Why George Orwell Matters

Image of Big Brother in Why George Orwell Matters blog post
George Orwell invented the concept of Big Brother in his dystopian masterpiece, 1984

Although George Orwell died young, he certainly left behind a ton of unforgettable writings for us to remember him by. He has always been my absolute favourite writer, not only because of his amazing tales, but also because of his very interesting life. Orwell certainly was a memorable person whose life got more unique the older he got. These are just a few of the reasons why George Orwell matters.

His Early Life

George Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair in June of 1903 in India. His many writings have become so popular that they have resulted in many terms that people use today without thinking about them, including “big brother,” “thought police,” newspeak,” “unperson,” and “thought crime,” among others. Indeed, his book 1984 told of a totalitarian and authoritarian world where the government controls everything its people do and think, and it both scared and fascinated people when it was first published.

Orwell joined the Indian Imperial Police in 1922 at a time when a lot of his colleagues were still at university. In Burma, he stayed mostly to himself and even changed his appearance, switching from a toothbrush moustache to a pencil moustache, which he kept for the rest of his life. He was eventually put in charge of an area that had more than 200,000 people, giving him a lot of responsibility. It was during his time in Burma that he began to read a lot and develop a lot of the interests and attitudes that he used in later life in his books.

Orwell lived in many places, including Paris, but ended up in England where he taught high school and started his writing career.

Colour image of George Orwell in the Why Orwell Matters blog
Orwell donning his pencil mustache in 1940
Image of Orwell's house in the Why Orwell Matters blog
2 Kits Lane, Wallington, Hertfordshire, Orwell's residence c. 1936–1940

1984 and Animal Farm

Two of Orwell’s most significant works include 1984 and Animal Farm. The former was published in 1949 and was Orwell’s ninth and final book. It described a future filled with an overreaching government, perpetual war, propaganda, and government surveillance. Common themes throughout the book include censorship, nationalism, and futurology, and most of the nations of the world are mentioned in it but given fictitious names. Great Britain, for example, is called Airstrip One.

Image of 1984 movie poster in Why George Orwell Matters blog
Film poster of 1984 (1984)
Image from 1984 movie in Why George Orwell Matters blog
Two Minutes of Hate scene in 1984
Image from Animal Farm in Why George Orwell Matters blog post
The final decree of the pigs in Animal Farm
Image of Animal Farm movie in Why George Orwell Matters blog post
Film poster of Animal Farm (1984)

In Animal Farm, a group of farm animals decide to rebel against the farmer who owns them, with results that are less than perfect. In the book, someone on their side betrays the animals and the farmer gets them back, only to witness a dictator pig named Napoleon being put in charge of the animals. Orwell always claimed the novella was representative of the events that led up to the 1917 Russian Revolution.

Other Works

Throughout all of his books, however, Orwell worked hard to sneak certain themes into the stories, including the injustices of the world, which he highlighted in numerous works. For instance, his book The Road to Wigan Pier told of the struggles of the working class in Lancaster and Yorkshire in the industrial areas of England right before World War II began. 

It is interesting to note at this point that Orwell immersed himself completely in the writings of his books. For example, while writing The Road to Wigan Pier, he stayed in Hertfordshire near the working class and the mines, eventually ending up in Wigan, where he kept a diary that would be used to write his book. He even traveled down to the mines to see what the workers were going through.

Image of The Road to Wigan Pier in the post Why George Orwell Matters
The Road to Wigan Pier (1937)
Orwell's Homage to Catalonia in the post Why Orwell Matters
Orwell recorded his experience fighting against Fascism (1938)

Another one of his books, Homage to Catalonia, centered on the Spanish war and Orwell’s experiences while fighting in that war. He was quoted later on as saying that “every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and Democratic socialism as I understand it.” 

The book described how Orwell considered the fight against fascism to be important, as well as the fight against communism. It was published in the United Kingdom in 1938, but it took until 1952 for it to come to the United States. The book was only translated once in Orwell’s lifetime – in Italian in December of 1948.

In A Hanging (narrated above), published in 1931, the execution of a criminal is described and is both sad and beautiful. The short essay is told from a narrator’s point of view and gives neither the condemned man’s name nor the crime he’s been charged with. The words describe all of the emotions he and the other witnesses experience as they are set with the task of watching a perfectly healthy man die. He is alive one minute and dead the next. His skin is renewing itself and then it stops. His hair and nails are growing and then they stop. All because the government has decided that this man must die.

For Orwell and for me, the most fascinating thing about The Hanging is not the death itself, but a moment just before. As he is being marched towards the gallows, the doomed man steps aside to avoid a puddle in the path. He is going to be dead in a few minutes and yet he still doesn’t want to get his feet wet. It is at this point that Orwell truly understands the incredible wrongness of destroying a man’s life. 

Read the full story here or listen to the narration above: 

Indeed, it seems that this author ate, slept, and breathed the things he wrote about, and this is one of the reasons why George Orwell is my favorite writer. You can tell he “became” the subject matter in his writings, because every book he ever wrote is told from the heart and from personal experience.

