Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

George Orwell

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
English Literature

George Orwell was an essayist, critic, and novelist who was well-known in his time and remains highly well-known to this day. Orwell's experiences of British imperialism, the Spanish Civil War, and European communism and fascism shaped his works, culminating in his famous critiques of repressive regimes: Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949). His work coined the term 'Orwellian', associated with anything totalitarian or oppressive.

Though the exact events in George Orwell's time are no longer happening today, his concepts (such as helping the poor and standing up for one's rights) are still hugely relevant for today's readers.

George Orwell's biography and facts

Although famous under his pen name George Orwell, the writer was in fact born Eric Arthur Blair on 25 June 1903 in India. The pen name provided some anonymity not to embarrass his relatives with his first publication, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), which covered his time living in poverty. Orwell claims he also didn't like the name 'Eric' as it reminded him of a 'prig' (a person who self-righteously believes they are better than others).1

George Orwell's father held a small role in the Indian civil service as a British official, and his French mother was the daughter of a failed merchant. Orwell described themselves as part of the 'landless gentry': those who had the snobbish pretensions of being the wealthy without the wealth.

In 1911, Orwell went to a preparatory boarding school in England, where he outshone other students with his intelligence. He then won scholarships to Wellington and Eton, England's top schools, studying under Aldous Huxley at Eton.

In 1922, Orwell followed in his father's footsteps and went to Burma to work in the Indian Imperial Police. While working there, he experienced the discrimination the Burmese people faced due to British rule. He felt ashamed of his role and eventually resigned in 1928. These experiences later shaped his first novel Burmese Days (1934), as well as his autobiographical essays 'A Hanging' (1931) and 'Shooting an Elephant' (1936).

His shame and guilt from Burma lead to his decision to experience what it was like to be on the side of the discriminated people. Down and Out in Paris and London reflected his experiences of living in the slums of Paris and East London.

Orwell went to Spain to report on the Spanish Civil War and eventually joined the left-wing Republican army to fight against fascism. His experiences of war, propaganda and their impact on ordinary civilians influenced his future works: most explicitly Homage to Catalonia (1938) but also his most famous texts Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949).

Orwell married Eileen O'Shaughnessy in 1936, and they were together until 1945, when O'Shaughnessy passed away. In 1944, Orwell and O'Shaughnessy adopted a son but after O'Shaughnessy's passing. Orwell's sister mainly took care of their son. Shortly before his death in 1950, Orwell married Sonia Brownell, who then inherited Orwell's property after he passed away at the age of 46, fighting tuberculosis.

George Orwell, George Orwell Biography, StudySmarter

George Orwell, pixabay

George Orwell's famous fiction works and quotes by

Let's look at some of Orwell's most popular fiction works.

Burmese Days (1934)

Burmese Days is George Orwell's first fictional novel, and it is based on the discrimination the Burmese people faced due to British imperialism.

British Imperialism refers to the rulers of Britain forcefully extending their power over lands, territories, and colonies overseas, which involved brutal violence, colonisation, and war.

Set in the 1920s and a fictional district based on where Orwell served in Burma, John Flory is a white European man living and working in Southeast Asia, which was under British colonial rule at the time.

Imperial life is embodied in the European Club, a club full of privileged white men who refuse the entrance of non-white men. When Flory's only friend, Dr Veraswami, an Indian doctor, tries to gain election to the club, the magistrate U Ko Phin becomes jealous and tries to ruin Dr Veraswami's reputation. In the meantime, Flory's imperialist racism is reflected in the love triangle between Ma Hla May, his Burmese mistress, and the English girl Elizabeth Lackersteen, who Flory wants to marry.

While British imperialism, loneliness and connection are essential to Burmese Days, Orwell begins to explore themes that become central to later texts, such as oppression, freedom of speech and the corrupting influence of power.

Free speech is unthinkable ... You are not free to think for yourself. All other kinds of freedom are permitted. You are free to be a drunkard, an idler, a coward, a backbiter, a fornicator; but you are not free to think for yourself. (Chapter 5)

Orwell claims to be anti-imperialist, yet are all of his descriptions of the Burmese characters truly anti-imperial?

A Clergyman's Daughter (1934)

Orwell's most structurally experimental text is A Clergyman's Daughter, with parts written in dramatic form. Although not as successful as other works (Orwell initially didn't want it to be republished after his death), his second novel A Clergyman's Daughter shows Orwell learning his craft.

