Sunday, January 20, 2013
Why I Write by George Orwell
Why I Write is a collection of four essays, none of which has to do with HOW to write, which was why I bought the book. Nevertheless, each essay was thought-provoking and had some interesting insights to give.
The first essay, Why I Write, is a miniature autobiography where Orwell describes his upbringing, his sense of social isolation and how that affected his writing. In fact how it made him a writer. I think that many writers are people who are on the outside looking in, which gives them an ability to describe the world around them and present it to the rest of us.
Most people are entrenched in daily routine and take much of what they do for granted. Writers, because they feel a detachment from the majority, can point out the things that make our way of life interesting and cultural and show to the reader things they would otherwise not have noticed.
The next essay is titled, The Lion and the Unicorn. Orwell wrote this essay during WWII, while bullets were flying over his head as he squatted in a trench. It’s important to read what he has to say in that context. A very angry Orwell wrote this essay.
Much of his anger is directed at his own countrymen. He waxes eloquent on the utter stupidity of the British upper class and those governing the country in particular. He is not very sympathetic to the “proles” either. They are described as little more than simple-minded buffoons.
His main gripe is what he sees as the unequal distribution of the country’s resources and wealth. I was surprised to discover that the author of Animal Farm and 1984 was pro socialist. He believed in a society of absolute equality and that this could only be accomplished through forcible redistribution of wealth and equal educational opportunities for all.
He spends some time listing all the other methods tried for a successful society throughout history and how they failed. Monarchy-failure. Religion-failure. Parliament-nix on that too. What is the solution? Socialism, of course. Orwell’s faith is in the State and it is a devout faith.
Now Orwell doesn’t mean Marxism or at least how it was applied in Russia or how Fascism was used in Germany. He admits that those efforts at equalizing a society were disastrous. What’s interesting are his conclusions.
The reason the socialistic system didn’t work in Germany or Russia was because the culture of those societies made it impossible to apply it. Naturally, tyranny and destruction ensued. Why? According to Orwell, it was because they were Germans and Russians.
So why will socialism work in England even though proven to be an abject failure in other countries? Orwell’s answer: Because we’re English, for gosh sakes!
After spending some time declaring to the reader the British aristocrats and commoners are nothing more than a pack of dummies, he then proceeds to take up several pages asserting that if Socialism were implemented, a classless, egalitarian society would take place and voila! Utopia on earth. Or at least in the British Isles.
What makes this essay valuable is that England did, in fact, socialize their businesses and such- as did the rest of Europe. Orwell’s attitude probably reflects the reigning attitude during a poverty-stricken, war sunk population. His book shows how the seeds of Europe’s present economic systems were germinated and today we have the fruition of that: A continent that is economically imploding.
Or, as I like to say, you can only take money from Peter to pay Paul for so long before Peter doesn’t have anymore money left to give.
The next essay, The Hanging is a brief account of the execution of a criminal in Burma. He doesn’t tell us what the man was guilty of; his focus is on the procedure and the callousness of the soldiers. This apparently left an indelible imprint on him.
The final essay, for me as a writer, is the most instructive. Politics and the English Language is a short lesson on rhetoric and how it can be manipulated to make even the most damaging blights to society sound like a good and necessary thing.
In our time political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible...(pg. 114)
He goes on to describe how, not only “corrupt thought can corrupt language” but how a “corrupt language can corrupt thought.” (pg. 116)
As I listen to the rhetoric of today’s politicians using the same hackneyed phrases that sound as though we, the general populace, will benefit from an ever growing government with it’s marching, invasive army of multiplying regulations, dictating more and more of our private life I consider this last essay to be the most relevant.
I bought this book.