illustrated portrait of English author George Orwell

George Orwell

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Broadly discuss George Orwell's political motifs and purpose of his writings.

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If there is a prevailing motif in George Orwell's writings, it is a deep concern for society, especially social justice and the rights of the individual, in a changing modern world. This theme is obvious in 1984, but it is just as prevalent in some of his other works just before and after World War II, especially the Road to Wigan Pier, which discusses the travails of working-class people in a failing economy. Orwell, a lifelong socialist, was deeply disillusioned with disputes between leftist factions in the Republican army in the Spanish Civil War (which he participated in) as well as the descent of the Soviet Union into totalitarianism under Stalin.

He described this development in Spain in Homage to Catalonia in 1938, and took up the theme of good intentions gone bad in Animal Farm (1944.) Perhaps his most famous book, 1984 (1949) suggests that such a dystopian future might be the lot of Western society if the trend away from individual liberties continued. In an essay entitled "Books vs. Cigarettes," he took up another theme that worried him about modern society. He claimed that society was placing the purchase of conveniences (like cigarettes) over reading, which was actually cheaper. He calculated that British people spent more money on cigarettes than on books:

But if my estimate is anywhere near right, it is not a proud record for a country which is nearly 100 per cent literate and where the ordinary man spends more on cigarettes than an Indian peasant has for his whole livelihood. And if our book consumption remains as low as it has been, at least let us admit that it is because reading is a less exciting pastime than going to the dogs, the pictures or the pub, and not because books, whether bought or borrowed, are too expensive.

In other words, he worried that modern life, with all its entertainments, was making people ignorant and, given the themes spelled out in 1984, complacent. Orwell argues in all his works that individual liberties ought to be protected jealously, not taken for granted.

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