MCAT CARS Dives Into the Legacy of Orwell’s 1984

CARS 64: MCAT CARS Dives Into the Legacy of Orwell's 1984

Session 64

CARS passages are likely to reference things you’re not familiar with. In this episode, we’ll show you how to tackle a passage about a novel you haven’t read!

Jack Westin joins us once again for another great article we have in store for you. Also, check out The MCAT Podcast along with all our other podcasts on Meded Media.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

Link to article:

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/07/1984-george-orwell/590638/

No novel of the past century has had more influence than George Orwell’s 1984. The title, the adjectival form of the author’s last name, the vocabulary of the all-powerful Party that rules the superstate Oceania with the ideology of Ingsoc—doublethink, memory hole, unperson, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, Thought Police, Room 101, Big Brother—they’ve all entered the English language as instantly recognizable signs of a nightmare future. It’s almost impossible to talk about propaganda, surveillance, authoritarian politics, or perversions of truth without dropping a reference to 1984. Throughout the Cold War, the novel found avid underground readers behind the Iron Curtain who wondered, How did he know?

It was also assigned reading for several generations of American high-school students. I first encountered 1984 in 10th-grade English class. Orwell’s novel was paired with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, whose hedonistic and pharmaceutical dystopia seemed more relevant to a California teenager in the 1970s than did the bleak sadism of Oceania. I was too young and historically ignorant to understand where 1984 came from and exactly what it was warning against. Neither the book nor its author stuck with me. In my 20s, I discovered Orwell’s essays and nonfiction books and reread them so many times that my copies started to disintegrate, but I didn’t go back to 1984. Since high school, I’d lived through another decade of the 20th century, including the calendar year of the title, and I assumed I already “knew” the book. It was too familiar to revisit.

So when I recently read the novel again, I wasn’t prepared for its power. You have to clear away what you think you know, all the terminology and iconography and cultural spin-offs, to grasp the original genius and lasting greatness of 1984. It is both a profound political essay and a shocking, heartbreaking work of art. And in the Trump era, it’s a best seller.

The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984, by the British music critic Dorian Lynskey, makes a rich and compelling case for the novel as the summation of Orwell’s entire body of work and a master key to understanding the modern world. The book was published in 1949, when Orwell was dying of tuberculosis, but Lynskey dates its biographical sources back more than a decade to Orwell’s months in Spain as a volunteer on the republican side of the country’s civil war. His introduction to totalitarianism came in Barcelona, when agents of the Soviet Union created an elaborate lie to discredit Trotskyists in the Spanish government as fascist spies.

Left-wing journalists readily accepted the fabrication, useful as it was to the cause of communism. Orwell didn’t, exposing the lie with eyewitness testimony in journalism that preceded his classic book Homage to Catalonia—and that made him a heretic on the left. He was stoical about the boredom and discomforts of trench warfare—he was shot in the neck and barely escaped Spain with his life—but he took the erasure of truth hard. It threatened his sense of what makes us sane, and life worth living. “History stopped in 1936,” he later told his friend Arthur Koestler, who knew exactly what Orwell meant. After Spain, just about everything he wrote and read led to the creation of his final masterpiece. “History stopped,” Lynskey writes, “and Nineteen Eighty-Four began.”

[03:08] Paragraph 1, Sentence 1

No novel of the past century has had more influence than George Orwell’s 1984.

Jack says:

The author is talking about this book about history.

[03:50] Paragraph 1, Sentence 2

The title, the adjectival form of the author’s last name, the vocabulary of the all-powerful Party that rules the superstate Oceania with the ideology of Ingsoc—doublethink, memory hole, unperson, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, Thought Police, Room 101, Big Brother—they’ve all entered the English language as instantly recognizable signs of a nightmare future.

Jack says:

These are words that come from the book. They don’t necessarily sound bad. But it gives the idea of what the book is about.

