Eric Blair: In Search of the Real Orwell
By Ryan Hendricks
Journalists are in many respects the watchdogs of our modern society. Many journalists often have successful careers in both fiction and non-fiction writing. George Orwell has had a successful career bridging the worlds of fiction and non-fiction. He is the author of many non-fiction essays that are critical of government, as well as fiction novels such as Animal Farm, 1984, and Burmese Days. Orwell through his mastery of literary mediums was able to impact the world around him.
“George Orwell is one of my favorite authors,” said Mary-Kate Leibman. Many people are unaware that George Orwell is the pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair. Mr. Blair was born in 1903 in eastern India, and was the son of a colonial civil servant. He eventually returned to England to pursue an English education of high quality and distinction. After attending several boarding schools he eventually received a scholarship to Wellington College, and after only a semester there transferred to Eton College where he would finish is degree. While at Eton College Mr. Blair’s grades took a downward turn, and he was unable to receive another scholarship. This made it financially impossible for Blair to educate himself any further, and he was forced to take a civil service examination to enter the Indian Imperial Police. He eventually passed a civil service examination, and was sent to Burma to begin his service.
In 1922, he sailed on board SS Herefordshire via the Suez Canal and Ceylon to join the Imperial Indian Police in Burma. Once in Burma Mr. Blair began to train to become a police officer, and after joining the ranks he had considerable responsibilities. His time in Burma inspired him to become a writer, and he chronicled his adventures in Burma in the novel Burmese Days, and the essays “A Hanging” and “Shooting an Elephant”.
Burmese Days recounts the days that Mr. Blair spent living in Burma working as a police officer during the 1920’s. From reading this novel one can easily see the immense affect that living in Burma had on a young Mr. Blair. The novel deals with racial prejudices of the European governing elite, and how the local population deals with these prejudices. An example of this is when the European Club in Burma is forced to elect a native member. Through showing the struggles of the native population one can infer that Mr. Blair was against imperialism and all associated with it.
Evidence of Burma influencing Mr. Blair can be inferred from his early essays “A Hanging” and “Shooting an Elephant”. In “A Hanging”, Mr. Blair writes about the execution of a Burmese man. This execution forces Mr. Blair to consider the impacts of totalitarianism on native populations. In “Shooting an Elephant”, Mr. Blair writes about the responsibility he has to carry out the will of the crown, and at the same time treat the Burmese people with dignity and respect.
After leaving Burma in 1927, Mr. Blair began to write professionally, and spent the next 13 years writing. During the Spanish Civil War Mr. Blair fought on the side of the Republicans against the Fascist Army of Francisco Franco. This experience impacted Mr. Blair in the sense that it turned him against all totalitarianism. It was not until about 1940 or so that Mr. Blair came into his own as a writer, and as stanch citric of Stalinism and Totalitarian governments. During the World War Two years he was a propaganda writer the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). After this period in his life he wrote one of his most famous novels called Animal Farm, which is a satire of Stalinism. This book shows the hypocrisy associated with the Russian Revolution. In the beginning of the revolution equity was the utmost concern, however after only a few years the main tenants of the revolution were abandoned and corruption began to take root.
Towards the end of his life Mr. Blair began to wonder where our world would be many years from now. 1984, serves as Mr. Blair’s final work and most important critique of totalitarianism. Written in 1949, it is a fictional novel that depicts a world under a totalitarian regime in the year 1984. The story through the character of Winston Smith shows the oppression that occurs to people living under totalitarian regimes. 1984 in many respects is similar to Animal Farm; they both deal with issues such as class distinctions and a corrupted revolution.
Through reading the novels of Eric Arthur Blair, more commonly known as George Orwell, the reader can see how certain events in the author’s life played a role in the art that he crafted. As mentioned earlier the time that Mr. Blair spent in both Burma and Spain had an immense impact on his writing. These two events perhaps more than others influenced the view that Mr. Blair would portray in his works. It is most interesting that his most influential works Animal Farm, 1984, and Burmese Days all deal with the issues surrounding totalitarianism in some aspect or another. Mr. Blair writing from experience was able to create powerful novels that helped shape the social and political consciousness of generations to come.
- Burmese Days (1934)
- A Clergyman’s Daughter (1935)
- Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936)
- Coming Up for Air (1939)
- Animal Farm (1945)
- Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
- Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)
- The Road to Wigan Pier (1937)
- Homage to Catalonia (1938)
- “The Spike” (1931)
- “A Nice Cup of Tea” (1946)
- “A Hanging” (1931)
- “Shooting an Elephant” (1936)
- “Charles Dickens” (1939)
- “Boys’ Weeklies” (1940)
- “Inside the Whale” (1940)
- “The Lion and The Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius” (1941)
- “Wells, Hitler and the World State” (1941)
- “The Art of Donald McGill” (1941)
- “Looking Back on the Spanish War” (1943)
- “W. B. Yeats” (1943)
- “Benefit of Clergy: Some notes on Salvador Dali” (1944)
- “Arthur Koestler” (1944)
- “Notes on Nationalism” (1945)
- “How the Poor Die” (1946)
- “Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels” (1946)
- “Politics and the English Language” (1946)
- “Second Thoughts on James Burnham” (1946)
- “Decline of the English Murder” (1946)
- “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad” (1946)
- “A Good Word for the Vicar of Bray” (1946)
- “In Defence of P. G. Wodehouse” (1946)
- “Why I Write” (1946)
- “The Prevention of Literature” (1946)
- “Such, Such Were the Joys” (1946)
- “Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool” (1947)
- “Reflections on Gandhi” (1949)
- “Bookshop Memories” (1936)
- “The Moon Under Water” (1946)
- “Rudyard Kipling” (1942)
- “Raffles and Miss Blandish” (1944)
- “A Little Poem”
- “Awake! Young Men of England”
- “Our Minds are Married, But we are Too Young”
- “The Pagan”
- “The Lesser Evil”
- “Poem from Burma”
“George Orwell.” BBC. 3 Aug. 2008 <http://http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/orwell_george.shtml>.
Orwell, George, and Erich Fromm. 1984. New York: Signet Classics, 1950.
Orwell, George. Burmese Days. New York: Harvest Books, 1974.
Orwell, George. “http://www.netcharles.com/orwell/essays/shootelephant.htm.” Shooting an Elephant. 1935. 3 Aug. 2008 <http://http://www.netcharles.com/orwell/essays/shootelephant.htm>.
Orwell, George. “http://www.online-literature.com/orwell/888/.” A hanging. <http://http://www.online-literature.com/orwell/888/>.
Orwell, George, Russell Baker, and C. M. Woodhouse. Animal Farm. New York: Signet Classics, 1996.