The text follows the protagonist, Dorothy Hare, the daughter of a clergyman who leads a tedious life as she stays home to take care of the needs of her family. One day, she suddenly develops amnesia, and her entire life transforms. As she wanders through the street with no recollection of the past and with hardly any money, she starts to piece her past together again. However, this isn't simple; her journey back to her memory is filled with rumours, romantic scandals, and episodes such as working at a school and spending a night in a police cell. Much of these events can be traced back to Orwell's own experiences in East London.

Dorothy loses her memory through not only amnesia but also her social status. Coming from a middle-class family, Dorothy is suddenly forced to survive with very little money. From hop-picking with vagrants to living rough on Trafalgar Square, Dorothy must experience first-hand what it means to exist in a capitalist society without any money. By the end of the text, the clergyman's daughter renounces her faith in God – perhaps because she has learnt that a capitalist society worships something entirely different indeed.

It had driven into her a far deeper understanding than she had had before of the great modern commandment – the eleventh commandment which has wiped out all the others: 'Thou shalt not lose thy job.' (Chapter 4)

Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936)

Keep the Aspidistra Flying is a critique of the middle class in Britain, criticising society's overwhelming focus on wealth and materialism.

George Orwell's protagonist, Gordon Comstock, is a reflection of himself. Gordon is a copywriter frustrated with his life due to the materialism surrounding his lifestyle and work life. He decides to quit his job and pursue his passion of becoming a poet. But his new low-paying job leads him closer and closer to poverty. In a world controlled by money, he soon starts to wonder what the importance of worth is.

Orwell focuses on the power of money in this book and concepts of capitalism and materialism.

The mistake you make, don’t you see, is in thinking one can live in a corrupt society without being corrupt oneself. After all, what do you achieve by refusing to make money? You’re trying to behave as though one could stand right outside our economic system. But one can’t. One’s got to change the system, or one changes nothing. One can’t put things right in a hole-and-corner way, if you take my meaning. (Chapter 10)

Animal Farm (1945)

Animal Farm is a great book to start with if you want to read some of George Orwell's books. It is an allegorical novella that reflects on the events of the Russian revolution and satirises Stalinism.

An allegory is a story or image that can be interpreted to have another meaning.

A novella is longer than a short story but shorter than a novel.

Set on a farm, the animals in Animal Farm are tired of being oppressed by their owner, the farmer. With a dream to create a new fair system where all are equal, the pigs, Napoleon and Snowball, lead a revolt and together, the animals overthrow the humans. Yet the initial desire to set up a free, equal society soon becomes corrupted when the pigs' thirst for power creates new unequal, exploitative hierarchies. A brutal regime follows with the pigs hypocritically acting just like the humans, leaving the ordinary workers greatly oppressed and the dream of equality betrayed.

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. (Chapter 10)

George Orwell, George Orwell books, StudySmarter farm animals, pixabay.com

1984 (1949)

One of Orwell's most famous works, the dystopian science fiction novel 1984, explores the oppression of individual freedom and rights by an all-powerful state. Having experienced Europe in the 1940s, Orwell drew on the historical examples of oppressive states in Europe to create his searing critique of totalitarian regimes and abuses of power and language.

A totalitarian regime is a powerful central government that seeks total control over its citizens and all aspects of individual life through repression and subservience. Opposing political parties are banned, and freedom of thought in opposition to the party is outlawed.

Set in the future of 1984, Great Britain is a thing of the past and the country is now called Oceania. A totalitarian system led by the 'Big Brother', the ruler of The Party governs the people of Oceania. Uniqueness, individuality, and autonomy are non-existent, and citizens are kept in check by a brutal police force. Winston Smith is a low-ranking member of the party working for the 'Ministry of Truth', who rewrite history according to The Party's desires. Winston falls in love with Julia, who then becomes part of a resistance group that hopes to bring down The Party through the power of ordinary people. In the end, the totalitarian system triumphs when Winston not only betrays his lover for the sake of the state but loses his freedom of thought.

George Orwell's 1984 was banned in China, Russia, and even the USA due to its explicit political and social themes. In 1981, it was even argued in Jackson County, Florida, that it was supporting communism.

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past. (Chapter 3)

Famous non-fiction works & quotes by George Orwell

Now we will explore Orwell's non-fiction works.

Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)

Orwell recounts his experiences living in poverty in Paris and London in this memoir. The first-person narrator, who appears strikingly like Orwell himself, is a writer who faces many trials and tribulations after he loses his teaching job and is robbed. He moves from Paris to London, narrating his experiences of poverty.

For this publication, the pen name George Orwell was first used. This memoir highlights the harsh conditions that poor people had to deal with.

The great redeeming feature of poverty: the fact that it annihilates the future. (Chapter 3)

The Road to Wigan Pier (1937)

Split into two parts, the first section is a sociological report on the lives of working-class coal miners and their families, presenting their bleak living and working conditions. The second section is an essay on socialism, drawing on Orwell's middle-class upbringing. Orwell uses these stories from the working class to show how socialism would help these people's lives.

We are living in a world in which nobody is free, in which hardly anybody is secure, in which it is almost impossible to be honest and to remain alive. (Chapter 2)

Homage to Catalonia (1938)

George Orwell originally travelled to Spain to report on the Spanish Civil War. Soon, he joined the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification in the left-wing Republican army. The text chronicles his life as a soldier in the Spanish Civil War. Although a socialist, Orwell left as he became disillusioned with how history and language were altered and abused by both sides to fit their political ideology.

Political consciousness and disbelief in capitalism were more normal than their opposites. (Chapter 7)

'Politics and the English Language' (1946)

In this essay, Orwell touches on a warning that is present throughout his works: the abuse of power comes hand-in-hand with the abuse of language. The World War II propaganda machine of all countries demonstrated how language (and with it truth) could be altered and changed at will. Wanting to prevent a misleading language that served to conceal the truth, Orwell created a set of rules for clear writing:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

How can you see these rules for clear writing in Orwell's fiction and non-fiction works?

Themes in George Orwell's works

We will discuss the main themes in Orwell's fiction, and non-fiction works.

Socialism

George Orwell defined himself as a socialist who was greatly opposed to imperialist and capitalist practices.

Many of Orwell's life choices and texts are impacted by his belief in socialism: whether it was his experiences in Burma, living in poverty in Down and Out in Paris and London, narrating the lives of the working class in The Road to Wigan Pier or fighting for the communist Republicans in the Spanish Civil War (resulting in Homage to Catalonia).

Orwell's socialist leanings made him so critical of Stalin's communism, which claimed to be on the side of the workers yet was instead oppressing the people in a totalitarian state. In the political fable Animal Farm, Orwell presents his view on the Russian Revolution and how 'socialist' notions were a ploy to bring the Russian people under total control.

How are the ordinary workers presented in Orwell's texts? Is the narrator on their side or not?

Totalitarianism

In 'Why I Write' (1946), George Orwell wrote that 'every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against Totalitarianism.' He also stated through this essay that what he 'most wanted to do is to make political writing into an art’.

1936 is significant as this marked when European governments were becoming totalitarian regimes. On the far-right (fascism) and far-left (communism), centralised governments aimed to assert absolute control over their citizens through tactics such as secret police, brainwashing propaganda and brutally crushing opposition.

Examples of totalitarian regimes include the fascist regimes of the Nazis in Germany (1933–1945) and Franco in Spain (1939–1975), as well as the communist regime in the Soviet Union (1917–1991), which was also imposed on many Eastern European countries (post-World War II).

Orwell felt there was a real threat that Britain, too, could end up as an oppressive totalitarian state in the future, such as in 1984. The dystopian text is a cautionary tale of the effects of being complacent about what is happening around oneself. By portraying an authoritarian regime in Britain with direct control and influence over the citizens, Orwell warns the reader never to be complacent and take action for their rights and freedom.

Censorship and propaganda

Orwell was writing at a time when state censorship and propaganda had allowed atrocities such as genocides to take place in the name of political ideologies. At the same time, whole swathes of history were being changed to best suit these ideologies. The versions of truth and history were not based on facts but on the ruling party's political agenda, which changed rapidly.

Orwell experienced how state censorship changed considerably depending on the historical situations. During the 1920s and 1930s, Britain opposed the rule of Lenin and Stalin and censored any material that supported the communist revolution in Russia. However, in the second half of World War II, Britain then allied with Stalin's Soviet Union. As a result, the state then censored any anti-Stalin and anti-Soviet media. During the Cold War, Britain (and the capitalist West) were opposed to communism, so again the state censored any pro-Soviet material.

