Worlds imagined and feared: from Orwell’s 1984 to contemporary dystopian writing

Il Tema

George Orwell’s 1984 set the standard for modern dystopian literature when it came out in 1949. Such has been the impact of the novel on readers worldwide (and on viewers too, given the great success of its TV and film versions) that it has acquired a status both mythical and realistic. When one thinks of the dangers of totalitarianism and unbridled technology, 1984 inevitably comes to mind - also thanks to the Big Brother figure or, again, myth. Yet Orwell’s vision of a bleak and inescapable future tyranny has not gone unchallenged. Soon after the book came out Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World, called into question Orwell’s prophecy of the future world, and more recently different forms of dystopian writing have emerged, questioning the inevitability of such worlds - in particular, whether they should be taken for granted. Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas (1973), put forward the point so strongly as to have become a cult in modern dystopian literature. Some fifty years later another short story, The Ones Who Stay and Fight (2018) by N. K. Jemisin, became equally famous as both a reply to Le Guin and a strong plea for refusing to accept that dystopia is the natural condition of modern mankind.


Arturo Cattaneo è Professore Ordinario di Letteratura Inglese presso l'Università Cattolica di Milano. Ha pubblicato libri e saggi in italiano e in inglese. Tra i libri, un lungo saggio creativo, Shakespeare e l'amore (Einaudi, Torino 2019). È autore di A Short History of English Literature (Mondadori, Milano 2019), e di una serie di storie antologiche della letteratura inglese per le scuole superiori (L & L l’ultima, edita da Signorelli, Milano). Ha pubblicato due romanzi: Ci vediamo a settembre (2010, Sedizioni) e La notte inglese (2012, Mondadori).



Laura Cavaleri - Responsabile Area Lingue Mondadori Education