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What is the main idea of Orwell's essay "Why I Write"?

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Scott David eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In this essay, Orwell examines the motivations that drive writers to write (a topic which, as Orwell understands, is ultimately a deeply personal one, with the particularities varying from one writer to the next). With this in mind, there is an autobiographical component to this essay as well, as Orwell provides details into his own history, beginning with his childhood, to give a sense of his own literary evolution through time.

As Orwell puts it, there are ultimately four key motivators that drive writers. The first he refers to as "sheer egoism," referring to the desire for fame, reputation or individual validation. As Orwell understands it, vanity lies near to the very heart of the writer's profession. The second is "Aesthetic Enthusiasm." For Orwell, these are writers who are driven primarily by a sense of and appreciation for artistic beauty, particularly the beauty of language.

The third motivator is "Historical Impulse," which Orwell himself sums up in a single sentence, as the...

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michuraisin | Student

I would say there are two mains ideas in Orwell's "Why I Write." The first would be that one needs to know a person's background and development to understand why they write what they write. This is why Orwell spends the first portion of his text talking about his youth and some of his earliest works. He says, "I give all this background information because I do not think one can assess a writer's motives without knowing something of his early development. His subject matter will be determined by the age he lives in..." Basically, every story a writer tells is influenced by a story in the writer's life

The second main idea is that every writer is motivated to write for a reason. This, as Orwell states, is influenced by the world around them. According to him, the four reasons for writing are: sheer egoism ("desire to seem clever...be remembered..."), aesthetic enthusiasm ("Perception of beauty...in words..."), historical impulse ("desire to see things as they are..."), and political purpose ("Desire to push the world in a certain direction..."). He argues that each of these four motivations explain why someone writes, though they affect one in varying degrees.