George Orwell – Yesterday and Today

August 4, 2008 at 1:57 am Leave a comment

While many pieces of the literature examined by students every year have become dated and irrelevant, there are some that still stir these minds. One example of the latter would be the work of George Orwell. Creator of some of the most artfully critical examinations of government, his views and critiques can still be felt by those opposed to modern day workings.

 

George Orwell was not always George Orwell, however. He was born Eric Arthur Blair in 1903, in Motihari, Bengal, India. His father worked in the British Civil Service, as Britain still retained power over India at the time. When he was one year old, his mother brought him back to England, where they lived a live that Blair went on to describe as “upper middle class”, according to the 1950 New York Times piece “ Moving Up with George Orwell”.

For his education, he attended Henley-on-Thames, followed by St. Cyprian’s in Sussex, England. For college, he attended Wellington for a short time, followed by Eton College, where he achieved King’s Scholar status. Also during his time at Eton, he was taught by none other than Aldus Huxley, author of dystopia novel Brave New World, and hallucinogenic drug enthusiast.

Following school, he enlisted in the Indian Imperial Police in 1922. Blair would go on to draw from his encounters to pen several pieces. One of these is the essay, Shooting an Elephant, during which he refers to a time when a crowd pressured him in to killing an elephant he had deemed “docile.”

After the Police, he returned to Europe, living in London, and then Paris, where he had his articles published frequently in several magazines.

But what Blair saw and felt transferred in to more than just essays and articles. Some of the best examples of these are perhaps his most famous work- the novels Animal Farm and 1984. Both of these are strong examples of political commentary. As Animal Farm and 1984 were published in 1944 and 1949 respectively, they were introduced in times during which much of the world was gripped by suffocative government, namely Stalinism and totalitarianism.

 

Animal Farm

“On my return from Spain I thought of exposing the Soviet myth in a story that could be easily understood.”

 uses a barnyard setting, with a majority of the characters being talking beasts. The preface to the Ukrainian translation of the book holds the line;

The animals in the book include pigs, dogs, sheep and horses- most of whom are obvious representative to the leaders, parties, and various social classes and of the time.

1984 depicts, among other things, a society severely monitored by the government. The book spawned several terms that would hold a place in language, including ‘Big Brother’, which usually refers to a privacy invasion by those of higher rankings. It also spawned ‘Orwellian’; a lack of freedom by dishonesty (as is exhibited in Animal Farm.)

But how does what Blair felt and wrote relate to the world today? Would he have written similar pieces?

College student Brian Rubinton rattled off a list of issues he felt Blair would have written about in today’s times.

“ Healthcare, poverty, social problems… Imperialism…”

Rubinton wondered if he would still use a pen name today.

“ It was a security thing. He wrote a lot of pieces that criticized the government and society… He talked about how people were spending more on cigarettes than on books. Companies could come after him.”

But since Rubinton can list so many similarities between the novel 1984 and today’s time, we might guess that the pen name would have also been used in this day and age for writings concerning touchy topics.

“ There’s propaganda. Meanings of words changes. Since 9/11, people see more. We thought we were untouchable, but words like terrorist and bombs are familiar [to people.] But at the same time, some words are prevented. And our government is similar. They use fear to control people. Look at anthrax- They wanted us to duct tape out windows.”

When the Orwellian ideas came up, Rubinton mentioned how many schoolbooks have been altered to remove sensitive history topics.

“ That’s another example of the government controlling us. Editing textbooks ( parts about Vietnam) is wrong.”

Student Adam Michaelson sees another similarity fear-wise when bringing up the country’s color-coded threat-level system.

“ He would see those as scare tactics. A device to control the masses by means of intimidation.”

Michaelson feels Blair would write a similar pieces today. In 1945, Blair wrote an essay entitled “You and the Atom Bomb”, which was published in the Tribune on October 19th. Here, he accused the world’s people of being on the brink of blowing up one another by the means of atomic bombs.

“ His fears would probably be worse.” Michaelson said. “ His concerns would probably be amplified. Between recent terrorist attacks and the government’s actions, sending off the army and the bombings now… The war bypassed the U.N!”

 

So as some literature becomes outdated, the works of George Orwell speak in loud volumes to citizens today. While amount of similarities might be unfortunate, Blair’s writings can be utilized as an engaging history lesson, but also as a warning of society potential returns to previous situations.

-Amy Eiferman

Suggested readings-

Down and Out in London and Paris
Animal Farm
1984

The Collected Journalisms, Essays and Letters of George Orwell, Volume I
The Collected Journalisms, Essays and Letters of George Orwell, Volumes II
The Collected Journalisms, Essays and Letters of George Orwell, Volumes III
The Collected Journalisms, Essays and Letters of George Orwell, Volumes IV

 

Sources

Wikipedia
Encyclopedia Britannica
http://tmh.floonet.net/articles/abombs.html

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