George Orwell and his time

by Damiano, Zhang Yilun, and Hu Jian (张逸伦 胡健)


Project coordinator: Daniela Ianni

Graphic project: Ernesta Cicini


George Orwell, Eric Arthur Blair’s pseudonym, was born on 25th June 1903 in Motihari in Bengal, India. His father, Richard Blair, was an official of the Indian Civil Service, and he worked for the British administration in India. They were a family of modest economic conditions: they belonged to the middle-class defined ironically “nobility without land” by the author.

In 1907 he came back to his country with his mother and his sister and he enrolled at the Saint Cyprian School. There he spent six years of sufferings and humiliations that brought him to acquire an oppressive complex of inferiority, expressed in an autobiographical essay, composed in 1947, ”Such, Such were the Joys”. In spite of it, Orwell was a brilliant and precocious student and he won a scholarship for the famous Public School in Eton, where he remained for four years. There he knew the teacher Aldous Huxley, that had a big influence in Orwell’s thought.


  He did not go on with his studies, but he joined up with the Indian Imperial Police, pushed by a strong impulse for the “action”. So he spent five years in Burma and from this experience he took the starting-point for another essay: “Burmese days”, written in 1934. In 1928 he decided to leave the army due to the growing disgust for the imperialistic arrogance and the contrast  with the repressive function of his role.


So he decided to go to Paris. There he lived in the underworlds and made humble works to survive. He continued this “exploration”, this “life-style” also in London, where he remained until 1933. He told about these “adventures” in the book “Down and out in Paris and London”, written in 1933, where he gave an image of the intellectuals of that period. The return to England provoked in himself a reaction against the monotony of the modern life: “Coming up for Air” and “Road to Wigan Pier”, written in 1937, are two documents that describe the social conditions of the time, in particular Orwell spoke with bitterness about the life of the unemployed people.


Then he took part in the Spanish civil war, where he fought in the republican army. After this experience he became anti-Soviet and decided to write “Homage to Catalonia”, in 1938. From this book emerges a critic position against the Spanish Communist Party and the Soviet Union. He wrote also another essay “Why I Write”(1946) in which Orwell expressed his ideals against the Totalitarianism and any other form of dominion of the man on the man.


In 1945 he wrote “Animal Farm”, inspired by real facts: it was a pitiful satire against  Russian Communism. In 1949 he wrote his last novel: “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, in which he gave a terrifying image of the world society of the future(1984). He left us also some essays of literary critic and of sociology. He died due to a tuberculosis in London, in 1950 when he was forty-six.


  We can consider Orwell a socialist, but he believed in a socialism based on pillars like “justice” and “freedom”. He dreamed of an ideal society, with tolerance and respect for the human dignity. For these reasons, he is considered one of the most important writers of the Dystopia tradition (opposite of Utopia). With “Animal Farm” and “Nineteen Eighty-four”, Orwell  left an indelible sign in the English literature of the 1950s.


Nineteen Eighty-four : the reason for this novel


Indifference to objective truth is encouraged by the sealing off of one part of the world from another, which makes it harder and harder to discover what is actually happening. There can often be doubt about the most enormous events... .The calamities that are constantly being reported -- battles, massacres, famines, revolutions -- tend to inspire in the average person a feeling of unreality. One has no way of verifying the facts, one is not even fully certain that they have happened, and one is always presented with totally different interpretations from different sources. Probably the truth is undiscoverable but the facts will be so dishonestly set forth in that the ordinary reader can be forgiven either for swallowing lies or for failing to form an opinion ...


Because of his experience in the Spanish civil war that media reports of the conflict bore no relation to what was happening, Orwell developed a great skepticism about the ability of even a well intentioned and honest writer to get to the truth. He was generally skeptical of atrocity stories.


It should be noted that Orwell worked for the BBC for a time, and the Ministry of Truth is modeled to some extent on the BBC. Orwell noted that the BBC put out false hate propaganda during World War II, and controlled history by censoring news about the genocidal Allied policy of leveling German cities by saturation bombing. Orwell's beliefs about the control of the past, including the recent past, also derived from his experiences in the Spanish civil war, where he found that "no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain for the first time I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts.


The connection between the real world and the world in Nineteen Eighy-four


The popular perception of history is based on brainwashing by the mass media, indoctrination by the education system, peer group pressure, self-censorship and television "docudramas." Docudramas such as Winds of War; Tora, Tora, Tora; Gandhi; Gallipoli; and Holocaust, which pervade people's 1984-like telescreens, are a blend of fact and fiction. They give a clear and believable, but usually completely misleading view, of historical events. Such devices to indoctrinate and mislead people are not new. Shakespeare's docudramas, such as Richard III, served a similar purpose. The pervasiveness of television and widespread literacy make people more susceptible to brainwashing by Big Brother agencies than was possible in the past. The twentieth century is the century of mass propaganda. Due to different systems of propaganda, people in different countries such as Russia, China, and the United States will have quite different beliefs about history. The "Winston Smiths" in Communist countries who query approved history are likely to be more harshly treated than their counterparts in the West.


