In his short life, George Orwell managed to author several works whichwould inspire debate acrossthe political spectrum for years to come due to his extreme views onTotalitarianism as exemplified inhis novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell is now regarded as one of thefinest essayists in ModernEnglish literature because of his inspired common sense and a power ofsteady thought. Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair in Bengal on January 23, 1903. Helived with his two sisters,mother and father who was a minor official in Indian Customs.
Orwellschildhood has been aninfluence on his later life and writing. British Writers by IanScott-Kilvert quotes Orwell as saying: Looking back on my own childhood, after the infant years wereover, I do not believe that I ever felt love for any mature person, except my Mother,and even her I did not trust, in the sense that shyness made me conceal most of myreal feelings from her I merely disliked my own father, whom I had barely seen before Iwas eight and who appeared to me simply as a gruff-voiced elderly man foreversaying “Dont.
”Early in his childhood, he was sent to a fashionable preparatory schoolon a scholarship. The otherboys were much better off than Orwell was. Looking back on his schoolyears, British Writers byIan Scott-Kilvert again quotes Orwell as saying: I had no money, I was weak, I was ugly, I was unpopular, I hada chronic cough, I was cowardly, I smelt The conviction that it was not possiblefor me to be a success went deep enough to influence my actions until far into adultlife. Until I was thirty I always planned my life on the assumption not only that anymajor undertaking was bound to fail, but that I could only expect to live a fewyears longer.
At the age of 13, Orwell was rewarded with not one, but two separatescholarships. Orwell decidedupon Eton, which was the more distinguished and prestigious of the two.
Of his time at Eton,Modern British Essayists by Robert L. Calde quotes Orwell as saying, “Idid no work there andlearned very little and I dont feel that Eton had much of a formativeinfluence on my life.” However,a majority of English students does no work at Universities but insteadbroaden their outlook on lifeand acquire a new sense of self-confidence along with an ability that isfar more valuable thanacademic learning. After Orwells time at Eton, the natural thing for him to do would havebeen to go on to Cambridgeand continue his career there where he could easily have gained a fullscholarship. Instead, Orwellwas advised by a tutor to break away and begin his own career. Orwelltook this advice and tookan open post in the Indian Imperial Police where he spent the next fiveyears of his life. It was therethat Orwell began his writing career and wrote about his lifeexperiences in Burma and India.
Orwell felt very guilty about the actions which he took part in duringhis time in India so he sought toescape the guilt in England. When that did not work he instead traveledto Paris, supposedly towrite, but an unknown author in a foreign country is not likely to makemuch of a living so his motivesmost certainly must have been otherwise. It is thought that he went toParis to face thedown-and-out lifestyle that he was brought up to fear and to experiencea level of pain and failure towhich very few people were subject. It is also believed that Orwell didthis as an act of publicdefiance against those wealthier than himself who had humiliated himduring his school years. Orwellalso referred to the time as: A feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourselfat last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs, — andwell, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off alot of anxiety. Eventually, Orwell accepted a friends offer of a job and money. Afterthis job was over, he madeenough money as a private tutor to keep himself afloat. After years oftutoring, he got a job as anassistant in a bookshop. It was during this time that Orwell married hisfirst wife, EileenO’Haughnessy. In addition, during this time, Orwell became very activeas a Socialist. After writingsome more in England he grew tired of it and then traveled to Spain.
Upon recalling his reasons forgoing, Orwell was quoted as saying: I had come to Spain with some notion of writing Newspaperarticles but I had joined the militia almost immediately, because at that time and inthat atmosphere it just seemed to be the only conceivable thing to do. The unit which Orwell was recruited into was at first peaceful butbefore long they were involved inheavy fighting and Orwell was hit in the throat, mere millimeters awayfrom his windpipe and carotidartery. The wound ended Orwells fighting career but because of theinjury, he got an opportunity tosee a new side to the fighting while recuperating. After another numberof months passed, Orwelland his wife managed to escape with a few friends back to France.
