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The Literary Activity of George Orwell

The British author George Orwell, pen name for Eric Blair, achieved prominence in the late 1940's as the author of two brilliant satires. He wrote documentaries, essays, and criticism during the 1930's and later established himself as one of the most important and influential voices of the century. Eric Arthur Blair (later George Orwell) was born in 1903 in the Indian Village Motihari, which lies near to the border of Nepal. At that time India was a part of the British Empire, and Blair's father Richard, held a post as an agent in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service. Blair's paternal grandfather, too, had been part of the British Raj, and had served in the Indian Army. Eric's mother, Ida Mabel Blair, the daughter of a French tradesman, was about eighteen years younger than her husband Richard Blair was. Eric had an elder sister called Marjorie. The Blairs led a relatively privileged and fairly pleasant existence, in helping to administer the Empire. Although the Blair family was not very wealthy, Orwell later described them ironically as "lower-upper-middle class (Gross, p.109)." They owned no property and had no extensive investments; they were like many middle-class English families of the time, totally dependent on the British Empire for their livelihoo! d and prospects. Even though the father continued to work in India until he retired in 1912, in 1907, the family returned to England and lived at Henley. With some difficulty, Blair's parents sent their son to a private preparatory school in Sussex at the age of eight. At the age of thirteen, he won a scholarship to Wellington, and soon after another to Eaton, the famous public school (Gross, p.112). His parents had forced him to work at a dreary preparatory school, and now after winning the scholarship, he was not any more interested in further mental exertion unrelated to his private ambition. 'At the beginning of Why/Write, he explains that from the age of five or six he knew he would be, 'must be,' a writer (Gross, p.115).' But to become a writer one had to read literature. But English literature was not a major subject at Eaton, where most boys came from backgrounds either irremediably unliterary or so literary that to teach them English Literature would be absurd. One of Eric's tutors later declared that his famous pupil had done absolutely no work for five years. This was, of course, untrue: Eric has apprenticed himself to the masters of English prose who most appealed to him, including Swift, Sterne and Jack London (Gross, p.117). However, he has finished the final examinations at Eaton as 138th of 167. He neglected to win a university scholarship, and in 1922, Eric Blair joined the Indian Imperial Police (Gross, p.118). In doing so he was already breaking away from the path most of his schoolfellows would take, for Eaton often led to either Oxford or Cambridge. Instead, he was drawn to a life of travel and action. He trained in Burma and served for five years in the police force there. 'In 1927,while home on leave, he resigned. There are at least two reasons for this. First, his life as a policeman was a distraction from the life he really wanted, which was to be a writer. And second, he had come to feel that, as a policeman in Burma, he was supporting a political system in which he could no longer believe (Stringer, p.412).' Even as early as this, his notions about writing and his political ideas were closely linked. It was not simply that he wished to break away from British Imperialism in India: ! he wished to ' 'escape from ... every form of man's dominion over man,' as he said in Road to Wigan Pier (1937), and the social structure out of which he came dependent (Stringer, 413).' Back in London he settled down in a gritty bedroom in Portobello Road. There, at the age of twenty-four, he started to teach himself how to write. His neighbors were impressed by his determination. Week after week he remained in his unheated bedroom, thawing his hands over a candle when they became too numb to write. In spring of 1928 he turned his back on his own inherited values, by taking a drastic step. For more than one year he went on living among the poor, first in London then in Paris. For him, the poor were victims of injustice, playing the same part as the Burmese played in their country. One reason for going to live among the poor was to over come a repulsion which he saw as typical for his own class. At Paris he lived and worked in a working class quarter. At the time, he tells us, Paris was full of artists and would-be artists. There Orwell led a life that was far from bohemian. When he eventually got a job, he worked as a dishwasher. Once again his journey was d! ownward into the life to which he felt he should expose himself, the life of poverty-stricken, or of those who barely scraped up a living (Stringer, p.415). When he came back to London, he again lived for a couple of months among the tramps and poor people. In December 1929, Eric spent Christmas with his family. At his visit he announced that he's going to write a book about his time in Paris. The original version of Down and Out, entitled 'A Scullion's Diary,' was completed in October 1930 and came to only 35,000 words for Orwell had used only a part of his material. After two rejections from publishers Orwell wrote Burmese Days, published in 1934, a book based on his experiences in the colonial service. We owe the rescue of Down and Out to Mabel Firez: she was asked to destroy the script, but save the paper clips. Instead, she took the manuscript and brought it to Leonard Monroe, literary agent at the house Gollancz, and bullied him to read it. Soon it was accepted - on condition that all curses were deleted and certain names changed. 