[05:05] Paragraph 1, Sentence 3

It’s almost impossible to talk about propaganda, surveillance, authoritarian politics, or perversions of truth without dropping a reference to 1984.

Jack says:

The previous sentence talks about the nightmare future and has things that have to do with surveillance, propaganda, perversions – none of which is appealing.

[05:45] Paragraph 1, Sentence 4

Throughout the Cold War, the novel found avid underground readers behind the Iron Curtain who wondered, How did he know?

Jack says:

There is a reference to the Cold War. It doesn’t matter what this sentence means. We already have an idea of what we’re talking about.

At this point, everyone should know that George Orwell wrote a book and it’s about all these different things that were described. It seems the author finds it to be influential.

[06:42] Paragraph 2, Sentence 1

It was also assigned reading for several generations of American high-school students.

Jack says:

It’s pretty much a popular book.

[06:57] Paragraph 2, Sentence 2

I first encountered 1984 in 10th-grade English class.

Jack says:

The author is telling us when he or she was exposed to it.

[07:08] Paragraph 2, Sentence 3

Orwell’s novel was paired with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, whose hedonistic and pharmaceutical dystopia seemed more relevant to a California teenager in the 1970s than did the bleak sadism of Oceania.

Jack says:

It’s comparing Orwell’s novel with Huxley’s novel. There are a lot of big words there but it doesn’t matter. As long as you know they’re making a comparison. They’re both in the same category.

[08:00] Paragraph 2, Sentence 4

I was too young and historically ignorant to understand where 1984 came from and exactly what it was warning against.

Jack says:

The author is talking about his/her experiences.

[08:20] Paragraph 2, Sentence 5

Neither the book nor its author stuck with me.

Jack says:

It wasn’t memorable for them.

[08:25] Paragraph 2, Sentence 6

In my 20s, I discovered Orwell’s essays and nonfiction books and reread them so many times that my copies started to disintegrate, but I didn’t go back to 1984.

Jack says:

The author is pointing out the other stuff Orwell has written that have resonated more with them.

[08:43] Paragraph 2, Sentence 7

Since high school, I’d lived through another decade of the 20th century, including the calendar year of the title, and I assumed I already “knew” the book.

Jack says:

The author lived through the 80s after reading the book. Be he/she didn’t go back to it because he knew the book.

[09:04] Paragraph 2, Sentence 8

It was too familiar to revisit.

Jack says:

It sounds like the author has already seen this before. It’s nothing new. Whether it’s the other books or the other experiences, it’s not interesting to the author. It’s not something that captivated him/her.

The paragraph points out that the book was too common for high school students. There was this other book it’s compared to. And that Orwell has a bunch of other materials as well.

[10:16] Paragraph 3, Sentence 1

So when I recently read the novel again, I wasn’t prepared for its power.

Jack says:

The author is saying they revisited the book and found it impactful. So now when they read it, they care more about it.

[10:34] Paragraph 3, Sentence 2

You have to clear away what you think you know, all the terminology and iconography and cultural spin-offs, to grasp the original genius and lasting greatness of 1984.

Jack says:

The author is telling the reader how you have to read the book to really understand it.

[10:53] Paragraph 3, Sentence 3

It is both a profound political essay and a shocking, heartbreaking work of art.

Jack says:

The author is pointing out how much they like it.

[11:05] Paragraph 3, Sentence 4

And in the Trump era, it’s a best seller.

Jack says:

In the Trump era, the people are buying the book and reading more about this. On the MCAT, they’re not going to refer to politics today. You can just look over this. But it is important to know that if you see an answer choice that brings up something about the Trump era, unless they’re clear on what they mean by this, you’re not responsible for it.

Because this is a very minor point at the end of the paragraph and they don’t expand on it, they’re probably not going to ask a question about it.

'If you ever get a question that asks 'which of the following is not supported,' usually it's the point they make at the end of a paragraph where they don't expand on it.'Click To Tweet

If you’re interested in understanding the pattern of the AAMC and you got a question about which statement isn’t fully supported, you almost always see the right answer as something they barely talk about. This usually happens at the very end of the paragraph.

