George Orwell (1903-1950) was the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair, an English novelist and journalist. He is best known for his political satires Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). The two novels criticize totalitarianism and social injustice.
Nineteen Eighty-Four was one of the most popular and widely quoted novels of the 20th century. It describes a bleak picture of a future world ruled by totalitarian regimes. Individual freedom and privacy are suppressed in the tightly controlled society described by Orwell. “Big brother is watching” is one of the many famous lines that have been frequently quoted from the book. The Stalinist regime of the Soviet Union was the real-life archetype for Orwell’s idea.
George Orwell was born in Motihari, Bengal, India, on June 25, 1903, into a lower-middle-class family. He attended the prestigious Eton School in London. In 1922 he returned to India and joined the British imperial police. In India and in Burma Orwell developed a strong antipathy toward imperialism and class division. He resigned from the imperial police and returned to Europe, where he moved between England and France, living a life of poverty. This experience gave him the material to write the memoir Down and Out in Paris and London (1933). His other works of the period include A Clergyman’s Daughter (1935), and The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), in which Orwell describes his strong socialist sympathies. In 1936 he traveled to Spain and fought alongside the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. He also became highly critical of communism during this period, expressing these sentiments in Homage to Catalonia (1938).
Orwell returned to England in 1937 and became a productive journalist, writing numerous articles and essays before and during World War II. He denounced Nazism but opposed war with Germany. In 1944 he completed Animal Farm, a brilliant satire in which barnyard animals overthrow their oppressive human master, only to divide into a new social order thereafter. The pigs assume power over the other animals and establish privileges for themselves. Orwell wrote Animal Farm to parody the Russian Revolution and the dishonesty of leaders such as Joseph Stalin. Orwell’s book was especially relevant during a time in human history marked by ideological struggles and totalitarian regimes. He believed that fascism and communism were not inevitable outcomes in time, but were dangerous ideas that should be resisted. Many lines from the book continue to be quoted in popular culture, including “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Government’s actions hostile to a free society are often referred to as “Orwellian.”
Orwell was married twice and had one adopted son. He suffered from tuberculosis during the later years of his life. He died in a London hospital on January 21, 1950.
James P. Bonanno
See also Bradbury, Ray; Clarke, Arthur C.; Futurology;
Novels, Time in; Toffler, Alvin; Verne, Jules;
Wells, H. G.
Bowker, G. (2003). George Orwell. London: Little, Brown.
Davidson, P. (1996). George Orwell: A literary life. New York: St. Martin’s.
Shelden, M. (1991). Orwell: The authorized biography. New York: HarperCollins.