Many of Orwell's texts focus on how language is abused and censored to suit political ideologies. In Homage to Catalonia Orwell criticises how the communist party oppresses their political opponents, which also evident in Animal Farm through the gradual changing of the commandments or the silenced rumours of the pigs sleeping in beds and acting like humans. In 1984, Orwell greatly attacks state propaganda and brainwashing techniques, epitomising the government's apparent truth that '2 + 2 = 5'. Orwell analytically criticises how totalitarian governments abuse and censor language to oppress the people and freedom of thought. Orwell coined terms such as 'newspeak' to reflect how censorship has created a new language designed by The Party, such as where a forced labour camp suddenly becomes a 'joy camp'. Many of these terms are now frequently used beyond 1984 such as 'doublethink' (when one can think two conflicting things at once) and 'thoughtcrime' (having a thought that the ruling party does not allow).

Can you think of any modern-day examples where information is silenced, removed or altered to support the ruling party?

Technology

Orwell recognises that totalitarian governments can exploit the growing advances in technology, as it helps leaders constantly monitor their citizens. In 1984, through dystopian science fiction elements such as 'telescreens' (TV screens that also act as cameras watching the people) and the 'Thought Police', the Party can have total physical and mental control of their citizens. As a result, rulers would be able to control subjects internally through their minds (through sophisticated brainwashing techniques and fear of the police state) and outwardly (by watching them at all times through technology).

Since the time of Orwell's writing, technology has dramatically improved. Can you think of examples of how technology is used to spy on and monitor ordinary people today?

George Orwell, George Orwell famous work, StudySmarter

artificial intelligence, pixabay

George Orwell - Key takeaways

  • George Orwell was born on June 25, 1903, in India.
  • George Orwell was a socialist and anti-imperialist, and his political beliefs had informed many of his texts such as Burmese Days (1934), Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), Homage to Catalonia (1938), and A Clergyman's Daughter (1934).
  • Orwell's most famous works Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949), portray his views on totalitarianism and abuse of power and language.
  • Key themes in Orwell's works are socialism, totalitarianism, censorship, propaganda and technology. George Orwell's life experiences have greatly influenced his texts, with many scenes taken from his biography.

1 The British Library, George Orwell, 2022

George Orwell

George Orwell is best known for his novels Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949).

George Orwell was an essayist, critic and novelist. He was famous for his opinions on communism, British imperialism and fascism and he used his books to present his political ideologies. 


George Orwell's famous works are Animal Farm (1945), a satirical allegorical novella based on the Russian Revolution of 1917, and 1984 (1949), a dystopian fiction presenting the dangers of totalitarianism.

1. To never use a figure of speech (such as a metaphor or simile) that is commonly published in prints.

2. Don't use a long word if you can use a short one.

3. Cut words out if possible.

4. Use the active voice, not the passive voice.

5. Never use jargon if a simple English word will suffice.

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

George Orwell wrote 1984 (1949) at a time when more and more democracies in Europe were turning into totalitarian states. Orwell felt there was a real threat that Britian had the same fate to also become a totalitarian state in the near future, say by 1984. 

Final George Orwell Quiz

Question

What is George Orwell’s real name?

Show answer

Answer

Eric Arthur Blair 

 


Show question

Question

Why did George Orwell change his name?

Show answer

Answer

He didn’t like his name because it reminded him of a ‘prig’  

Show question

Question

Finish the sentence. George Orwell considered his family to be part of the 'landless…'


Show answer

Answer

Gentry

Show question

Question

What were the top schools Orwell studied at?

Show answer

Answer

Wellington and Eton

Show question

Question

What was the cause of George Orwell’s death?


Show answer

Answer

Tuberculosis

Show question

Question

Was George Orwell a capitalist?


Show answer

Answer

No, he was a socialist.

Show question

Question

In 1984 (1949)what is the new name given to Britain?


Show answer

Answer

Oceania

Show question

Question

What political event was 1984 (1949) based of?


Show answer

Answer

Russian Revolution of 1917

Show question

Question

Which two books are George Orwell’s most famous books?


Show answer

Answer

Homage to Catalonia (1938)

Show question

Question

Which two cities does George Orwell go to to experience the lives of the poor and oppressed after he quits his job in Burma?


Show answer

Answer

Paris

Show question

Question

In which book does George Orwell chronicle his life as a soldier?


