George Orwell’s essay ‘Why I Write? ’ is a detailed account of his way towards becoming a writer. He takes the reader on a journey from his first poems and stories to the pieces of writing that make him famous to finally explain the four reasons of writing. Orwell experiments with ‘a mere description of what I was doing and the things I saw’ and naturalistic books before he becomes a political writer. Why a political writer? Well, it is the age he lives in that forces him into it. His working in the Indian Imperial Police at the time is another piece of evidence motivating his inability to stay away from political issues.
After listing the ‘four motives for writing’, Orwell confesses that ‘I am a person in whom the first three motives would outweigh the fourth. In a peaceful age I might have written ornate or merely descriptive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my political loyalties. ’ If he is still not sure what side to take, it is the Spanish war that clears his views in this respect. ‘The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood.
Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written directly or indirectly against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism. ’ Nevertheless, the author declares that ‘I could not do the work of writing a book,…. , if it were not also an aesthetic experience. ’ In order to make clear that there are not only problems of ‘construction and language’, but also of ‘truthfulness’ when writing in this way, Orwell gives his political book ‘Homage to Catalonia’ as an example. He specifies that it preserves the writer’s literary instinct while it does not fail to tell truth.
Furthermore, the writer mentions ‘Animal Farm’ as being his first book in which he successfully combines the ‘political purpose’ with the artistic one. Putting down the four reasons of writing Orwell states that ‘no book is genuinely free from political bias. ’ He continues by pointing out that ‘the opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude. ’ In order to build a style of his own Orwell resorts to his readings. So, he thinks that his poem about a tiger can be a ‘plagiarism’ of Blake’s ‘Tiger, Tiger’.
When he grows a little older, he writes a play ‘in imitation of’ Aristophanes, while at about sixteen he is impressed by the ‘sounds and association of words’ of Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’. The essay makes clear that Orwell is familiar with naturalistic writing, too, trying to transfer its ‘unhappy endings full of detailed descriptions and arresting smiles’ into his books. ‘Burmese Days’, his first ‘completed’ book is an example in this respect. Another source of inspiration is his work experience in Burma. Nor is the poverty he is subjected to overlook.
It plays its own part, too. But, to put it right, it is his job in Burma that deepens his ‘natural hatred of authority’. Though, it does not help him decide on his political orientation and expresses his ‘dilemma’ in a little poem. If one wants to make reference to Orwell’s common sense he/she has to start with the truth about himself that he exposes all through the essay. This piece of writing is not only an answer to the question in the title. It is also a description of the writer’s uncertainties and worries, of his search for a form of expression that is suitable to him.
At the same time it is an explanation of the reason why he writes the way he does: ‘because there is some lie that I want to expose, some facts that I want to draw attention. ’ No matter how strong a writer’s wish to make a name for himself is, no matter how vain he is, he cannot close himself in an ivory tower and write only for the sake of art, that is, for the sake of the music and emotion the association of sounds and words and the construction of sentences produce on the reader. He wants his voice to be heard and make people aware of the inequities in the society of the time.
It is his common sense that makes him inform his readers that ‘innocent men were being falsely accused’, thus giving an answer to one of his critics’ questions: ‘Why did you put in all that stuff? ’ It is this attitude that challenges the reader to take a stand towards the evils of the society he lives in. ‘Home to Catalonia’ is a challenge to the reader turning him/her into an active person involved in putting things right. The writer himself stresses the idea that ‘if I had not been angry about that I should never written the book. ’ Paraphrasing the writer, if people are not challenged nothing good will happen.
The essay can also be considered a call to common sense due to Orwell’s modesty that runs like a brilliant thread from the beginning to the end. The author does not boast about his writing. On the contrary, he is critical about himself in that he makes clear that the way to success is not without obstacles. He recognizes the awkwardness from the beginning of his career, thus calling for a similar attitude on the part of the reader. As for the paper’s strength the way it is conceived is the first aspect worth being taken into account. The essay is not only an examination of the reasons why Orwell writes.
It is also a confession of faith towards himself and towards the reader trying to make him/her understand why he is considered a political writer, ‘ a sort of pamphleteer. ’ One cannot leave aside the importance Orwell gives to the four reasons that lie in every writer shaping, more or less, their way of writing. Secondly, the way the essay is organized can also be considered a strength. Wishing to make himself understood, Orwell gives the reader some background information meant to prepare the latter for the answer to the question ‘Why I Write? Thirdly, it is also good mentioning the evidence the writer gives either to explain his hesitations or to make them stand out: ‘Between the priest and commissar/I walk like Eugene Aram. ’ In fact, the whole poem included in the paper is a good example of the writer’s power of concentrating meaning. Last but not least, the manner in which Orwell ends his paper is to be stressed. After an overall view upon his writing reasons, the author, always consistent with the idea that he cannot ignore the political aspects of his age, concludes: ‘I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books…’.
As far as the weaknesses are concerned, although the writer states that ‘the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one’s aesthetic and intellectual integrity’, he insists too much on his political bias failing to mention what the artistic quality of his writing resides in. With regard to the latter issue the writer feels it is enough to give it a small paragraph before concluding his paper. While writing a paper that a writer wants to be explanatory, no aspect of his/her writing should be ignored, especially when the one that is referred to is of fundamental importance.
Orwell’s desire is ‘to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. ’ Being intended to stress the idea that a writer cannot write truthfully without stating his/ her dissatisfaction with the wrongs of the society of his time, the writer also alters the student’s perception concerning the motives for which one writes. He/ she is guided to believe that building a style of himself/ herself is not enough. Art for art’s sake’ is considered to have failed mainly because the writers belonging to the above mentioned literary trend do not want to see what happens in the real world and end by refusing to engage themselves in fighting for a better place to live in. While placing himself on the side of the people for whom he writes, it is clear that Orwell wants to change his reader’s way of looking at the world and the events he/ she is witnessing.
He/ She is invited to see the writer as the spokesperson of the oppressed and of the ones who have lost their belief in a better world. To conclude, the essay is not a simple answer. It is more than this; it is a call for action. It is a call addressed to Orwell’s readers who seem to be unaware of the injustice which is done to them. It is a shout of a writer’s anger at the authority ignoring the working classes. It is the expression of a writer’s belief in his giving his writing a different direction: that of changing the world into a better one.