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