A Life in Literature: George Orwell

A modern classic and a potent novel to ease oneself into the world of dystopian fiction… yes, I’m writing about George Orwell’s 1984. Published in 1949, 1984 stringently became a controversial phenomenon and has since come to be known as Orwell’s most notorious novel. Public manipulation and government surveillance are two things which have in fact transgressed into our society; mass surveillance leaks and invasion of public privacy are now commonplace. The extensive cultural impact of this novel was staggering, from “thoughtcrime” to the “Thought Police” and even “Big Brother”.

Putting his most favoured novels aside, it became apparent that Orwell was a prominent historical and political figure, who should be recognised for the likes of 1984 and Animal Farm. He was a journalist and author, who allowed us to understand the society that converged before us. Most significantly, he reveals facts that we are often shielded from.

“Good prose is like a windowpane… It hides nothing.”

Linguistically, Orwell was a man of both literary quantity and quality. In less than 20 years, he wrote six novels and hundreds of essays. Each of these pieces consist of readable clarity, no garble intended to bewilder the reader, and a clear sense of authenticity. As a reader, you are instantly invited to understand his message, stripped of flouncy figurative language and frills. In this respect, the English language owes a substantial amount to this man.

First an anarchist, then a socialist in the 1930s and finally a devoted anti-Stalinist for life, Orwell was a man who used the strength of his writing against an opinion of majority, and for this reason risked his life in the face of Soviet-backed Communists. Despite this, Orwell has been criticised for being “far too left wing”, including his contributions to the BBC.

“Every line of serious work that I have written has been, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.” 

As a literature student, something that I toil over is the legitimacy of literature that surrounds a subject which the author or poet has not experienced first-hand. For instance, how can poets write about war on the front-line, years after the conflict sufficed? This is all a significant part of the life and debate of literature. Nonetheless, Orwell was a writer who, after being born in India in 1903, visited many countries and cultures himself and these were candidly presented in his writing.

Shrouded in the peak of his writing, Orwell, born Eric Arthur Blair, died in 1950 of tuberculosis. However, his message lives on – quite literally, it lives in the reality of our society. I wonder what Orwell would make of today’s current global state.  

Words by Lydia Ibrahim

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