When World War II began Orwell frantically tried to join the army butwas not allowed due to hisinjuries, however, he was able to land a job in the British BroadcastingCompany into which hethrew himself completely. A man in full health might have been stressedfrom the activities but to aman in already bad shape the conditions were near fatal. Added onto thiswas also the tragic news ofhis wifes death during a very minor surgery.
Following the end of World War II, Orwell worked for two more years inLondon before retreatingto the remote island of Jura off the west coast of Scotland in order torest and to get on with thewriting of Nineteen Eighty-Four which he had by now drawn out in hismind. However, life on theisland was extremely rough on his already poor health and he was forcedinto the hospital severaltimes. By 1949, he entered a sanatorium and a few months later he wasmoved to University CollegeHospital in London where he finished the writing of NineteenEighty-Four.
While once again in London, Orwell married a second time, this time toSonia Brownell who was aneditorial assistant on a magazine which had been involved in thepublication of some of Orwellsmany essays. Together, they discussed plans for future works and he hadeven roughed out the plansfor a new book with her. The book was scheduled to be a complete breakfrom his propagandistway of writing and would have instead concentrated on the treatment ofhuman relationships.
Unfortunately, the book was destined never to be completed becauseOrwell died on January 23,1950 a few minutes following a tubercular hemorrhage. Orwell wrote many intriguing works through his years as an author, amongthose are many essaysthat are mostly political in nature. One of his first essays, “Shootingan Elephant” tells of a story in hislife in which he was forced to hunt down an elephant which was runningamok throughout thecountryside. The essay is “an example of his prose style at its mostlucid and precise.” Another essaywritten by Orwell is “Wells, Hitler and the Soviet State” whichdiscusses H.G. Wellsmisunderstanding of Hitler and World War II. In all, Orwell releasedfour books of essays: Insidethe Whale (1940), Critical Essays (1946), Shooting an Elephant (1950)and England YourEngland (1953).
Orwells early books were mostly about his life experiences andpolitical perceptions. His novelsinclude Down and Out in Paris and London, which tells of his years amongthe dogs in Paris,Burmese Days which tells of his police years in Burma, Homage toCatalonia tells about the yearshe spent in Spain and of the political movements there, and finally,Road to Wigans Pier tells of histrip around England and was placed on the Left Book Clubs officiallyrecommended reading list,but is today considered one of his worst works. By many peoples figuring Orwells finest book was published in May of1945. The book had a verydifficult time coming into print, going through four separate publisherswho refused it on the groundsthat it was not wise to print a book attacking an ally of the nationduring wartime. However, thetiming could not have been better and Animal Farm was an instant bestseller in Britain and in theUnited States. Animal Farm is a satire on Stalinist dictatorship inwhich pigs play the role of leadersand overthrow the current leader, Farmer Jones. However, after thethreat of Jones return is pastthe pigs are forced to focus the animals attention on other threats tokeep them working at maximumlevels. Finally, after a time of this the other animals figure out thattheyre getting the short end of thestick which leads to the theme statement of the book, “All Animals areEqual” and below that inanother handwriting “But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others.” Orwells other very well known book was Nineteen Eighty-Four which isOrwells version of thefuture awaiting mankind. The world is completely controlled byTotalitarian governments that haverewritten history and extracted any and all sense of freedom. Every roomis watched remotely viacameras and the dreaded Through Police keep track of any and everypersons actions to ensurethat there are no thoughts or actions which might be viewed as harmfulto The Party. This book shotto the top of the best seller list in 1984 as people rushed to see howthe prophetic book comparedwith the reality in which they lived.