'Having completed this last revision Eric wrote to Victor Gollancz: 'I would prefer the book to! be published pseudonymously. I have no reputation that is lost by doing this and if the book has any kind of success I can always use this pseudonym again' (Stringer, p.419).' But Orwell's reasons for taking the name Orwell are much more complicated than those writers usually have when adopting a pen name. In effect it meant that Eric Blair would somehow have to shed his old identity and take on a new. This is exactly what he tried to do: 'he tried to change himself from Eric Blair, old Etonian an English colonial policeman, into George Orwell, classless antiauthoritarian (Gross, p.131).' Down and Out in Paris and London, was not a novel; 'it was a kind of documentary account of life about which not many of those who would read the book at the time would know very much about, and this was the point of it: he wished to bring the English middle class, of which he was a member, to an understanding of what life they led and enjoyed, was founded upon, the life under their very noses (Gross, p.144).' Here we see two typical aspects of Orwell as a writer: his idea of himself as the exposure of painful truth, which people for various reasons do not wish to look at; and his idea of himself as a representative of the English moral conscience (Gross, p.148).
His next book was A Clergyman's Daughter (1935) and Keep The Aspidistra Flying (1936). He opened a village shop in Wellington, Hertfordshire, in 1936, where he did business in the mornings, and wrote in the afternoons. The same year he married Eileen O 'Shaughnessy. In that year he also received a commission from the Left Book Club to examine the conditions of the poor and unemployed. This resulted in The Road to Wilgan Pier. He went on living among the poor about whom he was to write his book. Once again it was a journey away from the comparative comfort of the middle class life. His account of mining communities in the north of England in this book is full of detail, and conveys to the reader what it is like to go down a mine. When the Left Book Club read what he had written about the English class system and English socialism in The Road to Wigan Pier they were not pleased, and when the book was published it contained a preface by Victor Gollancz taking issue with many of ! Orwell's main points. The Left Book Club wasn't pleased because in the second half of the book Orwell criticized the English socialism, because in his eyes it was mostly unrealistic. Another fact criticized by Orwell was that most of the socialists tended to be members of the Middle class (Stringer, p.438). 'The kind of socialist Orwell makes fun of is the sort who spouts phrases like 'proletarian solidarity', and who puts of decent people, the people for whom Orwell wants to write (Stringer, p.439).' Having completed The Road to Wigan Pier he went to Spain at the end of 1936, with the idea of writing newspaper articles on the Civil War which had broken out there. The conflict in Spain was between the communist, socialist Republic, and General Franco's Fascist military rebellion. When Orwell arrived at Barcelona he was astonished at the atmosphere he found there: what had seemed impossible in England seemed a fact of daily life in Spain. Class distinction seemed to have vanished. There was a shortage of everything, but there was equality. Orwell joined in the struggle, by enlisting in the militia of POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificacin de Marxista), with which the British Labor Party had an association. For the first time in his life socialism seemed a reality, something for which was worth fighting for. He was wounded in the throat. Three and a half months later when he returned to Barcelona, he found it a changed city. No longer a place where the socialist word comrade was! really felt to mean something, it was a city returning to "normal." Even worse, he was to find that his group that he was with, the POUM, was now accused of being a Fascist militia, secretly helping Franco. Orwell had to sleep in the open to avoid showing his papers, and eventually managed to escape into France with his wife. His account of his time in Spain was published in Homage to Catalonia (1938). His experiences in Spain left two impressions on Orwell's mind. First, they showed him that socialism in action was a human possibility, if only a temporary one. He never forgot the