Some Final Thoughts

George Orwell was diagnosed with tuberculosis in December of 1947. He married for the second time while he was hospitalized again in 1949, and he died on January 21, 1950, at the age of 46. But let’s face it, he did a lot in those 46 years and in fact, the fact that his books are still being read and analyzed today is a testament to his brilliance. You can immerse yourself in these books and feel like you’re living through the same things that the main characters are living through, thanks to his compassion and intensity in writing.

If you’ve never read any of George Orwell’s books – particularly 1984 – you owe it to yourself to do so as soon as possible. It will likely cause you to look at the government in a whole new way, and it is certainly a decision you will never regret. In fact, the book might even change your life, especially once you realize how realistic some of the writing in the book has become.

Quote by George Orwell
George Orwell was known for his lucid prose, biting social criticism and fierce opposition to totalitarianism

What are your reasons for why George Orwell matters? What are your thoughts on his work? Leave us a comment below. 

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This article first appeared here on my other site about nostalgia.

30 thoughts on “Why George Orwell Matters”

  1. In fact you have given me some sweet memories back at the high school literature. Some memorable quotations in George Orwell’s Animal farm that goes like, “What ever walk with four legs are friend and what ever walk with two legs are enemies”  another one which you’ve mentioned “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others” is so powerfully powerfully meaningful. 

    In fact I have read so many interesting book though yet this animal farm stand out tall. Thank you for reminding me. I will tackle Orwell’s 1984 next.

    1. Some books stay with you throughout your entire life and it appears that Orwell’s Animal Farm is one of those books for you. It has many great lines which have become very quotable in our present age. Enjoy Orwell’s 1984, it’s a must read.

  2. This topic of Orwellian societies and totalitarian governments is very current, considering the state of the world!  I think the theme depicted here is something that has historically been appropriate and popular, and the depiction of cinematic ideas surrounding our world and the state of affairs never goes out of style.  How things from decades ago can be so relevant today is a little uncanny.  I love the use of pictures and movie posters to make a point, as well as the narrative about the persons life and experiences, again relevant to today’s world. The Hanging is a beautifully sad and poignant observation of the human spirit.

    1. Yes, I agree. The world is never far from playing out the realities of 1984. Sad that we never quite learn the lessons of history. I’m glad you enjoyed Orwell’s The Hanging and can appreciate its conflicted message. 

  3. What an interesting man George Orwell was and I think the interesting life he led made a great difference in what he chose to write about. I didn’t realize that he was born in India and ended living in England. I have read many of his books and like you feel that he had a great grasp of social events in the past and affecting all our futures around the world. So sad that he died so very young.

    1. Orwell sure did have a fascinating life I think mostly because he lived through such an interesting time with massive global events happening all around him. A big pity he died so young, imagine what other great works he would’ve given us if he’d lived a bit longer. 

  4. I was a child of the 80’s so remember Orwell’s 1984 well.  However, I don’t think I read the whole book.
    Goodness, the story of 1984 sounds like the times we are in now.  It is increasingly true that we have over-controlling government and other dark forces that want micro-chipping and other devices to control the human race.  Or at least that’s the fear that I have with these “innovations”.

    Reading through your review, I realize with Animal Farm and 1984 he really was ahead of his time and had great vision in his analogy with the turbulent times then and how he saw the world becoming. You are right that when he tells it from the heart this has the most impact on the reader and how we can learn from him in our own writing.

    1. It is amazing how prophetic Orwell was. I just wish we had taken him more seriously. 1984 should be required reading for every kid in English class around the world.   

  5. It’s quite unfortunate George’s life was too short but like you rightfully said, there is a lot to remember him for.

    The mere fact all his books are still read in most schools as literature studies is a statement of his brilliance. If you are a fan of reading and have not read George Orwell’s books, then you have not read enough yet. Until you immerse yourself in his books, you are missing out on some of the world’s best English literature. 

    1. Too true Osei, Orwell’s legacy lives on more strongly these days because his works are even more applicable to our global society.

  6. I know I’m not the first person to have thought or said this, but the almost prophetic nature of 1984 is both uncanny and scary. It’s been many years since I’ve read the book or watched the film, but their influence can still be seen and felt today. Now might be the perfect time to revisit both, I think.

    1. Yes, the prophetic nature of George Orwell’s writing is uncanny and scary to say the least. Unfortunately, although people do talk about his works, they do little to take action against the tyrannies that he warns against. 

  7. Hi Rachel, your article is fabulous because it discusses one of my favourite novel writers of all time. I read 1984 and Animal Farm, both masterpieces in their own rights. I learnt about his book The Road to Wigan Pier after reading your article, and I am looking forward to reading it sometime soon.

    I would like to read more of your articles, especially more on such artists.

    1. Glad you’re inspired to read The Road to Wigan Pier. It’s an important work because it showcases the plight of the miserable lives of miners in 1930’s England. Having said that, it’s not a particularly exciting book, because it’s purely documentary rather being a novel.

