In her new Forbes column, IHS President Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright interviews Heather King, professor of English at the University of Redlands, about George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which turned 75 years old this month, and about how literature functions as both a window and mirror.
Professor King pointed Dr. Chamlee-Wright to a 1988 monograph by Emily Style that introduced the idea that books function simultaneously as a window into another world and a mirror that reflects ourselves.
Animal Farm, for example, “functions as a window into a strange revolution, where we experience the class anxieties and hopes of different groups, and as a mirror that reveals uncomfortable truths about inequality, the tyranny that can follow revolutionary fervor, how propaganda shapes our thinking, and the role each one of us plays in a flawed system,” Dr. Chamlee-Wright writes.
Why is this especially important now? Because humanities disciplines like literature are in jeopardy at universities around the country, as the Covid-19 pandemic, financial disruption, and technological change push school and students toward “more certain” STEM disciplines. But if we lose the study of literature, Dr. Chamlee-Wright argues, we lose the ability to find a deeper understanding of human nature in books.
Dr. Chamlee-Wright writes:
Animal Farm—published in a different era on the other side of the Atlantic—brings us closer to the real-world anxieties of Americans who currently feel like they’re seen as disposable, stuck on society’s bottom rung, unable to know “the meaning of happiness or leisure,” as Orwell writes. In Orwell’s characters, we also see the corrupting influence of power. It’s not merely that the revolutionaries become obsessed with the luxuries their status affords, they also hold themselves above the rules that are supposed to apply to everyone. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” is a hypocrisy we’ve seen at the highest levels of our government in recent years.
“The stories in which we see ourselves and learn to see others can help us unpack power systems, questions of inclusion, representation, and other dynamics that are political in important, if not overt ways,” Professor King told Dr. Chamlee-Wright.