exhilaration of those first days in Barcelona, when a new society seemed possible, where "comradeship" instead of being just a socialist was reality. Second, the experience of the city returning to normal, he saw as a gloomy confirmation of the fact that there will always be different classes. He saw that there is something in the human nature that seeks violence, conflict, and power over others. ! It will be clear that these two impressions, of hope on one hand, and despair on the other are entirely contradiction. Nevertheless, despite the despair and confusion of his return to Barcelona, street fights between different groups of socialists broke out again, Orwell left Spain with a hopeful impression (Stringer, p.441-446). In 1938, Orwell became ill with tuberculosis, and spent the winter in Morocco. While there he wrote his next book, a novel entitled Coming up for Air published in 1939, the year the long threatened war between England and Germany broke out. Orwell wanted to fight, as he has done in Spain, against the fascist enemy, but he was declared unfit. In 1941, he joined the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) as talks producer in the Indian section of the eastern service. He served in the Home Guard, a wartime civilian body for local defense. In 1943, he left the BBC to become literary editor of the tribune, and began writing Animal Farm. In 1944, the Orwells adopted a son, but in 1945 his wife died during an operation. Towards the end of the war Orwell went to Europe as a reporter (Stringer, p.448-449). Late in 1945, he went to the island of Jura off the Scottish coast, and settled there. He wrote Nineteen Eighty-four there. The islands climate was unsuitable for someone suffering from tuberculosis and Nineteen Eighty-four reflects the bleakness of human suffering, the indignity of pain. Indeed he said that the book wouldn't have been so gloomy had he not been so ill. His wedding to Sonia Bronwell took place at his bedside in University College Hospital. By the time of his death in January 1950, he had been judged a major author by cities on both sides of the Atlantic, and his value as a cultural critic has been increasingly widely recognized (Stringer, p.450).

Analysis 'Animal Farm', Orwell wrote, 'was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole (Hopkinson, p.12).' Orwell's purpose of writing this book was to write a book in simple language with concrete symbolism so that ordinary English people, who had enjoyed a tradition of justice and liberty for centuries, would realize what a totalitarian system, like Russia's government, was like. His experience in Spain had shown him how easily totalitarian propaganda can control the opinion of enlightened people in democratic countries. Orwell's style in composing a cynical novel in simplistic manners allows the reader to easily relate the plot and characters to the events and leaders of the Russian government from 1917 to the middle 1940s. Orwell wrote Animal Farm to destroy the Soviet myth that Russia was a true socialist society. 'He attacks the injustice of the Soviet regime and seeks to correct Western misconception about the Soviet Communism. Orwell's Animal Farm is based on the first thirty years of the Soviet Union, a real society pursuing the ideal of equality (Atkins, p.120).' His book argues that a society where men live together fairly, justly, and equally hasn't worked and couldn't work. Animal Farm, a brief, concentrated satire, subtitled 'A Fairy Story', can also be read on the simple level of plot and character. It is an entertaining, witty tale of a farm whose oppressed animals, capable of speech and reason, overcome a cruel master and set up a revolutionary government. They are betrayed by the evil power-hungry pigs, especially by their leader, Napoleon, and forced to return to their former servitude. Only the leadership has changed. On another, more serious level, of course, it is a political allegory, a symbolic tale where all the events and characters represent issues and leaders in Russian history since 1917, 'in which the interplay between surface action and inner meaning is everything (Atkins, p.125).' Orwell's deeper purpose is to teach a political lesson. Orwell uses actual historical events to construct his story. Each animal stands for a precise figure or representative type. The pigs, who can read and write and organize, are the 'Bolshevik intellectuals who came to dominate the vast Soviet bureaucracy (Iftinkar, p.731).' Napoleon is Stalin, the select group around him the Politburo, Snowball is Trotsky, and Squealer represents the propagandists of the regime. The pigs enjoy the privileges of belonging to the new ruling class, which include special food and shorter working hours, but also suffer the consequences of questioning Napoleon's policies. The other animals represent various types of common people. Boxer, the name suggesting the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 where revolutionaries tried to expel foreigners from China, is the decent working man, fired by enthusiasm for the egalitarian ideal, working overtime in the factories or on the land, and