  8. Thank you for this article about George Orwell.  I think I have just been hiding my head in the land of uninteresting reading and missing the reasons we read.  There really is an abundance of material that doesn’t suit me when left on my own. So thanks for suggesting George Orwell. I am looking forward to checking his books. There is something about different stages of life when your interests change, and you want to read a story that has survived the years.  

    1. Well, if my article has told you why George Orwell matters and you therefore decide to take on his works then I’ve succeeded. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the Orwellian experience, as harrowing as it can be. 

  9. Fabulous reading here. Great website full of many things I’d forgotten to keep remembering. Now you have inspired me to go back and read a couple of his books again and introduced me to a few I forgot even existed. Orwell was an amazing character in our history. Thank you. Chris

    1. Yes, it’s never a bad thing to revisit one of Orwell’s classic novels, Chris. I read Keep The Aspidistra Flying every two years or so. It’s a little less depressing than his other works.

  10. Wow, I had forgotten how fascinating 1984 and Animal Farm were.  I think you have a great niche here.  Your writing communicates the manic patience with which Orwell studied the world.  I had no idea he was born and lived and worked in India.

    Your writing has definitely engaged me to want to finish this comment and order a couple of his books I read when I was in Junior High in Seattle, the site of Animal Farmes-que revolt right now.  The whole COVID response smells of 1984.  

    Thank you for the imagination to choose such a niche and share Orwell with us.  Your site is well written, well presented and navigates well.  Good user experience is key, along with keyword targeted content to bring traffic and make them buy what you have to offer.  It worked.  Chris.  

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Chris and I’m glad you’re now inspired to take Orwell and his many masterpieces. Don’t forget, Keep The Aspidistra Flying, which most folks don’t know about it. It’s actually my favourite.

  11. Never having ead any of his books but being familiar with Animal Farm and 1984 from films I can appreciate his great talent. Being a writer myself I wish I had a tenth of his talent.
    I liked the conversational style and the images were well chosen to go with the text.
    Overall a informative and good read.
    Perhaps i will now read some of his books.

    1. Make it happen, Ronald, reading Orwell is never disappointing and will hugely expand your perspective on the current political landscape.

  12. Thank you for that wonderful article about bmr george orwell ,he was a good writer but died early because of some disease…was he died poor and disappointed? because if you think about it, with those experiences that he underwent…it seems that the author absorbed the bad things that happened around him…he was so immersed that he belongs to one of the character of his story, the way he relates and described the event and the character is vividly sketched in his writings…truly sentimental and had a tragic end because he died young…anyways, thank you for sharing your article to me.

    1. I think  Orwell’s final few years were very sad mostly because he lost his wife, Eileen, before she could witness his success that came from Animal Farm. Fortunately, he had already been acknowledged by this stage, but he would never know the immense impact and influence that 1984 would have. He died for his writing and I respect him hugely for that. 

  13. Thank you for this insightful piece, a few rereads are definitely in my near future. In view of what is happening in our society today, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the souls lost to capital punishment and the years spent on death row. 

    George Orwell was a very deep feeling individual as evident in how close he immersed himself into his writing topic. He elected writing as a way to express his opinions and thoughts on social issues while giving us personal insights. 

    I recently watched “Just Mercy” and thought about this film as I watched the “A Hanging” clip on this site. I too am against capital punishment, no matter the crime. Mr. Orwell did not elude to the nature of this individuals crime, it did not matter. The fact that this individual took the care and had the reasoning to by-step a puddle for self decency showed that his hanging was wrong. 

    In “Just Mercy” the individual thanked his jailers for being more nice to him on his dying day than any one had been on any other day in his life. This also showed that his execution was wrong. Both displayed the best of humanity, who are we to decide on their fate?

    1. You make some interesting and beautiful observations, Vincent and I appreciate the time you took to fully absorb my article on why George Orwell matters. I’m keen to check out ‘Just Mercy’ based on the thoughts you shared about it and the similarity to ;The Hanging. 

  14. Great synopsis of a great story line and a great man. I was only aware of 1984, and vaguely, Animal Farm. You engaged the leader in George Orwell’s stories and life. I might just go out and read 1984. The way the country is now, we are creeping towards that direction, and it is a scary picture for the future. George Orwell was definitely ahead of his time in this story. We should pay attention to what has happened and done in the past, or we will be doomed to repeat it. I would recommend other people read this article.

    1. I hear you. People should really heed George Orwell’s prophetic advice. The weird thing is that 1984, originally a fiction work, is now fast becoming a work of non-fiction. Check out ‘Keep The Aspidistra Flying’ for another great Orwell read.

  15. George Orwell is a great choice to blog about because his work is very timely today.  We are going through such a crisis in our country, and I believe it would be good if everyone reread 1984, just to realize how bad things could get.  He was a prophet before his time.

    He is, indeed, a good writer, and I enjoyed reading your post.  I am a firm believer in the importance of reading, even in this day and age.