Animal Farm


Since its publication in 1946, George Orwell's fable of a workers' revolution gone wrong has rivaled Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea as the Shortest Serious Novel It's OK to Write a Book Report About. (The latter is three pages longer and less fun to read.) Fueled by Orwell's intense disillusionment with Soviet Communism, Animal Farm is a nearly perfect piece of writing, both an engaging story and an allegory that actually works. When the downtrodden beasts of Manor Farm oust their drunken human master and take over management of the land, all are awash in collectivist zeal. Everyone willingly works overtime, productivity soars, and for one brief, glorious season, every belly is full. The animals' Seven Commandment credo is painted in big white letters on the barn. All animals are equal. No animal shall drink alcohol, wear clothes, sleep in a bed, or kill a fellow four-footed creature. Those that go upon four legs or wings are friends and the two-legged are, by definition, the enemy. Too soon, however, the pigs, who have styled themselves leaders by virtue of their intelligence, succumb to the temptations of privilege and power. "We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organisation of the farm depend on us. Day and night, we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples." While this swinish brotherhood sells out the revolution, cynically editing the Seven Commandments to excuse their violence and greed, the common animals are once again left hungry and exhausted, no better off than in the days when humans ran the farm. Satire Animal Farm may be, but it's a stony reader who remains unmoved when the stalwart workhorse, Boxer, having given his all to his comrades, is sold to the glue factory to buy booze for the pigs. Orwell's view of Communism is bleak indeed, but given the history of the Russian people since 1917, his pessimism has an air of prophecy.


Animal Farm: the story

This story was written after the civil Spanish war, where Orwell took part as a volunteer against the rising of Franco’s dictatorship. The thinking of Orwell is based on solid socialist ideals and the total refuse of the idea of dictatorship. In “1984” he criticizes all the dictatorships in a future dystopic socialist dictatorship. In “Animal farm” he particularly condems the stalinist dictatorship that is the dystopian idea of the marxist utopia.

The story of “Animal farm” is  parallel to the story of the USSR, in particular the stalinst era, and each character represents a real historic figure.

In the beginnig there is a pig, Old Mayor, that, like Marx, is a prophet of a utopia without inequality, poverty, and exploitation. Old Mayor-Marx esposes the doctrine of Animalism-Comunism according to which, in the future, the animals-proletarians will rebel against the farmers-capitalists.

After the dead of this pig, the other pigs become the heirs of Animalism-Comunism and they persuade the other animals of the farm to rebel against the farm owner,  Mr. Jones-Nicholas II. The revolution starts and the animals chase away Mr.Jones-Nicholas II, and change the name of the farm from Major farm in Animal farm. Then, on the walls of the farm, they write the seven priniples of Animalism-Communism:

            “Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy

            Whatever goes upon four legs or has wings is a friend

            No animal shall wear clothes

            No animal shall sleep in bed

            No animal shall drink alcohol

No animal shall kill any other animal

All animals are equal”

The pigs are the most intelligent animals, they can read and write, so they become the managers of the farm. They create a flag similar to the communist flag but the background is green instead of red, with the horn and the hoof, instead of the hammer and sickle. The pigs propose innovations that are approved or disapproved by the others aniamls in perfect democracy. All the animals work for their welfare and for the welfare of the other animals. The utopia is realized: “All the animals are equal”.

But here starts the hard critc of Orwell.

Among the pigs, two are the most inteligent : Snowball-Trotzki and Napoleon-Stalin. Snowball- Trotzki is in favour of thecnology innovation and the revolution brought into the other farms-countries: Foxwood-England and Pinchfield-Germany. Napoleon-Stalin is for the war against the other farms and he doesn’t bring any innovative ideas. During the elections of leader Napoleon-Stalin makes a “coup d’etat” with the dogs-KGB at his order, and becomes the dictator of the farm

Here the pigs’ dictatorship begins: the principles of Animalism are changed in his favour, for example “No animal shall sleep in bed”  becomes  “No animal shall sleep in bed with sheets” or “No animal shall kill any other animal”   becomes “ No animal shall kill any other animal without a reason”. The anamals live in a condition of slavery worse than the slavery of Mr. Jones.

But the animals are stupid, they don’t remember the real priciples of Animalism and their conditions under Mr. Jones. And the animals are also conditioned by the pigs’ propaganda and  convinced that they are in a better condition than before. Among the stupid animals there is a donkey, Benjamin-Orwell, that is more intelligent than the pigs and wants to fight their dictatorship, but he knows that he can’t make anything alone.

The power of Napoleon and the pigs has improved more and more: they have privileges that the other animals don’t have, and this happens because of the stupidity and the ignorance of the animals that work for the pigs blindly, without stopping, like the horse Boxer-Stakhonov. The pigs form an alliance with the humans of the other farms and, in the end, they become like humans: the pigs walk upon two legs and smoke cigarettes.

The animals understand what has happened too late, when they can’t make anything: they understand all the priciples of Animalsim are changed into one principle: “All the animals are equal but some animals are more equal than the others”.

The tale finishes with the animals that see a quarrel between pigs and humans without understanding who are the animals and who are the humans.


by Damiano, Zhang Yilun, and Hu Jian (张逸伦 胡健)

The World in a Book | 1984 Home | Working area  | Book | Author | 1984 world | Utopia vs Dystopia  Characters | Book's analysis