Although a few of his earlier books gained some amount of popularity, itwas not until Animal Farmthat Orwell gained the recognition which would ensure that his namewould live on past his death andinto decades to come. Beyond monetary value and international renown,Orwell gained a sense ofcontact with ordinary people for the first time. Nineteen Eighty-Four isalso considered to be oneof the best futuristic novels of all time due to Orwells great insightsinto the true nature ofTotalitarianism. The gifts for writing that Orwell possessed gave him a very uniquestyle. His gifts were not those of anovelist for he had little imagination and little understanding of humanrelationships. His gifts wereinstead a “very inspired common sense, power of steady thought, waryrefusal to be taken in and thecourage of a lonely man who is not afraid of being alone.” Another style often used by Orwell is to add a very unforgiving essenceto his novels. The authorsown anger conveys a sense of discomfort to the read, who feels he isbeing “nagged at for somethingwhich is only very indirectly his fault and resents that an author ofsuch uncommon talents should careso little whether he conveys enjoyment to the readers.” Orwells essays show his unique qualities to advantage. He was veryadept at choosing topics thatinterested normal people because he himself was nothing more than anordinary person and he hadseen life from the lowest possible level. Few other authors were able towrite with the skill, insightand frightening reality which Orwell constantly was able to muster anddisplay.
The themes of Orwells books are mostly derived from his own view of theworld. Due to hischildhood and years in Paris he was very familiar with the low end ofthe spectrum of life. His yearsin Spain served to give him a view of Communism at its worst and gavehim the inspiration heneeded to write his two most famous books, Animal Farm and NineteenEighty-Four.
The theme of Nineteen Eighty-Four was derived from another book We byZamyatin. There isresemblance in detail and structure that occurs multiple timesthroughout. For example, both booksassume that Utopia will lead to the end of the mere idea of freedom anda total destruction of history.
However, while Zamyatin explored the technological and mechanical sideof the future, Orwellinstead was able to focus on the cultural and psychological side ofTotalitarianism. Another essentialdifference is the timeline on which the respective Utopias took place.
Zamyatin assumed that such atime and set of circumstances would need thousands of years to developwhereas Orwell insistedthat less than half a century was sufficient. Orwells themes however serve a purpose other than mere entertainment,they serve as a warning tothose who dare not see life from the viewpoint which he himself openedhis mind and let himselfexplore. Kinley E. Roby, in his biography, quoted Orwell as saying, “Ido not believe that the kind ofsociety I describe necessarily will arrive, but I believe that somethingresembling it could arrive.”All of Orwells characters are alike in that they are solitary beingsthat seek to make contact withothers but are almost always betrayed or rebuffed. There was WinstonSmith, the main character ofNineteen Eighty-Four, who was incapable of both showing and feeling lovefor any other personincluding Julia whom in return did not love him but instead used him forher own gain. Then also thereis Gordon Comstock from Keep the Aspidistra Flying who gives up a greatopportunity in anadvertising firm and instead goes to work in a bookstore so that he canbe alone and work solely onhis writing. Once again in Coming up For Air, Orwell writes about a fatgood-natured man whokeeps his feelings hidden from those around him in order to protecthimself.
Another attribute which belongs to many of Orwells characters is thatof cowardliness, a lack ofcourage which plagues them throughout their respective stories. InAnimal Farm, the barnyardanimals, though they easily outnumber the pigs, are too afraid toattempt an overthrow. In NineteenEighty-Four, the characters have been completely cauterized of anysemblance of courage orself-expression.
Orwells works have gained their fair share of both lovers and haters.
British Writers by IanScott-Kilvert quotes Compton Mackenzie as saying in reference to Downand Out in Paris andLondon, Clergymans Daughter and Burmese Days, “No realistic writer hasproduced threevolumes which can compare in directness, vigor, courage and vitality ofMr. George Orwell.”George Woodcock stated in his book The Crystal Spirit: A Study of GeorgeOrwell that “Orwellpossesses an extraordinary ability to so thoroughly entrance a readerthat he feels every bit of thepain expressed in the text.”For every person who enjoyed Orwells texts there were without a doubtanother who could notstand it. Orwells preoccupation with the present acted as a handicap tohis understanding of thepast and his perception of the future. Mr. Scott-Kilvert in BritishWriters also said that Orwell wasnever quite capable of making the close contact with the working classthat he so desired.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is Orwells warning to the world of how the futurecould be unless everyoneputs forth an effort to keep their freedom. The book is set thirty fiveyears in the future from the timeof writing in 1949 in England which is then known as “Airstrip One.” Thegovernment is broken intofour separate branches also known as ministries, the Ministry of Lovemaintains law and orderthrough the Thought Police, the Ministry of Plenty which keeps thecitizens rationed and down to thebarest necessities, the Ministry of Peace which is in charge of the warefforts and the Ministry ofTruth which is in charge of education and news which includes thedeleting of history and thechanging of news to fit the Partys schemes.