[13:01] Paragraph 4, Sentence 1

The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984, by the British music critic Dorian Lynskey, makes a rich and compelling case for the novel as the summation of Orwell’s entire body of work and a master key to understanding the modern world.

Jack says:

We have another book mentioned here, which is about a book’s author.

[13:37] Paragraph 4, Sentence 2

The book was published in 1949, when Orwell was dying of tuberculosis, but Lynskey dates its biographical sources back more than a decade to Orwell’s months in Spain as a volunteer on the republican side of the country’s civil war.

Jack says:

It’s a really old book. But the inspiration was from that.

[14:05] Paragraph 4, Sentence 3

His introduction to totalitarianism came in Barcelona, when agents of the Soviet Union created an elaborate lie to discredit Trotskyists in the Spanish government as fascist spies.

Jack says:

The author is saying that Orwell might have started getting all those ideas from the Spanish civil war. Just overlook the details here, as long as you know that.

[15:00] Paragraph 5, Sentence 1

Left-wing journalists readily accepted the fabrication, useful as it was to the cause of communism.

Jack says:

If you don’t understand this sentence, just keep going. At the end of the day, you already know what’s going on here. And we’re talking about Orwell, his history, the civil war. And the sentence is not changing that argument as lot.

[15:45] Paragraph 5, Sentence 2

Orwell didn’t, exposing the lie with eyewitness testimony in journalism that preceded his classic book Homage to Catalonia—and that made him a heretic on the left.

Jack says:

Orwell is not with the left-wing journalists because it says he’s a heretic, somebody who goes against established authorities.

[16:27] Paragraph 5, Sentence 3

He was stoical about the boredom and discomforts of trench warfare—he was shot in the neck and barely escaped Spain with his life—but he took the erasure of truth hard.

Jack says:

This was about Orwell’s experience. It sounds like Orwell thought things were being erased and he didn’t like that. This goes back to the first sentence. We don’t really care about that sentence but it does say that left-wing journalists accepted the fabrication, the lies. This was useful to communism. And Orwell didn’t like that so he tried to establish the truth.

[17:23] Paragraph 5, Sentence 4

It threatened his sense of what makes us sane, and life worth living.

Jack says:

That erasure of truth is threatening his sense of what makes us sane.

[17:34] Paragraph 5, Sentence 5

“History stopped in 1936,” he later told his friend Arthur Koestler, who knew exactly what Orwell meant.

Jack says:

It seems like what Orwell meant by saying that history stopped in 1936, is that everything after that was lies.

[17:55] Paragraph 5, Sentence 6

After Spain, just about everything he wrote and read led to the creation of his final masterpiece.

Jack says:

1984 is his final masterpiece.

[18:08] Paragraph 5, Sentence 7

“History stopped,” Lynskey writes, “and Nineteen Eighty-Four began.”

Jack says:

This paragraph talks about what happened to Orwell and where his head was for why 1984 was written.

[18:34] The Key Takeaways

The big picture of this passage is that 1984 is a very powerful book and he wrote it based on his experience during the Spanish civil war. It started from that and everything thereafter led to that.

For this passage, students can get too tied up on the details. They’re worried about the Soviet Union or the Homage to Catalonia. These things are not important. As long as you know the big picture, you’re fine.

A lot of students get stuck in this last paragraph trying to understand every little detail. They waste too much time on it. And you can’t get it back. Knowing when to go fast or go slow is very important. 

'When you waste so much time, you can't get it back.'Click To Tweet

[20:49] Jack Westin

Get more help from Jack Westin with his MCAT CARS course. See what dates are available. Or check out his trial sessions to see what Jack’s teaching style is. Get $100 off by going to medicalschoolhq.net/jackwestin.

Links:

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Jack Westin

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Link to article:

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/07/1984-george-orwell/590638/

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