His real name was Eric Blair. He was born in India to British parents. Although he went to Eton, one of the best schools in England, he never went to university. Instead he followed in his father’s footsteps and went overseas to serve the British Empire. He went to Burma but soon found the Burmese did not want British rule. So he came back to England to become a writer.
He lived down and out in London and Paris, becoming an anarchist, then a socialist, but never a communist. He hated communists. Later he went to Spain to report the civil war, but he soon found himself fighting for the republic against the communists.
He wrote many books and newspaper articles but did not become famous till near the end of his life when he wrote “Animal Farm” (1945). It is his fable about what happened to communism in Russia. The story tells how farm animals overthrew the farmer but soon found themselves under the rule of swine who said “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Their rule was even worse than the farmer’s. They sought power for power’s sake. Although Orwell wrote it as an attack against Stalin, it shows how the natural outcome of human nature and political power is not freedom but rather its opposite.
In the 1930s many on the left saw Stalin’s Russia as the great hope of mankind. They knew what evils Stalin was committing, but looked the other way. Orwell did not and they hated him for it.
As good as “Animal Farm” was, it was soon outdone by “1984” (1949). It paints the future in the dark colours that Orwell saw it in: the world is divided between three cruel empires which fight each other in endless wars.
People live under the evil eye of the state, their every move watched through two-way televisions that can never be turned off: “Big Brother is watching you”, as the saying went.
Meanings of words are turned upside down: the Ministry of Truth tells lies, the Ministry of Peace fights wars and the Ministry of Love breaks down your door in the middle of the night to take you away. Newspapers and books are controlled by the state: “Ignorance is strength.” The state rewrites history and makes the dictionary thinner and thinner to make “thoughtcrime” impossible and “duckspeak” natural. Newspeak replaces English.
Orwell thought democracy was not strong enough in the long run to stand up to evil or, for that matter, to the power of money.
Orwell saw the world with a clear and truthful eye and wrote accordingly. Largely unloved in his own time, history has valued him for telling the truth.
His best work:
- Shooting an Elephant (1936)
- Animal Farm (1945)
- Politics of the English Language (1948)
- 1984 (1949)
- Orwell’s diary – put online as a blog!
- other posts about Orwell:
- political right and left
- The Stanford Prison Experiment