Author Feature: George Orwell

This month I'm featuring an author who I think has influenced a lot of my thinking. It's his 106th birth anniversary of Orwell today, and I wonder what he'd have to say about the current state of affairs.

Brief Bio: George Orwell was born Eric Blair in the Bengal Presidency in British India, on 25 June 1903. He spent his schooling and college life in England, before signing up for the Indian Imperial Police and moving to Burma. After 5 years, he contracted dengue fever and returned to England, deciding to be a writer. His Burma police experiences yielded his first novel Burmese Days, along with a couple of essays. He wrote a couple of novels about economically depressed England in the 1930s, and also was briefly involved in the Spanish Civil War, the experiences of which were chronicled in Homage to Catalonia. During World War II, he wrote for the Tribune and the Observer, while working on his satirical masterpiece Animal Farm. He followed it up with another of his best known works, 1984, written during a time when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Orwell died on 21 January 1950 of a burst artery in his lungs, and was buried in Oxfordshire. His gravestone bears the simple epitaph: "Here lies Eric Arthur Blair, born 25 June 1903, died 21 January 1950"; no mention is made on the gravestone of his more famous pen-name.

Selected Bibliography:

Animal Farm
Burmese Days
Homage to Catalonia
The Road to Wigan Pier

My Reviews:
Animal Farm

My Views: I really think that George Orwell is one of the greatest satirical writers of the English language. His writing is simple, no flowery language, no convoluted descriptions, nothing that would go over an average person's head or make his books difficult to read. In his essay, Politics and the English Language, Orwell provides six rules for writers:
  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive voice where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
His books have contributed to a number of ideas such as the Thought Police and Big Brother, words that have become a part of the English language, concepts that are so relevant in this age of heightened surveillance (though Big Brother is now more associated with the dumb TV show than Orwell's invisible puppet master). His essays are also very topical and give you an insight into the mind of a great writer and are a snapshot of the tumultous political situation in the World War era. Also, he was one of the very few writers who did not get caught up in the Soviet socialism romance and called out Stalin for what he was. At a time when the world was courting the USSR, he wrote Animal Farm. He also foresaw the advent of intrusive surveillance quite a long time ago, and while I strongly believe that things will not be as awful as 1984, I am pretty wary as the government adds enhanced snooping capacities to its arsenal.

It's not easy to appreciate Orwell's books in a single reading. Every time I sit with them, I discover something new, something I missed the previous time I read it. I am able to draw parallels in today's world as well, to countries that have adopted the 1984 model quite chillingly. To give you just a small example: I realised that the events in 1984 not just resembled the political and social situation in the USSR and Germany, but also in modern day Myanmar and North Korea. Orwell's works explore every facet of literature, psychology and political science, and provoke every reader to question their surroundings and be more vocal in expressing their beliefs.

Have you read any of Orwell's writings? What did you think of them?

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