Eric Blair, alias George Orwell, was born in India in 1903; he was the son of a minor colonial official. He was educated at St. Cyprian’s in Eastbourne then at Eton.
He developed an independent-minded personality and professed atheism and socialism. In 1927 he went on leave and decided not to return.
After he returned to London and started a social experiment: wearing second-hand clothes, he spent short periods living in lodging-houses in the East End. In this way he experienced poverty and learned how institutions for the poor.
After a period in Paris where he worked as a dishwasher in a hotel, he decided to begin publishing his works with the pseudonym of George Orwell.
Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) was his first non-fiction narrative where he described his experience among the poor. In 1936 he married Eilee O’Shaughnessy and in the same year Orwell was commissioned by a left-wing publisher to investigate conditions among the miners, factory workers and unemployed in the industrial North. He published a report in 1937: ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’.
In 1936 Orwell went to Catalonia with his wife to report on the Spanish Civil War. In 1938 he recalled this experience in ‘Homage to Catalonia’. George suffered from bronchitis and pneumonia and Eileen died during an operation in 1945.
During the Second World War, Orwell moved to London and in 1941 he joined the BBC. In 1943 he resigned and became literary editor of ‘Tribune’ a socialist weekly. He also began writing ‘Animal Farm’(published in 1945) and his last book was ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ (published in 1949).
Orwell died of tuberculosis the following year.
The Artist’s development
Orwell’s various experiences abroad contributed to his unusual ability to see his country from the outside and to judge its strengths and weaknesses.
Closely linked to this quality, was the fact that he chose to reject his background and to establish a separate identity of his own.
Orwell’s life and work were marked by the unresolved conflict between his middle-class background and education and his emotional identification with the working class.
In his essay ‘Inside the Whale’ (1940), Orwell tried to define the role of the writer considering the literature of the 1920s and 1930s.
Orwell believed that the writer should be independent and that no good writing could come of following a party line.
Orwell was a prolific book-reviewer, critic, politician, journalist and pamphleteer.
He conveyed a vision of human fraternity and of the misery caused by poverty and deprivation. He critiqued totalitarianism warning against the violation of liberty and helping his readers to recognise tyranny in all its forms.
2. Animal Farm (1945)
Animal Farm expresses his disillusionment with Stalinism and totalitarianism in the form of an animal fable.
The book is a short narrative set on a farm where a group of oppressed animals, capable of speech and reason and inspired by the teachings of an old boar, overcome their cruel master and set up a revolutionary government.
At first the animals’ life is guided by Seven Commandments based on equality, these are altered by the pigs who become dictatorial and arrogate the privileges exercised by humans.
The parallels between the plot of the book and the history of the URSS between 1917 and 1943 are clear: each animal symbolizes a representative type.
Orwell wanted to write a satire on dictatorship.
The tone of the book blends humor and sarcasm with horrifying scenes and a painful atmosphere. The main theme is that all revolutions fail to achieve the expectations of their promoters and the ideals that inspired them are diluted by the ruling elite which concentrates power into its own hands.
3. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
The novel describes a future England as a vast totalitarian system including North America, South Africa and Australia. The country is ruled by the party which is led by a figure called Big Brother.
The work is divided into 3 parts:
- main character, Winston Smith lives a oppressive world;
- love for Julia and the temporary happiness;
- Winston’s imprisonment and torture by the Thought Police and loss of his intellectual integrity.
Winston Smith is the last man to believe in humane values in a totalitarian age. Winston evokes Churchill’s patriotic appeals for blood, sweat and tears.
He experiences alienation from society and he works at the Ministry of Truth.
He writes on the creamy paper of an old diary to maintain sanity in a disorienting world.
An anti-utopian novel
Orwell combined various genres and styles in an original way, blending documentary realism and an acute eye for detail with parody and satire. Nineteen Eighty-Four is an anti-utopian novel.
Orwell presents a frightening picture of the future as being under the constant control of Big Brother. There’s no privacy because there are monitors watching every step people take. Love is forbidden but there is the Two Minutes Hate.
The party has control of the press, communication and propaganda. Any form of rebellion against the rules is punished with prison, torture and liquidation.
The novel reveals the author’s acute sense of history and his sympathy with the millions of people persecuted and murdered in the name of the totaliatarian ideologies of 20th century.