George Orwell George Orwell World Literature Analysis

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George Orwell World Literature Analysis

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Orwell’s writing of both novels and essays divides fairly distinctly into two parts, the periods prior to, and after, 1936. Orwell himself, in “Why I Write,” makes the division, citing as the turning point his participation in the Spanish Civil War and alluding to other events occurring in the same year.

Orwell’s writing up to 1936 includes essays recounting his experiences in Burma, India, Paris, and London. These works sharply criticize British imperialism, economic inequity, and class barriers. The works are highly analytical narratives, characterized by flashes of insight into humanity. In “A Hanging,” for example, Orwell narrates his participation in the hanging of a man in Burma. As Orwell and the other executioners escort the condemned man to the gallows, the man sidesteps a puddle. At this moment, Orwell says, he realizes the “unspeakable wrongness” of cutting a man’s life short when it is in “full tide.” Again, in “How the Poor Die,” Orwell recounts his experience of admitting himself, while impoverished, to a hospital in Paris. He concludes that the fear of hospitals that one finds among the poor is warranted. Yet again, in “Shooting an Elephant,” Orwell narrates an experience in Lower Burma during which he unnecessarily destroys an elephant because he fears losing face with the natives. He suddenly realizes that he has no choice in his actions, and that one of the effects of imperialism is that it changes him, as well as others like him, into a sort of “hollow, posing dummy.” He acknowledges, during this flash of insight, “the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East.” Similarly, in his books during these early years, Orwell recounts his experiences in Burma, India, Paris, and London. Down and Out in Paris and London explores his experiences as a dishwasher in Paris and as a hop picker in England; his novel Burmese Days examines his experience as an officer in the Indian Imperial Police from 1922 to 1927.

Orwell’s writing after 1936 is consciously focused political commentary, sometimes in works such as Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, and other times in essays such as “Politics and the English Language.” In “Why I Write,” Orwell states that his purpose is “to make political writing into an art.”

Evident also in Orwell’s later writings are other philosophical changes stemming from his sharply focused worldview. These later works often reflect a lack of faith in the human capacity to survive, and they point to the inevitability of oppression. To Orwell, oppression seems inevitable insofar as people are deceived by, and deceive others with, political language—that is, with discourse aimed at deception rather than expression. In Animal Farm, for example, the animals reject the totalitarian rule of the cruel humans and try to erect a democratic socialism, only to become victims of new tyrants, the pigs and dogs. The oppressed animals are repeatedly deceived by clever political language and, thereby, allow themselves to be victimized. In the end, it matters little to the oppressed animals whether their oppressors are humans, hogs, or dogs.

Nineteen Eighty-Four explores these themes even more fully. Critics have called Nineteen Eighty-Four a satire, a dystopian novel, and a negative utopian novel. These labels all fit. They all capture the grim, cheerless worldview evident in this, Orwell’s last novel. The protagonist , Winston Smith, tries to free his mind and body from the rigidly totalitarian controls of Big Brother, the figurative leader of Oceania. Smith struggles for freedom of thought, freedom to have an accurate picture of history, and freedom to love, only to discover that Big Brother has monitored his every move. Not only is Smith physically destroyed; he is, more horribly, also mentally remade into a creature without a will. His final submission is to acknowledge his love of Big Brother, who, mercifully, shoots Smith in the back of the head....

(The entire section is 4,064 words.)