Show answer

Answer

Homage to Catalonia (1938)

Show question

Question

As well as being a satirical work of fiction, what else is Animal Farm (1945) known as?

Show answer

Answer

Political fable

Show question

Question

What are two key historical contexts Animal Farm (1945) explores?


Show answer

Answer

Socialism

Show question

Question

What key themes does 1984 (1949) explore?


Show answer

Answer

Money

Show question

Question

What are the names of George Orwell’s most famous books?

Show answer

Answer

1984 (1949) and Animal Farm (1945)

Show question

Question

What types of technology does the Party use to monitor its people?

Show answer

Answer

Camera

Show question

Question

Which Ministry does the protagonist of 1984 Winston Smith work in?

Show answer

Answer

Ministry of Truth

Show question

Question

What political event is the totalitarian government in 1984 (1949) based on?


Show answer

Answer

 Russian revolution of 1917

Show question

Question

After the inauguration of which president of America did the sales of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) increase by 10,000 %?


Show answer

Answer

Donald Trump

Show question

Question

What type of government is Orwell warning his readers about?


Show answer

Answer

Totalitarian government

Show question

Question

What are the poor in Nineteen Eighty-Four called?


Show answer

Answer

‘Proles’

Show question

Question

What word is the word ‘proles’ reminiscent of?


Show answer

Answer

Proletariat

Show question

Question

What does Orwell suggest is the only way to fight against a totalitarian system by yourself?


Show answer

Answer

To be able to think for oneself

Show question

Question

What does the Party in Nineteen Eighty-Four replace the English language with? 


Show answer

Answer

Oldspeak

Show question

Question

How does the Party make people too physically weak to rebel against the Party?


Show answer

Answer

By poisoning them

Show question

Question

What is ‘Doublethink?’


Show answer

Answer

It is when a person thinks two very different ideas at the same time and believes them both.

Show question

Question

What might Nineteen Eighty-Four have been called instead of Nineteen Eighty-Four?


Show answer

Answer

The Last Man in Europe

Show question

Question

What did George Orwell work as in the BBC?


Show answer

Answer

Propagandist

Show question

Question

What is the 'Thought police' in Nineteen Eighty-Foubased off?


Show answer

Answer

The Japanese secret police called the ‘Kempeitai.’

Show question

Question

What happened in the Great Purge?

Show answer

Answer

Hundreds of thousands of Soviet Union citizens were sent to prison, execution chambers or labour camps

Show question

Question

What did E.S. Holtzman confess in the first great trial of the Great Purge?

Show answer

Answer

He met with Lev Sedov, Trotsky’s son.

Show question

Question

When was Hotel Bristol destroyed?


Show answer

Answer

1917

Show question

Question

Where was Sedov actually on the day that Holtzman had said he met him in Copenhagen?


Show answer

Answer

Paris

Show question

Question

What was the purpose of the trials in the Great Purge?


Show answer

Answer

To purge the communist party of anti-Stalinists

Show question

Question

What were Stalin’s secret police called?


Show answer

Answer

NKVD

Show question

Question

What did Stalin’s secret police do to get evidence against who they believed were anti-Stalinists?


Show answer

Answer

Forced confessions from face-to-face meetings

Show question

Question

What did George Orwell call Nineteen Eighty-Four instead of a prophecy?


Show answer

Answer

A satirical exaggeration of the world he was living in

Show question

Question

Who did Orwell fight alongside in the Spanish Civil War?


Show answer

Answer

The POUM

Show question

Question

Why did George Orwell write Nineteen Eighty-Four?


Show answer

Answer

To tell people to stop being complacent and make sure they take action over their rights and the world in which they live.

Show question

Question

What has ‘Big Brother’ become a universal symbol for?


Show answer

Answer

An oppressive government

Show question

Question

Who was Big Brother based on?


Show answer

Answer

Joseph Stalin

Show question

Question

Who was Emmanuel Goldstein based on?


Show answer

Answer

Leon Trotsky

Show question

Question

What did the Soviet Union do to remove politicians who they no longer supported from history?


Show answer

Answer

Rewriting history textbooks and removing pictures and text.

Show question

Question

How would the Soviet Union punish people for their ‘thought crimes?’


Show answer

Answer

Diagnosing them with schizophrenia and putting them in psychiatric hospitals where they were subjected to the use of psychoactive drugs to keep them out of the public.

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the George Orwell quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.