I was browsing through the internet looking for literary figures that are born in June, the same month as I was and to my delight found I am in good company. Pearl S. Buck (1892 – 1973), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778), William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939), Yasunari Kawabata (1899 – 1972) and Salman Rushdie (1947 – ) are among them. An added bonus for me is the fact that one of my favorite writers George Orwell (pen name for Eric Arthur Blair) (1903-1950) happens to be born on June 25, the same day as I was.
So I’ll dedicate the post written on my birthday to George Orwell whose books Animal Farm and Nineteen Eight Four (1984 ) are two of the most politically relevant books , not only in context of the times they were written in but up to this very day.
Animal Farm was first published in August 1945 .In it Orwell characters are animals who are used to give a biting political narrative. Many have interpreted the story as that of what was unfolding in the Soviet Union under Stalin where the communist state imposed one set of rules for the masses to abide by while the leaders flaunted the rules. The rules in Animal Farm are made by way of seven commandments which are put up for all animals to follow after the humans, who are labeled the enemy, are driven out and the animals take matters into their own hands. The original commandments are:-
1. Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
2. Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
3. No animal shall wear clothes.
4. No animal shall sleep in a bed.
5. No animal shall drink alcohol.
6. No animal shall kill any other animal.
7. All animals are equal.
However as time passes, the commandments are secretly rewritten leaving the majority of the animals in a state of confusion. Soon they are unsure of what the original commandments were as nightly the commandments get revised. The changes take place as the leaders begin to indulge in vices and execute other animals who oppose them. The revised commandants are meant to justify their wrongdoings and read as follows:
1. No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.
2. No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.
3. No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.
As the book draws to an end, the final salvo is fired with all the commandments replaced with one which says, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others“.
Nineteen Eighty Four
Nineteen Eighty Four was first published in 1949 and tells the bleak story of a totalitarian state known as Oceania. While 1984 has come and gone and while most of societies have managed to live within systems that guarantee individual freedom to a large extent, Orwell’s dire predictions in the book are a reminder of the ever present threat of what is at stake if state control grows to such an extent that people are left as puppets on a string, moving and thinking only to the dictates of authority.
Phrases such as “Big Brother is watching you”, which is what the people of Oceania are told on a regular basis via huge billboards put up in the city, have passed into common English usage today.
The brilliance of the writer is the manner in which he has coined so many new words that are now widely used. The Thought Police, Thought Crime, Double Speak, New Speak” are some such words while the term Orwellian itself is used to describe totalitarian societies where people’s individual freedoms are scarified for the survival of the dictators who seek to control very aspects of people lives from the manner in which they think, love, speak,dress.
Orwell was also a newspaper columnist and wrote both political and literary commentaries. His biographers feel that much of the pessimism reflected in his writings had to do with ill health that he suffered most of his life. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 46.I am 46 today.