George Orwell: Society, Class and Politics

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As one of the most famed and respected writers in British history, George Orwell has often had his works critiqued throughout the years. He is best remembered for his look into a dystopian society in the future and works such as ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘1984’, both of which provide warnings of what politics can manifest within society. On a wider scale, he is a writer who lived through and wrote about some of the darkest events in human history.

‘Animal Farm’ draws many similarities to events of early/mid-20th century Communist Russia. From the Old Major/ Lenin correlation in the beginning of the novella to Napoleon and his representation of Stalin through his rise to power, Orwell writes of how the thirst for power can poison those who strive for it.

Orwell warned of how the of the masses gaining power from the bourgeoise can go wrong. In both Animal Farm and Revolutionary Russia, one figure promised to regain the power for the people whilst another leader led the people back to the old ways. Whether on a farm in England or within the depths of Russia, the dangers of the masses being blindly led by unfit leaders are depicted as a warning.

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‘Animal Farm’ makes the point that those who lead the revolution may not always have the most honest intentions for the movement. The pigs place themselves in the position of power, as the leaders who distribute the workload to the other animals. They take advantage of the lack of understanding from the rest of the farm to keep them on top of the chain of command. The pigs rise from the proletariat and gradually become the very thing which they had sworn to the rest of the animals to avoid: becoming human.

One of the final lines in the novella is chilling and it summarises what happens when the wrong people lead the masses. The pigs have cast aside the anti-human attitude to essentially get in to bed with those who oppressed them. This was Orwell’s depiction of how revolutions can sometimes be a mere fantasy. “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” It would have been a soul-destroying sight for the rest of the farm yard animals, the proletariat, to see the people who they were willing to die for betray all the morals of the revolution. The events on Manor Farm mirror everything wrong with the road to freedom within an oppressive state.

‘1984’ is arguably the most well known and impactful novel written by Orwell and it is still relevant to this very day. The story of attempted revolution in a society which crushed any aspect of free speech is chilling, most particularly the point which few people in society can remember a time before ‘The Party’ and its totalitarian ways. The concept of huddled masses yearning to be free is challenged by Orwell as he critiques the proletariat (proles) and how they fail to notice the bigger picture. They are kept in a permanent content state by the Party as the totalitarian power were aware of the importance of preventing revolution. Power in the people is a point which is reinforced by Orwell.

Despite his middle-class upbringing, Orwell was aware and sympathetic of the plight of the working class. He often wrote about his experiences, most noticeably in his collection of journalism ‘Road to Wigan Pier’. He noted the political atmosphere amongst the working class, during a period which saw communism and fascism being talked about by the British public. He admitted that he felt his presence as a middle class, well educated writer-figure might have led to ill-feeling from those he spoke to. Yet he had an admiration for the people who dug the coal and built the ships and created the steel which fuelled the nation.

In ‘Road to Wigan Pier’ Orwell focuses on coalminers in the North West of England and the struggles which they faced in terms of failed strikes and woeful working conditions. He respected the honesty and the hardship faced by these miners as well as the hospitality of the men and their families, despite everything they had gone through.

The 1930’s was a decade in which Britain’s working class suffered and were exploited. The Great Depression triggered by the economic crash of the late 1920’s, poor working conditions and being called upon to fight the second global war in just over twenty years. Orwell noted this and through his work in this period and in later life he realised that the ‘proles’ held the key to making a change.

The worker is exploited through the capitalist system, yet in both 1914 and 1939 were expected to die for the upper classes without hesitation. The period between the two wars was documented by Orwell and with the way the working class was treated after giving so much in on the battlefields of Europe, it is not hard to see why the fires of revolution were fanned so much.

His own political views were not as extreme as those he documented in his work, but Orwell chose to travel overseas to fight the fascism ideology. Fighting in the Spanish Civil War, he saw first hand what fascism could do to a nation. He, like many others in the UK, were keen to avoid the ideology from spreading to the UK.

George Orwell documented some of the most significant events of what was a turbulent period in history. Whether it was through fiction or journalism, he documented the way in which society changed in the 20th century and set forward his warnings for what can go wrong when democracy fails and totalitarianism reigns. He may have passed away over half a century ago, yet Orwell’s attitude to class and the political spectrum still have as much relevance now as they did when he first penned them.

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