Why George Orwell Matters

Image of Big Brother in Why George Orwell Matters
George Orwell invented the concept of Big Brother in his dystopian masterpiece, 1984

Although George Orwell died young, he certainly left behind a ton of unforgettable writings for us to remember him by. He has always been my absolute favourite writer, not only because of his amazing tales, but also because of his very interesting life. Orwell certainly was a memorable person whose life got more unique the older he got. These are just a few of the reasons why George Orwell matters and why his books should be required reading in schools all over the world. 

His Early Life

George Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair in June of 1903 in India. His many writings have become so popular that they have resulted in many terms that people use today without thinking about them, including “big brother,” “thought police,” newspeak,” “unperson,” and “thought crime,” among others. Indeed, his book 1984 told of a totalitarian and authoritarian world where the government controls everything its people do and think, and it both scared and fascinated people when it was first published.

Orwell joined the Indian Imperial Police in 1922 at a time when a lot of his colleagues were still at university. In Burma, he kept mostly to himself and even changed his appearance, switching from a toothbrush mustache to a pencil mustache, which he kept for the rest of his life. 

He was eventually put in charge of an area that had more than 200,000 people, giving him a lot of responsibility. It was during his time in Burma that he began to read a lot and develop much of the interests and attitudes that he used in later life in his books.

Orwell lived in many places, including Paris, but ended up in England where he taught high school and started his writing career.

Colour image of Orwell in Why George Orwell Matters
Orwell donning his pencil mustache in 1940

1984 And Animal Farm

Two of Orwell’s most significant works include 1984 and Animal Farm. The former was published in 1949 and was Orwell’s ninth and final book. It described a future filled with an overreaching government, perpetual war, propaganda, and government surveillance. Common themes throughout the book include censorship, nationalism, and futurology, and most of the nations of the world are mentioned in it but given fictitious names. Great Britain, for example, is called Airstrip One.

Image of 1984 film in Why George Orwell Matters
Film poster of 1984 (1984)
Image from 1984 in Why George Orwell Matters
Two Minutes of Hate scene in 1984
Image from Animal Farm in Why George Orwell Matters
The final decree of the pigs in Animal Farm
Image of Animal Farm poster in Why George Orwell Matters
Film poster of Animal Farm (1984)

In Animal Farm, a group of farm animals decide to rebel against the farmer who owns them, with results that are less than perfect. In the book, someone on their side betrays the animals and the farmer gets them back, only to witness a dictator pig named Napoleon being put in charge of the animals. Orwell always claimed the novella was representative of the events that led up to the 1917 Russian Revolution.

Other Works

Throughout all of his books, however, Orwell worked hard to sneak certain themes into the stories, including the injustices of the world, which he highlighted in numerous works. For instance, his book The Road to Wigan Pier told of the struggles of the working class in Lancaster and Yorkshire in the industrial areas of England right before World War II began. 

It is interesting to note at this point that Orwell immersed himself completely in the writings of his books. While writing The Road to Wigan Pier, he stayed in Hertfordshire near the working class and the mines, eventually ending up in Wigan, where he kept a diary that would be used to write his book. He even traveled down to the mines to see what the workers were going through.

Image or Orwells The Road To Wigan Pier in Why George Orwell Matters
The Road to Wigan Pier (1937)
Orwell recorded his experience fighting against Fascism (1938)

Another one of his books, Homage to Catalonia, centered on the Spanish Civil War and Orwell’s experiences while fighting in that war. He was quoted later on as saying that “every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and democratic socialism as I understand it.” 

The book described how Orwell considered the fight against fascism to be important, as well as the fight against communism. It was published in the United Kingdom in 1938, but it took until 1952 for it to come to the United States. The book was only translated once in Orwell’s lifetime – in Italian in December of 1948.

In A Hanging (narrated above), published in 1931, the execution of a criminal is described and is both sad and beautiful. The short essay is told from a narrator’s point of view and gives neither the condemned man’s name nor the crime he’s been charged with. The words describe all of the emotions he and the other witnesses experience as they are set with the task of watching a perfectly healthy man die. He is alive one minute and dead the next. His skin is renewing itself and then it stops. His hair and nails are growing and then they stop. All because the government has decided that this man must die.

For Orwell and for me, the most fascinating thing about The Hanging is not the death itself, but a moment just before. As he is being marched towards the gallows, the doomed man steps aside to avoid a puddle in the path. He is going to be dead in a few minutes and yet he still doesn’t want to get his feet wet. It is at this point that Orwell truly understands the incredible wrongness of destroying a man’s life. 

