George Orwell, a renowned novelist and essayist, is not only regarded for his multitude contributions to literature, he is well recognized as a “secular saint. ” Fifty-seven years after his death, Orwell is acclaimed not only by thinkers and writers but also by the political left and right and those in between. He is a great story teller of truth and is revered by his moral courage, intellect and diamond-hard prose. Social historian Noel Annan once described him as “the first saint of our age” (Frankel, para. 2). Orwell, deprived of university training, is “quirky, fierce, independent and beholden to none.
” Early Life and Works Born Eric Arthur Blair, this English author lived most of his life in poverty. He joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma from 1922 to 1927 before he returned to Europe to pursue his writing career (Widmann, para. 1). In 1936, Orwell (his pen name) joined the Republican forces in the Spanish civil war. He was wounded in fighting and later on had to flee Spain for his life. Orwell was always critical of communism and considered himself as a socialist. Over the next ten years, he would make his journey towards becoming famous—under a new name and with an altered identity.
As Eric Blair, he experienced injustice and poverty and as George Orwell he began to look for their causes. His early experiences with totalitarian political regimes bore impact on his prose. After the publication of two of his greatest novels—Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, he confirmed his disgust over totalitarianism. In his essay Why I Write, he said “every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism…to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.
” During World War II, Orwell wrote a weekly radio political commentary where he countered German and Japanese propaganda in India (para. 5). His commentary work during the war at BBC gave him a solid taste of bureaucratic hypocrisy. This part of his life, many would later say, was his inspiration for his satirical, political novel Nineteen eighty-four, which had the most profound influence on historical revisionism. Until his death in 1950, Orwell would question almost every “official” or “accepted” versions of history.
In his book Notes on Nationalism, he writes “if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. ” Animal Farm and Nineteen eighty-four Orwell became a world literary giant after the publication of the book Animal Farm. He began his masterpiece in the final years of World War II. With this (and later with 1984), he started his “thematic series” concerning abuse of political power (Pyle, para. 3). In Animal Farm, Orwell exposed the Soviet myth by incorporating it into a story that could be easily understood.
It is also the first novel written exclusively for political purpose and by this, Orwell entered into a new realm of creative invention. This slight fable, scarcely longer than a short story led directly back to his first days in Barcelona. It tells of the story of abused and overworked animals in a farm that rebel against their abusive farmer, Mr. Jones. The animals’ paradise, however, would soon be commandeered and betrayed by a pig that bears a fleeting resemblance to Joseph Stalin (Gray, p. 9).
The clear anti-Soviet parody did not appeal to a lot of publishers. The Animal Farm was turned down by more than a dozen publishers in England and the United States. But those who took a chance at this satirical fable were very much rewarded. The Animal farm was a hit and has sold dependably for 40 years. The success of the Animal Farm gave Orwell some sense of financial relief. He cut back on journalism and was given the chance to devote more time on his next best-seller, Nineteen eighty-four.
This is Orwell’s most final and most famous book. He was already on his deathbed when it was published in 1949. The task of typing and revising the manuscript took their toll on his health and his tuberculosis worsened. The original manuscript that would later on re-surface reveals that Orwell considered different titles for his masterpiece. He planned on calling it “The Last Man in Europe”, “1980” and “1982” (p. 1). Tens of millions, from different generations have read it. It has been translated into 62 languages.
Nineteen eighty-four tells of the story of Winston Smith, a minor bureaucrat in the totalitarian state of Oceania. Smith is working for the Ministry of Truth during the wars of the superpowers and constant changes in alliances. He rewrote old newspaper stories to conform to the present party ideology. He uses Newspeak, the official language at that time. Newspeak is a version of English being pared down to make unconventional opinions that are impossible to conceive. There was no privacy and Smith, along with all Party members, worked on two-way tele-screens.
Posters that declare “Big Brother is Watching You” are all over the place. Smith, however, would commit a “thoughtcrime. ” He would live by the phrase “down with Big Brother” instead. He would also have a love affair with a co-worker called Julia, considered a heinous crime because all loyalty belongs to the Party. He will be relentlessly tortured in Room 101 until he could no longer take the pain. He would then suggest that all punishment would be inflicted on Julia instead. This abolishes his integrity but would make him a good Party member.
The terms Big Brother, Ministries of Truth and Love, the thought crime and thought police, the memory hole, Room 101 and hate week have now become part of our vocabulary. Orwell, for his part, became the standard adjective when referring to the gap between political language and moral reality (Frankel, para. 7). Orwell fought the worst tendencies in politics and society, and in his two greatest works, he did so by using fundamental sense of decency (Gray, p. 10). Legacy and Contribution Orwell did not mean for Nineteen eighty-four to be his final work.
Reports say that in one of his last conversations before he died, he said he have some more books to write. He even married a woman 15 years his junior while he was confined in a hospital. He believed that when one is married and has a wife, he would have more reasons to live. Orwell had three more months. He was only 47. Orwell’s childhood friend once said that the tragedy in the author’s life is that when he achieved fame and success, he was already a dying man and “he knew it” (Pyle, para. 2). But his mystical status as the greatest novelist of his time would outlive him.
Orwell did not only write two of the greatest novels in history. He laid down the standards of a true classic. A Time Magazine cover story in 1983 described him as a man of letters who attempted to “change the world by changing the word. ” Orwell is laso known for his insights about politics. He decried bureaucratic hypocrisy and totalitarianism for as long as he lived. He invented a different language through Newspeak to be able to shape reality. His friends would always regard him as an intellectual. He was always straight and solemn.
He held back every emotion and he rarely smiled (Frankel, para. 15). As a novelist, they say, he hates being edited and no one ever tried mucking his works. After all, they say, his manuscripts do not need editing as they always come in perfectly, even the commas. From the start, his writing was essentially personal (Menand, para. 4). He put himself and his experiences at the center of his non-fiction works and many of his essays. He made use of personal anecdotes and stories and knowledge in political journalism to stress his points.
Orwell, however, never intended to make himself a hero. What he has is a rare talent of relating with his audience, not as a literary man or a reporter, but as himself. In short, before he made the readers believe in his works, he made them believe, first of all, in him. In 1984, a new 17-volume edition of his complete works was published in the United States. A wax figure of the phenomenal author has also been installed at a museum in London. Scholars have continued debates on the political implications and literary genius of his novels.
Orwell’s two final books immortalized him as one of the best novelists in history. More than half a century since he died, his works are still regarded as must-reads and have cemented their place on popular culture. The relevance of his novels has outlived him.
Works Cited: Gray, Paul. “That year is Almost Here. ” Time Magazine. (28 Nov. 1983). 2 Oct. 2007 < http://www. time. com/time/covers/0,16641,19831128,00. html>. Frankel, Glenn. “George Orwell at 100: Revisiting a Life Steeped in Contradictions. ” Washington Post Foreign Service. (25 June 2003).
02 Oct. 2007. Menand, Louis. “Honest, Decent, Wrong: The Invention of George Orwell. (27 Jan. 2003). 02 Oct. 2007. < http://www. newyorker. com/archive/2003/01/27/030127crat_atlarge>. < http://www. netcharles. com/orwell/articles/col-revcon. htm>. Pyle, Steve. “George Orwell’s Animal Farm: The Little Book that Could. ” The Antigonish Review. (23 Feb. 1999). 02 Oct. 2007. < http://www. antigonishreview. com/bi -111/111-pyle. html>. Widmann, Richard. “George Orwell: Background. ” 02 Oct. 2007. < http://codoh. com/thoughtcrimes/tcportorw. html>.
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