willing to die to defend his country. Clover is the eternal motherly working woman of the people. Molly, the unreliable, frivolous mare, represents the 'White Russians who opposed the revolution and fled the country (Iftinkar, p.732).' The dogs are the vast army of secret police who maintain Stalin in power. The sheep are the ignorant public who repeat the latest propaganda without thinking and who can be made to turn up to 'spontaneous demonstrations (Orwell, p.108)' in support of Napoleon's plans. Moses, the raven, represents the opportunist Church. He flies off after Mr. Jones, but returns later, and continues to preach about the Sugarcandy Mountain (heaven), but the pi! gs' propaganda obliterates any lingering belief. Benjamin the donkey, the cynical but powerless average man, never believes in the glorious future to come, and is always alert to every betrayal. Orwell's allegory is comic in its detailed parallels: the hoof and horn is clearly the hammer and sickle, the Communist party emblem. 'Beasts of England' is a parody of the 'Internationale' the Communist party's song. The Order of the Green Banner is the 'Order of Lenin, and the other first- and second-class awards spoof the fondness of Soviet Russia for awarding medals, for everything from exceeding one's quota on the assembly line or in the harvest to bearing a great many children (Iftinkar, p.732).' 'The poem in praise of Napoleon (Orwell, p.90 - 91)' imitates the sycophantic verses and the mass paintings and sculptures turned out to glorify Stalin. Each event of the story has a historical parallel. The Rebellion in chapter 2 is the October 1917 Revolution, and the Battle of the Cowshed in chapter 4 is the subsequent Civil War. Mr. Jones and the farmers represent the loyalist Russians and foreign forces that tried, but failed, to dislodge the Bolsheviks. The hens' revolt in chapter 7 stands for the brutally suppressed '1921 mutiny of the sailors at Kronstadt, (Iftinkar, 732)' which challenged the new regime to release political prisoners and grant freedoms of speech and the press. Napoleon's deal with Whymper, who trades the farm's produce at Willingdon market, represents 'Russia's 1922 Treaty of Rapollo with Germany (Iftinkar, p.733).' Orwell emphasizes Napoleon's decision to trade because it breaks the First Commandment, that 'whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy'(Orwell, p.33). 'Official Soviet policy was hostile to Germany, a militaristic, capitalist nation, but the Treaty revealed that the Communist regime h! ad been trading arms and heavy machinery, and would continue to do so (Iftinkar, p.734).' The Windmill stands for 'the first Five-Year Plan of 1928, which called for rapid industrialization and collectivization of agriculture (Iftinkar, p.734).' In chapter 6 a terrible storm caused 'the windmill to fall to ruins' (Orwell, p.71), which symbolizes the grim failure of this policy. Chapter 7 describes in symbolic terms the famine and starvation which followed. The hens' revolt stands for the peasants' bitter resistance to collective farming, when they burned their crops and slaughtered their animals. The animals' false confessions in chapter 7 are the Purge Trials of the late 1930s. The false banknotes given by Mr. Frederick for the corn represent Hitler's betrayal of 'the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 (Iftinkar, p.735),' and the second destruction of the Windmill, by Mr. Frederick's men, is 'the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941 (Iftinkar, p.735).' The last chapter brings Orwell up to date of the book's composition. He ends with a satiric portrait of the Teheran Conf! erence of 1943, the meeting of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin, 'who were planning to divide the world among themselves (Atkins, p.163).' The quarrel over cheating at cards predicts the downfall of the superpowers as soon as the war ended. The plot's circular movement, which returns the animals to conditions very like those in the beginning, provides occasions for vivid irony. In the first chapter they lament their forced labor and poor food, but by chapter 6 they are starving, and are forced to work once more. In chapter 1 Old Major predicts that one day Jones will send Boxer to the butcher, and in chapter 9 Napoleon fulfills this prophecy by sending him to the slaughterhouse. In chapter 7, when various animals falsely confess their crimes and are summarily executed by the dogs, 'the air was heavy and the smell of blood, which had been unknown there since the expulsion of Jones (Orwell, p.83).' These ironies all emphasis the tragic failure of the revolution, and support Benjamin's view that 'life would go on as it had always gone on ' that is badly (Orwell, 56).' Though all the characters are representative types, Orwell differentiates the two most important figures, Napoleon and Snowball, so that they resemble their real-life counterparts both in the broad lines of their characterizations and in their two major disagreements. Like Stalin, Napoleon, having 'a reputation for getting his own way (Orwell, p.25),' takes charge of indoctrinating the young, sets up an elaborate propaganda machine, cultivates an image of omnipotent portraying charismatic power, and surrounds himself with bodyguards and fawning attendants. Like Trotsky, Snowball is an intellectual, who quickly researches a topic and formulates plans. He is a persuasive orator, but fails to extort the leadership from Napoleon. Napoleon and Snowball's quarrel over the Windmill represents their dispute over what should take priority in developing the Soviet Union. 