Read the full story here or listen to the narration above: 

Indeed, it seems that this author ate, slept, and breathed the things he wrote about, and this is one of the reasons why George Orwell is my favorite writer. You can tell he “became” the subject matter in his writings, because every book he ever wrote is told from the heart and from personal experience.

Some Final Thoughts

George Orwell was diagnosed with tuberculosis in December of 1947. He married for the second time while he was hospitalized again in 1949, and he died on January 21, 1950, at the age of 46. But let’s face it, he did a lot in those 46 years and in fact, the fact that his books are still being read and analyzed today is a testament to his brilliance. You can immerse yourself in these books and feel like you’re living through the same things that the main characters are living through, thanks to his compassion and intensity in writing.

If you’ve never read any of George Orwell’s books – particularly 1984 – you owe it to yourself to do so as soon as possible. It will likely cause you to look at the government in a whole new way, and it is certainly a decision you will never regret. In fact, the book might even change your life, especially once you realize how realistic some of the writing in the book has become.

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What are your reasons for why George Orwell matters? What are your thoughts on his work? Leave us a comment below.

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This article also appeared here on my other site about language and literature.

Orwellian Gift Ideas

There is a lot of memorabilia out there, especially on Amazon, Etsy and Ebay. Amazon is usually cheaper with more selection and so I’ve chosen them. And if you’re not super satisfied with what you’ve bought, their returns policy is really good.

With so much to choose from, where do you start? My focus has been on cool, fun and quirky items, all garnering decent ratings from well-priced sellers.

Please note that I receive a small compensation if you use my links, but it will not increase your purchase price. It may help me earn enough to buy a beer or two. If you use my links, I truly appreciate it 😉

Men's 1984 T-Shirt

Make a cool statement with this dystopian tee. Make sure the world knows which side you’re own, that of Big Brother! 

Check it out on Amazon

1984 Paperback

If you haven’t read this yet then you’re not really on the same page as those who have. We gotta know how to avoid the world the book features. 

Check it out on Amazon.

1984 Audio Book

Not satisfied with just reading this great classic? Listen to it on the way to work or while plotting for the next revolution.

Check it out on Amazon.

Men's Animal Farm T-Shirt

Make a cool statement with this dystopian tee. Make sure the world knows that pigs would make horrible leaders. Besides, we would be disallowed bacon. 

Check it out on Amazon

6 thoughts on “Why George Orwell Matters”

  1. I understand your liking George Orwell’s writing, as I have to agree.  He is ageless.  Some of his stories, particularly 1984, are so timely today.  It would be very good for everyone to read that book in the light of our current world situation.

    Some of his books I hadn’t heard of, so was glad to see a bit of information about them.  I am certainly not surprised at his present popularity.

    1. Yes, Fran, we need to heed George Orwell’s advice in 1984, especially now. Glad I gave you a few other Orwellian suggestions for future reading.

  2. Thank you for your brilliant review on George Orwell. Both “Animal Farm” and “1984” were required reading during my high school years.  Those books are both timeless with the importance of their respective messages.  For myself, this is a wake up call to read them again.  I would also strongly encourage those who have never read these books to do so.

    In our modern world we have many great innovations.  For instance the smartphone.  No one can deny that they are a technological marvel.  I wonder what Orwell would say about them?  In the wrong hands they can be used to spread propaganda.  An even worse scenario is that it is possible to track both the users whereabouts and their personal communications.  It should make us all wonder how free is the society that we currently live in.  Turning a blind eye is not the answer.  That is why this sort of literature is so important to read.  We must also stay informed as to what our governments (Big Brother) are up to.

    Cheers,
    David

    1. David, I think Orwell would be one of those guys who still use the old Nokia that is only good for texting and calling. He would shun all forms of social media like the plague as we all should probably be doing.

  3. As an amateur history buff, I appreciate your website. I learned a wealth of information from your post “Why George Orwell Matters”. I am aware of his place in literary history. I think your post gives a sufficient proposal for Secondary Educators to adopt the novels of George Orwell into their curriculum, if they don’t already. I know that “Animal Farm” was a reading option in my HS Humanities course. The website overall is intriguing to those of us who want to know more about the past or have an interest. Well done!

    1. Thanks Theresa, I’m glad you enjoyed my Orwell article and yes, his works should be required reading in the school systems around the worlds. 

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