[Ed. – Finding significance in the past through projection.]
If, after all, the past was so different than the present, if we know so much more now than then, if we’re so morally superior, then what can these writers teach us? If we have progressed so far beyond Orwell in our understanding of equality and freedom and justice and humanity, then why should we read 1984, which purports to discuss issues such as equality and freedom and justice and humanity?
The answer is that we should still read Orwell not despite the sexism, but in part because of it. The fact that 1984 uses a Manic Pixie Dream Girl doesn’t make it helplessly of its time—MPDGs show up in our contemporary culture with a wearying consistency. Being attentive to Orwell’s sexism is a way to be attentive to ours; it makes 1984 more relevant, not less. For example, in the book, the ultimate triumph of totalitarianism is that Winston and Julia’s love fails. You could read that as saying that all love, everywhere, is crushed by the power of the absolute state. But you could also see it as a comment on Winston and Julia’s relationship, which is unreal insofar as Julia is treated as a tool for Winston’s happiness, rather than a person in her own right. Sexism prevents their love affair from being a real love affair, which is why the state can break it apart. From that perspective, 1984 can be read as an analysis of how totalitarianism and sexism are intertwined—and maybe, maybe, Orwell meant to be read that way.