'Stalin wanted to collectivize the agriculture; Trotsky was for developing industry. Ultimately Stalin adopted both programs in his first Five-Year Plan (Iftinkar, p.736),' just as Napoleon derides Snowball's plans, then uses them as his own. 'Their most fundamental disagreement was whether to try to spread the revolution to other countries, as classical Marxism dictated, or confine themselves to making a socialist state in Russia (Meyers, p.137).' Napoleon argues for the latter, saying that the animals must arm themselves to protect their new leadership. Snowball says that they must send more pigeons into neighboring farms to spread the news about the revolution, so at the end Napoleon assures the farmers that he will not spread the rebellion among the animals. 'Expelled from the Politburo in 1925, Trotsky went into exile in 1929 and was considered a heretic. His historical role was altered; his face cut out of group photographs of the leaders of the revolution. In Russia he was denounced as a traitor and conspirator and in 1940 a Stalinist agent assassinated him in Mexico City (Iftinkar, p.737).' Similarly, Snowball is blamed for everything that goes wrong in Animal Farm, and the animals are persuaded that he was a traitor from the beginning. It has been said that the very act of reducing human characters to animals implies a pessimistic view of man, and that in Animal Farm the satiric vision is close to the tragic. 'Orwell turns elements of comedy into scenes of tragic horror (Connolly, p.176).' In chapter 5, Napoleon comically lifts his leg to urinate on Snowball's plans. But shortly afterwards, he summons the dogs and orders them to rip out the throats of those who confess their disloyalty. In one instance Napoleon's contempt is amusing, in the next it is horrifying. The beast-fable is not only a device that allows Orwell's serious message to be intelligible on two levels; the use of animals to represent man is basic to his whole theme. We can readily grasp that animals are oppressed and feel it is wrong to exploit them and betray their trust. Orwell counts on our common assumptions about particular species to suggest his meaning. The sheep and their bleating are perfect metaphors for a gullible public, ever read to accept policies and repeat rumors as truth. We commonly believe pigs are greedy and savage, even to the point of devouring their young, which describes the power-hungry government officials of the 1917 ' 1945 interval. In chapter 3, 'the work of the farm went like clockwork (Orwell, p.36)' when the animals were in charge; into this simple fabric Orwell inserts a word with Marxist overtones: 'with the worthless 'parasitical' human beings gone, there was more for everyone to eat (Orwell, p.36).' The simplicity of his vocabulary adds to the creativeness and ingenuity Orwell displays through the double meanings in his writing. The political allegory of Animal Farm, whether specific or general, detailed or allusive, is persuasive, thorough and accurate, and the brilliance of the book becomes much clearer when the satiric allegory is compared to the political actuality of Russia's historic government. Critics who write, 'It makes a delightful children's story' are completely oblivious to the sophisticated, underlying meanings the parable satires. The pleasure of reading Animal Farm lies in recognizing the double meanings, the political and historical parallels, in the story that George Orwell cleverly disguised through creative symbolism. Some critics say that Orwell's satire is over-exaggerated. But to those critics I would ask then why did 'customs officials at the Moscow International Book Fair in 1987 clear the British exhibitors' shelves of Animal Farm (Meyers, p.241).' I believe there is no better certification of the book's truth. Bibliography Ahmad, Iftinkar, Herbert Brodsky, et al., World Cultures: A Global Mosaic. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1993.

Atkins, John. George Orwell. London: Calder and Boyers, 1954. Connolly, Cyril. Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Vol. 31. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Inc., 1986.

Gross, Miriam. The World of George Orwell. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971. Hopkinson, Tom. George Orwell. New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1953. Meyers, Jeffery. A Reader'Òs Guide to George Orwell. London: Thanes and Hudson, 1975.

Orwell, George. Animal Farm. New York, New York: New American Library, 1946. Stringer, Jenny. The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Literature in English. Oxford: New York, 1996.


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