Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign memoir includes a questionable interpretation of the central lesson of George Orwell’s novel “1984,” namely that individuals should trust those in positions of authority.
Clinton’s memoir What Happened, released Tuesday, suggests the goal of the government-sanctioned torture featured prominently in Orwell’s novel is to erode trust in the authoritarian overlords who control all aspects of society. This perspective is diametrically opposed to the central lesson most readers have drawn from the book since it was published in 1949.
“Attempting to define reality is a core feature of authoritarianism. This is what the Soviets did when they erased political dissidents from historical photos. This is what happens in George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, when a torturer holds up four fingers and delivers electric shocks until his prisoner sees five fingers as ordered. The goal is to make you question logic and reason and to sow mistrust toward exactly the people we need to rely on: our leaders, the press, ex-perts who seek to guide public policy based on evidence, ourselves. For Trump, as with so much he does, it’s about simple dominance.”
There is no shortage of attempts to conform the lessons of “1984” to a range of modern political contexts, but Clinton’s interpretation stretches the broad limits of literary interpretation.
The origin of Clinton’s counterintuitive interpretation of the work is unclear. Somehow, after reading a terrifying account of government overreach creeping into every aspect of human life and choice, Clinton drew the lesson that individuals should be able to trust the government, and society’s various information gatekeepers.
A number of Clintons’ fellow Democrats have condemned the contents of the campaign memoir as unnecessarily divisive and derided her for the timing of its release. One former Clinton staffer told Politico that Clinton’s book release and the resulting news cycle was her “final torture” for the party.