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AMAZON RECENTLY noted a spike in sales of Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell’s 1949 novel of a dystopian (as opposed to utopian) future. This brings to mind three other works about alternative fact: Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World. Philip Roth’s 2009 novel The Plot Against America. And a classic of the genre, Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here. These days, each of these books is worth reading.
Given that a good number of us were encouraged to read Brave New World and 1984 in English class, it’s likely these two are the more familiar of the four.
Brave New World made a cameo appearance here at SimanaitisSays. It was in the context of a Science magazine report on successful indoctrination through sleep-learning.
Another nugget is the novel’s nomenclature for years: It doesn’t take place in 2540 A.D., but rather in 632 A.F. That is, After Ford, counting from 1908 A.D. being the first year of the Model T.
Would that it takes that many years for such a dystopian world to evolve.
George Orwell’s dystopian world was a great deal closer than 2450 A.D. when Nineteen Eighty-Four, as it was originally titled, appeared in 1949. Its protagonist, Winston Smith, works for Minitrue, Newspeak for the Ministry of Truth in this chilling alternative history. Big Brother fosters double-think. Secret surveillance leads to torture of those who participate in thoughtcrime.
Altogether, 1984 is scarier than Brave New World, at least in part because many of its prophecies of dystopia have already come to pass.
Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America is the most recent, 2004, and in a sense the most controversial: It takes national hero Charles Lindbergh and expands on his factual America First beliefs and what many (FDR, for one) perceived as his Nazi-like views on race and religion.
In this alternative history, Lindbergh wins the 1940 presidential election through strong support in the Midwest and South. He signs a treaty, the Iceland Understanding, that gives Nazi Germany free reign to its European dominance and another, the Hawaii Understanding, concerning Japan’s ambitions in Asia.
Domestic matters are no better. The alternative Lindy relocates Jewish kids to the South and Midwest for “Americanizing” them. Radio broadcaster Walter Winchell, a Jew, is fired, decides to run against President Lindbergh and is assassinated. Lindbergh’s plane goes missing, and things deteriorate until First Lady Anne Morrow Lindbergh pleads for people to move on.
Sinclair Lewis’s novel is subtitled “What will happen when America has a Dictator?” It was part of Lewis’s semi-satirical view that he wrote “when,” not “if.” He had as a paradigm the actual political career of Louisiana’s Huey Long, an outspoken populist U.S. Senator who planned to run against President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936. Long was assassinated in 1935, and people still argue today whether he would have been a dictator or merely a demagogue. What a choice!
In It Can’t Happen Here, the charismatic Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip becomes president after campaign pledges of a return to patriotism and traditional values. The ensuing totalitarian rule is characterized by a curtailing of women’s and minority rights, a paramilitary Minute Men force and incarceration of political enemies. After Windrip’s downfall and exile to France, there’s an unjustified invasion of Mexico and …..
Are you getting edgy yet? I am. By the way, Wife Dottie adds another book to the reading list: the Book of Revelation. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017