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Book review: Why I Write (1946), George Orwell

Why I Write (1946), George Orwell

Title: Why I Write (1946)

Author: George Orwell (England/India)

Grading: 3/5

Genre: non-fiction, essays

Reminds me of: Long Walk to Freedom (Nelson Mandela)

Why? The main ideas of my personal favourite author, and thinker, George Orwell – a study and inquiry into his political philosophy and his hopes for the future. Written with WWII as background, this is also a historical document of high class.

***

Since I read Animal Farm in the first year of High School, the name George Orwell has always resounded in me with a certain notion of enlightenment, of lightly touching upon some sort of poetic truth. This notion was further strengthened when I read Nineteen Eighty-Four a year later. As a socialist, or rather a democratic socialist, who fought for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War Orwell was more justified than anyone to criticise certain elements within it.

 

This endeavour was an attempt to get a better picture of Eric Arthur Blair, as is his real name. It was not really what I expected it to be, and why I will explain.

I thought it would be more of an extension to all the motives and themes he later would write about, this book was published in 1946, one year after Animal Farm, three years before Nineteen Eighty-Four. However, it was more of an outline of his ideas regarding Socialism in the setting of the early 1940s. Sure, he does discuss briefly why he actually started to write and he does include more universal and a few timeless factors. However, for the most of the book’s 100 pages, he talks about how English Socialism – as opposed to its evil form he would describe in Nineteen Eighty-Four – would be the only measure to defeat Fascism and the only political ideology to softly handle over the control of the colonies to their respective native peoples. Two of his main ideas – that only Socialism could defeat Fascism and that the only way to de-colonise was Socialism – were eventually shown to be wrong, as Nazi-Germany was defeated not by all-socialistic states but by sheer military force from a number of allies. In addition, the de-colonisation that followed WWII turned out to be multi-faceted, but as Orwell perhaps indirectly points out, it was not a tranquil transition and socialistic elements were not the driving forces behind it.

Included in this essay compilation, there are also a short story and an essay on political language. The short story was an interesting account of a hanging of a Burmese man supposedly a criminal, although the ending essay made the strongest impression on me. The essay was what I though the whole book would be about, because it linked his thoughts later expressed in his chef d’oeuvre. He describes how language is misused and how meaning is lost when language develops into an injurious direction, as e.g. archaic (old-fashioned) metaphors and Roman-Latin words does mean that something is lost in translation. It is indeed an intriguing phenomenon he takes up, as I have thought about it a lot myself in my studies of English and French.

It is an interesting book, but is not really what I imagined it to be since only the last essay actually pointed in that direction, and that essay in itself was very short. There was too much about how England should revert to Socialism in order to maximise its war-effort capacity, although that gives a very interesting historical inspection into the political situation and perspective at the time of mid-WWII. Hence, a strong 3 out of 5 thanks to the ending essay.

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