In this discussion post, I would love to know what you think of George Orwell, a writer voted one of “the 50 greatest British writers since 1945”, in The Times in 2008. This follows on from last months discussion post where we discussed William Shakespeare.
Personally I have read two of George Orwell’s novels, one in school and on in sixth form which was Animal Farm and 1984 (I’ve also reviewed the former on this blog).
Overall I have always enjoyed both books by Orwell as they both do a great job of explaining political ideals and the problems with them in a way which is imaginative and entertaining.
Beginning with Animal Farm which I first read around the age of 13 in school. The premise of course is about a farm in England where the animals overtake the owner Mr. Jones but a power struggle between two of the pigs, Napoleon and Snowball develops, with the former overruling the latter. Napoleon then establishes a communist society but with the pigs ultimately ending up in charge.
In fact the entirety of the novel is an allegory to explain the communist theory and the flaws with it. I find it fascinating that the novel at the time it was written Orwell struggled to get published as at the time the Second World War had just finished and there was an alliance between the UK, the USA and the Soviet Union. As a result, most publications did not want to publish a book which was so critical of the Soviet regime. Even more fascinating as detailed on the Wikipedia page for the book, Orwell initially had an offer from Jonathan Cape to publish it but they pulled out when an official from British Ministry of Information warned them off. However it is now believed the civil servant which ordered this was himself found out to be a Soviet spy.
However my personal favourite book of his is 1984, which I read at sixth form. The book is hugely influential and it is surprising given the book was published in 1949 – almost 75 years ago that the book still has ideas which resonate today.
It is set in the at the time near future of 1984 in a world which has fallen victim to an endless war, endless government surveillance, changing the historical narrative and propaganda. Britain is now known as Airstrip One and has become part of the state of Oceania which is led by a totalitarian government, and the totalitarian leader Big Brother, who enjoys a cult of personality. There are four ministries in charge:
- Ministry of Peace – ironically supports war between itself and one of the other two world powers,
- Ministry of Plenty – controls rationing and supplies,
- Ministry of Truth – controls the historical record and flow of information
- Ministry of Love – monitors and arrests dissidents which is also where the Thought Police reside.
The main character is Winston Smith who works for the Ministry of Truth, though secretly hates the party. However when he meets Julia and the pair begin an affair it could end up costing them greatly.
The book is extremely gripping and it is scary how in some ways the book has echoes of the world we live in today – with the internet and social media becoming a modern-day battleground to cause division and fear amongst people. There is also frequent twisting of information on the internet to tell a certain narrative, with countless examples – from anti-vaxxers to “woke” politics and conspiracy theories. There has also been increasing concern about data collection and mining by websites with legislation such as the GDPR coming in to try to curb this.
As an aside as I have just remembered this – if anyone wants to learn more about how social media apps do this, I would highly recommend the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma for those who have Netflix as it is fascinating, even though it will make you paranoid and view the apps in a totally different way.
We have also seen it this year with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, with Russia stating on their own state media it is a so-called special military operation and not an invasion.
We also live increasingly in a society which is more under surveillance than ever before. I read recently a statistic that said London had 73 CCTV cameras in the city per 1,000 people and it can even be said that social media acts as a way of surveillance, with people’s thoughts being stored theoretically forever. This might come across as though I am just bashing social media but it is definitely one of the ways this books themes do still apply today.
The book has also been influential in British culture for many decades, which I have mentioned in the blog before. From TV shows such as Room 101 and Big Brother, to musicians from David Bowie to Radiohead referencing the book in their music.
I would highly recommend reading both of these books, although he did write another 7 novels which I haven’t read. I would love to know your thoughts on Orwell in the comments down below.