History repeats itself; however, its key players do not. George Orwell is the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair, who was born 25 June 1903 in India while it was a British colony. He is considered one of the great authors, as well as investigative journalists of the twentieth century.
Orwell is best known for two of his novels; Animal Farm and 1984. These novels are famous for their contradictions. He explained in his essay Why I Write, “Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried…to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.” Furthermore, 21-year-old Amy Eiferman explains that his work is “detailed but not tedious.”
Born a poet and author, Orwell’s life after childhood is infused with political inspiration. After failing to maintain his grades and receive a scholarship to Oxford University, Orwell joined the Indian Imperial Police, while India was still a British colony. He chose to be stationed in Burma, where his grandmother lived.
Throughout his five year career as an officer Orwell was exposed to the horrors of British colonial rule. In his essay, Shooting An Elephant, Orwell detailed some of the horrors he saw, “The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been flogged with bamboos—all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt.”
My personal exposure to Orwell’s work prior to this article was only to his novels. I had no idea that he was also an excellent journalist, known for his reactions to society’s shortcomings. The topics Orwell wrote of ranged from social habits, to prejudices, and to politics. In Books v. Cigarettes Orwell comments on the fact that the average British adult spends more on cigarettes or alcohol than on books. A simple observation trying to explain the lack of reading by the British population.
Another one of his essays, Boys’ Weeklies, describes a particularly relevant issue in today’s world; the failure of the press to inform the public of the truth.
“The stories are stories of what purports to be public-school life, and the schools (Greyfriars in the Magnet and St Jim’s in the Gem) are represented as ancient and fashionable foundations of the type of Eton or Winchester. All the leading characters are fourth-form boys aged fourteen or fifteen, older or younger boys only appearing in very minor parts. Like Sexton Blake and Nelson Lee, these boys continue week after week and year after year, never growing any older. Very occasionally a new boy arrives or a minor character drops out, but in at any rate the last twenty-five years the personnel has barely altered. All the principal characters in both papers—Bob Cherry, Tom Merry, Harry Wharton, Johnny Bull, Billy Bunter and the rest of them—were at Greyfriars or St Jim’s long before the Great War, exactly the same age as at present, having much the same kind of adventures and talking almost exactly the same dialect. And not only the characters but the whole atmosphere of both Gem and Magnet has been preserved unchanged, partly by means of very elaborate stylization. The stories in the Magnet are signed ‘Frank Richards’ and those in the Gem, ‘Martin Clifford’, but a series lasting thirty years could hardly be the work of the same person every week.”
Take a minute to compare a newspaper from the United States, such as Newsday, and one from another country, such as The Guardian. The type of stories in one are likely to vary dramatically from the stories in the other. One may contain more criticisms of the government, more negative stories, and overall be less entertaining to the reader.
Much of Orwell’s work is relevant today. “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.” He learned fairly early that by recognizing his political bias, he can utilize it to send a message to his readers. Orwell explained one of the four great motives for writing, as political purpose, which is the “desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.”
More than fifty years after Orwell’s death, the political agenda being pushed in his works cannot be applied to today word-for-word, yet they are still inspirations to millions of people. But why? In his last novel, 1984, Orwell describes a totalitarian state in which the upper class maintains complete control over its populations actions as well as thoughts. Via a language called “Newspeak,” Big Brother maintains control of thoughts by slowly eliminating certain emotions and ideas from existence. How can a person notice bias in the news, when that word has not been used in an unknown number of years and has been completely erased from all documents and records? As Orwell wrote in 1984, “If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?”
Our government today certainly does not use methods as extreme as those in 1984; however, why did our President suggest buying duct tape in case of a biological attack? Would it be effective in protecting the air in a house from this deadly toxin, or, would it scare Americans into buying duct tape and distract them from the failures of a war abroad?
Many long for someone to expose the lies being fed to people all over the world. Eiferman explained that there is “no expectation [for officials] to tell the truth.” Orwell once said, “I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention.” His story, and his work, must be known of not only to inspire the current generation, but to keep the spirit of true journalism and storytelling alive forever.
- The Spike
- A Hanging
- Down The Mine
- Boys’ Weeklies
- Anti-Semitism in Britain
- Books v. Cigarettes
- Politics and The English Language
- Notes on Nationalism
- Burmese Days
- Animal Farm
– Brian Rubinton