Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. George Orwell re-uses many of his themes in order to get his point across. In “Why I Write”, Orwell states that one of the reasons he writes is for political purpose. He expresses this theme in his essays, “An Episode of Bed-wetting” and “St. Cyprian’s”, as well as his novels, “1984” and “Animal Farm”.
In “An Episode of Bed-wetting” and “St. Cyprian’s”, Orwell expresses how he feels about the politics in the school, St. Cyprian’s. While attending St. Cyprian’s Orwell and many of the other boys who were not rich, were treated unfairly. Sambo, the headmaster, and Flip, his wife, always seemed to look down upon the boys who were not rich and did not have titles. Orwell even tells the reader, “The rich boys had milk and biscuits in the middle of the morning, they were given riding lessons once a week, Flip mothered then and called them by their Christian names, and above all they were never canned” (Atwan 166). In “An Episode of Bed-wetting”, Orwell mentions “the Sixth Form”.
It was a group at school made up of older boys “who were selected as having ‘character’ and were empowered to beat smaller boys” (Atwan 16). It was made clear by Orwell that this tradition was a bit strange. But after his second beating he claimed, “the second beating seemed to me a just and reasonable punishment” (Atwan 18). Orwell is trying to make the reader understand that the administration at St. Cyprian’s has corrupted the boys by making them think that the Sixth Form is an appropriate way of handling matters.
Orwell states in “Why I Write”, that he is “against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism” (Atwan 418). George Orwell published “1984” in 1949, the same year that the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb. The arms race that followed the Soviets’ development of nuclear weaponry quickly escalated into the Cold War, which raged for the next four decades as the enormous ideological gulf separating capitalism and democracy from totalitarianism and Communism led to mutual hatred between the United States and the Soviet Union, the world’s most powerful nations. Also, many of the methods that the Party in “1984” uses to sustain its absolute power, such as the rewriting of history and the use of political icons, were actually employed in Communist nations around the world. Big Brother is similar to Lenin in the Soviet Union and Mao in China. In “1984”, Orwell portrays the perfect totalitarian society, the most extreme realization imaginable of a modern-day government with absolute power.
The title of the novel was meant to indicate to its readers in 1949 that the story represented a real possibility for the near future: if totalitarianism were not opposed, the title suggested, some variation of the world described in the novel could become a reality in only thirty-five years. Orwell portrays a state in which government monitors and controls every aspect of human life to the extent that even having a disloyal thought is against the law. In “1984” Orwell writes, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past” (Orwell 63). The Party has complete political power in the present, enabling it to control the way in which its subjects think about and interpret the past: every history book reflects Party ideology, and individuals are forbidden from keeping mementos of their own pasts, such as photographs and documents. As a result, the citizens of Oceania have a very short, fuzzy memory, and are willing to believe anything that the Party tells them.
“Animal Farm”, by George Orwell, is said to be most famous in the West as a stinging critique of the history and rhetoric of the Russian Revolution. Retelling the story of the emergence and development of Soviet communism in the form of an animal fable, “Animal Farm” allegorizes the rise to power of the dictator Joseph Stalin. Although Orwell believed strongly in socialist ideals, he felt that the Soviet Union realized these ideals in a terribly perverse form. His novel creates its most powerful ironies in the moments in which Orwell depicts the corruption of Animalist ideals by those in power. Even though “Animal Farm” serves not so much to condemn tyranny or despotism as to indict the horrifying hypocrisy of tyrannies that base themselves on, and owe their initial power to, ideologies of liberation and equality.
The gradual disintegration and perversion of the Seven Commandments illustrates this hypocrisy with vivid force. In “Animal Farm”, Orwell writes, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” (Orwell 112). In this statement, the rulers (the pigs), are re-writing laws to make things favor them. Also, many people will misread the word “equal” in the first part as a relative term rather than an absolute one. Once a misreading like this takes place, the core ideals of the animal farm, and any human nation, gradually become corrupted.
Orwell uses polemics in order to make his reader think his views are correct. Politics are extremely important to George Orwell, which is why he always seems to write about it.
Atwan, Robert. Ten on Ten. Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press: Boston, 1992
Orwell, George. 1984. Harcourt Brace Javanovich, Inc.: London, 1949
Orwell, George. Animal Farm: A Fairy Story. Harcourt Brace & Company: London, 1946