Critical Context

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Textbooks are uncertain whether to classify Nineteen Eighty-Four as a young adult novel or as a “classic.” Whatever its designation, the novel has been often assigned in the classroom, sometimes for political reasons, but not as widely as Animal Farm, largely on the basis of length. Nineteen Eighty-Four also often turns up on lists of censored works, often for its theme of sexual relations as a legitimate form of political rebellion.

The novel continues to be read even though the year that it so remorselessly depicts is long over. Nineteen Eighty-Four brought the rich tradition of the dystopian novel into the heart of the twentieth century. It acknowledges and builds upon the heritage of Gulliver’s Travels, H. G. Wells’s When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), Jack London’s The Iron Heel (1907), Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1924), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), and Animal Farm. The gloominess of its tone persuaded some critics that it was the bitter, twisted outcry of a dying man (Orwell died of tuberculosis seven months after it was published). Yet, the humor of its satire, the overwhelming seriousness of its message, and the clarity of its exposition ensure its continuing place in the ranks of both young adult literature and the classics.

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