. My book also briefly touches upon history, and I plan to go more in depth in a later installment. In 1984, revisionist history is very much at play.
And I do believe some thought needs to be given to the themes Orwell touches upon in 1984, even if we haven't reached the point that the nations of the world have merged into three superstates. The same can be said for Animal Farm, which may be an allegory of Stalin rising to power in the Soviet Union, but could be said of any leader who claims to support one thing, but his actions are anything but what he claims to support.
I'm not a conspiracy theorist by any means. I will say, though, that any time you hear a leader talk about something -- even if the leader say something you agree with -- it helps to have that grain of salt handy.
BOOK UPDATE: I have edited 14 chapters as of this writing. Again, a few more rewrites I didn't consider earlier, but have done upon further consideration.