A High School Student's Remarkable Letter To George Orwell

Illustration for article titled A High School Students Remarkable Letter To George Orwell

A Library of Congress contest invites young people to write letters to authors (living or deceased). The latest prize goes to Devi Acharya, who tells Orwell, "You shouldn't have published those books of yours under the guise of fiction — how could fiction be what's happening outside my very doorstep?"

Previous letters, written by students between the ages of 9 and 18, have been addressed to Ray Bradbury, Anne Frank, Dr. Seuss and Sharon Draper. The young people are encouraged to explain how the authors' books have affected their lives.

Here's Acharya's letter to George Orwell — a message from the perspective of someone growing up in the surveillance society of the 21st century:

You were right, you were right, you were right. I'm sorry I never saw it before, and I feel like an idiot, sitting here and penning this to you when you were so unspeakably right. You shouldn't have published those books of yours under the guise of fiction — how could fiction be what's happening outside my very doorstep! People get so worked up, angry at some imaginary oppressive tyrant when the very dystopias we fear and loathe are being built around us... Soon only the fortress, a bastion cutting down any hope of love or compassion, will remain, with every citizen gripped tight in the steely apathy of law.

I first read "Animal Farm" when I was young — too young to understand it. I thought of it as a humorous fable, nothing more. Every day I saw oppression — in the news, on the street, in my home. Every day I watched as underlings tried to rise above their rulers, getting drunk on power and imposing rule harsher than even that of previous tyrant... My eyes might have been as blind as those vacant stares about me, but to my credit I did observe. I watched people and places and motivations and reactions. I tried to piece my world together through the map you created.

Then came your work "1984." This piece was the key that turned the lock in my mind, allowing me to see that this was real, that vigilance was needed. I saw in my slovenly compatriots the face of Parsons, and in my fellow youth those trained only to follow orders and the herd under the guise of "teambuilding" and crafting "character." I saw the posing, the scare tactics, the hypes and hysteria. I saw the pain of real terrorism as it happened, and then saw the far more expansive, far more deadly panic and paranoia of imagined threats of terrorism.

Now what do I see when I dare to venture outside my tiny safe haven? Drones circling overhead. Cellphones that track every move; whose conversations are being recorded and analyzed indiscriminately for any sign of suspicion. More and more information has been released, telling evidence of our descent into dystopia — and yet people seem to become ever more complacent! Scandals blow up in a day and are gone the next. Disaster relief gets attention perhaps only a few months. People would much rather live in an era where superheroes and men with guns can solve all the problems in the world. And I must confess, I can't blame them for that.

I am not saying, sir, that I think that every aspect of society is awful and must be usurped, countermanded, destroyed. I love this world. That's why I want to protect it. I am saying (as you have always said) that people must always watch the world around them instead of drifting between obligations and pleasure, as so many do now. That's the reason I wrote this letter — to say (for it must be reiterated this one last time) that you were right. Right to write your books, right to do all that you have done to better the world. I, too, have begun my first steps in the world of writing, describing the world I see around me just as you did. I hope to be, just as you have been, an observer spinning my cautionary tales, and trying to help the world understand.

You are truly an inspiration. Your words will echo in this world for centuries to come.

Goodbye for now,

Devi Acharya

See all the letters at the Library of Congress.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter



I remember distinctly in the 8th grade taking a risk and choosing a 10th grade book - 1984 - to write a book report.

I didn't get it. I knew something was going on, but couldn't put my finger on it. I had never read Animal Farm, and had no idea who Orwell was.

When asked for help, my English teacher told me something to the effect of "Oh - it's just a book about what someone thought life might be like a few years into the future, as he wrote it in the 40's". [DISCLAIMER: before you get all Murica! on me, I'm Canadian, and this was in the mid-90's in a typical Canadian junior high school]

Nothing about allegory, nothing about satire.

I flunked that book report, and remember that to this day. It remains one of my favorite stories, and is always top of mind for me when I watch the news.