We’re rounding out our spotlight of letters from the Letters About Literature initiative, a national reading and writing program that asks young people in grades 4 through 12 to write to an author (living or deceased) about how his or her book affected their lives. National and honor winners were announced last month.
You can read the winning letters from the competition Level 1 (grades 4-6) and competition Level 2 (grades 7-8) here.
The following is the Level 3 (grades 9-12) National Prize-winning letter from Devi Acharya of University City, Mo., who wrote to George Orwell, author of “Animal Farm” and “1984.”
To George Orwell:
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. I’m only just beginning to see them myself—brick and mortar meant to keep worlds apart, shields of hatred and arrows of intolerance, warlords arming for battle while the unwitting peasants continue to live from day to day. 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.
Oh, if only I could make you understand just how important—nay, fundamental!—your work has been to my life! If only I knew I would be able to express such a thing in this letter—and it not come across as the ramblings of a madman! What I enumerated before, but feel I have not adequately expressed, is that you were right. 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. I saw the denizens, mindless and dumb, waiting to see who the new ruler would be, wondering if they should care. And in my wide-eyed youth I did not think, “Those are Orwell’s words! Those are the very actions, painted on the canvas of reality! That group is made of pigs, and those other fellows’ horses and goats and sheep. Here is where the story starts, and here is where it will end, every word as he penned it.” 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,