Three separate countries constantly wage war against each other. At thetime of writing, Oceaniaand Eastasia are allied against Eurasia but the text of the book leadsthe reader to believe that thesealliances switch back and forth every few years. Indeed, there may infact not be any war at all butinstead just a large propagandist ploy to keep people occupied and togive them someone to hate sothat they will not turn against The Party.
The book is an example of Totalitarianism at its finest. The governmentcontrols every aspect ofpeoples lives and the mere thought of freedom has completely beenerased from peoples minds.
The Party is then controlled by the secret Inner Party that controlsthe Partys direction anddecisions.
The main character of the story is Winston Smith who uses the attic ofan old bookstore to keep adiary in which he documents his anti-Party thoughts. He meets Julia inthe hallway of the Ministry andthey proceed to make love in the open and arrange many more suchmeetings. After several of thesemeetings, he trusts her and tells her about his feelings towards theParty, they plan together and in theend confide in the wrong person who reports them which results inWinston being beaten until hegives up and finally betrays Julia who had long since already betrayedhim.
This novel has a very strong message for those who care to read into it.
If society is not careful, itcould easily fall into a trap such as this. As fewer and fewer peoplecare about the state of theNation and about freedom, the world that Orwell wrote about becomescloser and closer to reality.
If mankind does not take a stand for what it believes in then there arethose who will happily takeadvantage of that fact and use it in their interest to create a societylike Orwells in which everythingis run by a select few people and everyone is so far gone that theydont believe there is any wayout.
For a book written in 1949, Orwell did a very good job of writing aboutthe future and about thetechnologies that might be developed. Orwell wrote of Telescreenswhich would allow The Partyto keep track of everyone. Even the people of Orwells novel seem a lotlike the people of today inthat they do not care as much as they should and they fail to evenrecognize what freedom is beingtaken from them. However, it is possible to find differences in theirworld from ours, namely in thetechnological devices, while there are the Telescreens, the people stillfight with rockets and Tommyguns and there are no cars or other vehicles for transportationmentioned in the story.
This novel was really enjoyable because it is very thought provoking andit really has the quality ofmaking oneself look at the world around him and think about just howeasy it would be forsomething like this to happen. Many of the pieces are already in placeand others are not far away,all it would take is one good leader and a strong push. This book shouldbe read by everyone tomake him or her aware of the future ahead of mankind if they are notcareful.
The novels which Orwell wrote will continue to inspire and spark debatefor years to come andhopefully they will also serve as a constant reminder and warning ofwhat is to come if our societycontinues its current trend of not caring. Orwell will forever beremembered for his keen insight andhis great ability for thinking a situation all the way through andpredicting all possible outcomes.
BibliographyBloom, Harold, ed., “George Orwell.” Twentieth-Century BritishLiterature, vol. 4, New York:Chealsea House Publishers, 1987.
Bloom, Harold, ed., “George Orwell.” Classic Science Fiction Writers,New York: Chelsea HousePublishers, 1995.
Caldo, Robert L., “George Orwell.” Modern British Essayists, firstseries, Gale Research Inc.,1990Frederick, Karl R., “George Orwell: White Mans Burden.” A ReadersGuide to theContemporary English Novel, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972.
Reilly, Patrick, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Boston, Twayne Publishers, 1988.
Roby, Kinley E., ed, George Orwell, Boston, Twayne Publishers, 1987.
Scott-Kilvert, Ian, ed., “George Orwell.” British Writers, vol. VII,Collier Macmillan, 1984.
Smyer, Richard, Animal Farm: Pastoralism and Politics, Boston, TwaynePublishers, 1988.
Woodcock, George, The Crystal Spirit: A Study of George Orwell, Little,Brown ; Company,1966.
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