George Orwell is only a pen name. The man behind the classics Animal Farm and 1984 was named Eric Arthur Blair and was born to a middle class family living in Bengal in 1903. Eric Blair got his first taste of class prejudice at a young age when his mother forced him to abandon his playmates, which were plumber’s children (Crick 9). He could then play only with the other children in the family, all of whom were at least five years older or younger than Eric (Crick 12).
This created in him a sense of alienation that plagued him all his life and seems to be reflected in the bitter decay and loneliness he later expressed in his novel 1984. As he moved around unsuccessfully from job to job, he never really developed a sense of self-worth. His childhood self-esteem had already been scarred by his bed wetting habit, of which Orwell Biographer Jeffrey Meyers writes that it “was only the first of endless episodes that made Orwell feel guilty: he was poor, he was lazy and a failure, ungrateful and unhealthy, disgusting and dirty minded, weak, ugly, cowardly” (23).
His writings, under the name of George Orwell, and specifically his two major novels, mentioned above, contain themes warning readers of the dangers present in modern society, a world he saw as bleak and repressive through the filter of his unhappy childhood and two world wars. Despite their sometimes dark settings, his works are very accessible, which has made him popular among those not usually comfortable with more intellectual fiction. But his works do discuss serious themes and contain a specific focus, making them valid pieces of literature and not just popular fiction.
Animal Farm is Orwell’s most widely read novel, in part, because of its cartoonish characters and easily interpreted allegorical themes. It tells the story of the revolution of the animals living on Manor Farm. A pig named Napoleon rises to become the totalitarian leader of the farm, which is renamed Animal Farm, after the lazy, alcoholic farmer is run off. Animal farm is an allegory for the October Revolution and Stalin’s regime in Russia. It is a novel in which “every detail has political significance” (Meyers 133).
Napoleon the Pig, representing Stalin, gradually tears down the precepts upon which Animal Farm has been founded and eventually returns the farm to a condition almost worse than before, with the pigs whipping, killing, and starving the other animals. The humans in 1984 exist in much the same state as Orwell left the animals in Animal Farm. They are defeated, scared, and completely subservient to their totalitarian dictator. 1984 is Orwell’s vision of the state of the future, a state existing under the rule of Big Brother in the year 1984. The novel focuses on the life of Winston Smith.
Winston works in Minitrue, which is the branch of Big Brother’s government concerned with writing news stories, whether true or false, and altering past news reports to reconcile any contradictions with current news stories and state policies. Minitrue is a shortening of the words “ministry of truth” in Newspeak, an original language, based on these types of abbreviations, created by Orwell to show how Big Brother uses the limiting of people’s language to control their thoughts. Secretly, Winston begins keeping a diary of his thoughts and feelings.
This creative, free-thinking exercise is highly illegal in Big Brother’s society, an infraction which is called a “thoughtcrime. ” People who are caught committing a thoughtcrime, which may sometimes consist of only a stray comment or unpleasant facial expression, are taken in the middle of the night to be “reeducated” and then promptly executed. Winston increases his chances of reeducation further by engaging in a secret sexual relationship with a woman who is a model party member and who turns out to be a not-so-loyal member of “The Junior Anti-Sex League.
Being caught committing thoughtcrimes is almost inevitable because Big Brother has installed “telescreens” nearly everywhere, enabling his agents to watch those within the telescreens’ scope at any time they want. The book is presented almost as a countdown to the moment in Winston’s life when his thoughtcrimes will finally be discovered, and he will hear a knock on his door in the middle of the night. When this finally happens, Winston comes to realize the depths and strength of Big Brother’s power.
Everyone he thought had been his friend or ally turns out to be a traitor. As he had always suspected, the thought police had known of his crimes for some time before actually arresting him, delaying his capture in order to catch others also. Their ability to seemingly be anywhere at anytime, even inside his thoughts, is what causes the fear that gives Big Brother his power. The common theme in these two works is Orwell’s contempt for and fear of totalitarian governments.
During his lifetime he saw Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin come to power. He also saw them oppress and murder those under their rule. Orwell came to view the totalitarian dictator as a fundamentally corrupt leader who should be eradicated from the world. Animal Farm shows the destructive nature of the totalitarian dictator’s rise to power and his effect on those under his rule. 1984 shows the tendency of the dictator to want to control every aspect of a people’s actions, feelings, and thoughts.
A single man, with absolute power over a country’s military, government, and minds, inevitably produces a lower standard of living, a constant fear of being arrested, and a trend of state sanctioned murders in order to establish and uphold the regime. This modern danger, along with Orwell’s expression of his own personal alienation, is what is depicted through the dark humor of Animal Farm and the poverty and paranoia of 1984.