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In his essay “Why I Write” Eric Blair states the main purpose of all of his works, “I write because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention” (Crick 406). Eric Blair was one of the greatest political writers of the twentieth century. While he is known for some of his novels such as Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, he also wrote a great collection of political essays and articles. He is known for his harsh criticism when it comes to his literary critiquing of political leaders, institutions, and ideals. Each major part of his life was responsible for shaping not only who he was, but also for shaping his political ideals. By the end of his life, Blair had grown to refer to himself as a “democratic socialist.” His experiences in life led him to abhor imperialism and totalitarianism. He favored socialism because he believed it would eliminate class stratification, corruption, racism, and poverty. The development of Eric Blair’s ideology can be followed through his novels and essays as they reflect his experiences and political beliefs.
Eric Arthur Blair was born in India on June 25, 1903, to Richard and Ida Blair. Richard was an Englishman who was an agent for the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service (Kollár 3). In 1907, his mother brought him to live in England in order to get an education. His parents struggled to send him through private preparatory schools. He performed well at these schools and earned himself a scholarship to the prestigious English public school, Eton (Clayworth 3). While attending Eton, Eric decided that he wanted to be a writer. In order to do this, he realized that he must study literature. This was not a main study at Eton, so he began to study on his own, letting his school grades declined. Since his grades were poor, when he graduated, he was not able to go on to a university. In 1922, Blair joined the Indian Imperial Police. After five years, he resigned to work on his writing (Kollár 5).
Blair grew up in a world of corruption, with obvious class divisions. In India, there were three distinct divisions: the British Royalty, the British middle-class, and the Burmese working class. Blair, being part of the British middle-class, was privileged but not wealthy. He ironically referred to his social position as “lower-upper-middle class” (Flynn 11). As a young man in the Indian Imperial Police, the reality of class stratification set in. He began to realize how differently people were treated based on where they were born and to whom they were born. Prejudice against the Burmese, and corruption throughout the British Empire and amongst the Burmese became an everyday reality for Blair. He later wrote his second novel, Burmese Days, based on his experiences in Burma.
Burmese Days is set in Burma in the years just before World War II. Blair loosely bases his novel on his experiences as an Indian Imperial Policeman in Burma. The story follows the lives of a few Englishman in the timber business. They live in a small settlement in upper Burma. The story also follows the life of U Po Kyin, a corrupt local politician. U Po Kyin manipulates the Englishmen to gain access into the European Club. The European Club is an exclusive establishment in Burma, reserved for the upper-middle class and the upper class. The story also focuses on Englishman, James Flory. Throughout the story, Flory comes to realize that he is living a disillusioned life in Burma. He realizes that he should not be living a bachelor life in Burma, but should be married and living with other Englishmen in England, where he belongs. Unfortunately, this realization is never able to become reality because U Po Kyin engineers the downfall of Flory and others in his quest.
Burmese Days does not simply focus on the corruption of the British in Burma; it also focuses on the corruption of the Burmese. “The book is famous for taking no prisoners and everyone - no matter their race - is equally exposed. Corruption is corruption everywhere and no one describes it like Orwell” (Jura 1). Mercilessly, Blair criticizes the British Empire’s cruelty and injustices. He exposes corruption throughout the British ranks. In Burmese Days, James Flory comes to this realization while talking to Dr. Veraswami: “How can you make out that we are in this country for any purpose except to steal? It’s so simple. The official holds the Burman down while the businessman goes through his pockets…the British Empire is simply a device for giving trade monopolies to the English — or rather to gangs of Jews and Scotchmen.” (Burmese Days 40). Flory realizes this, but he does nothing to stop it because he is in fact part of the problem. He is part of the timber monopoly that would not exist if the British Empire had not created it in Burma. In an article he wrote, “Le Progrès Civique,” Blair exposes the truth about British rule not only in Burma, but throughout the Empire. This truth is later echoed in Burmese Days. The British are holding down the natives of the countries they inhabit in order to profit from the monopolies they are able to create. The British use the natives for manual labor. The natives collect their country’s resources for the British and then the British create monopolies on these resources. From the monopolies, the British reap huge rewards. None of this is shared with the natives of the country who provided the resources (Crick 101 ff.). Blair became disgusted with the British Empire’s monopolies and their cruel injustices toward the natives of the countries that were absorbed by the empire.
The corruption shown is not just that of the British Empire. One of the most corrupt individuals in Burmese Days is a Burmese politician, U Po Kyin. U Po Kyin despised the British and had a thirst for power. Nothing would have brought him more pleasure than to see the British fall from power. Very early in Burmese Days, Kyin states his main purpose in life. “To fight on the side of the British, to become a parasite upon them, had been his ruling ambition, even as a child” (Burmese Days 6). As a young man, he blackmailed his way into a job as a government clerk. The government clerks misappropriated government stores in order to supplement their incomes. After making a good deal of money, Kyin turned his colleagues in to government officials and was rewarded by being made Assistant Township Officer. He rose steadily through the ranks to the position of Sub-divisional Magistrate. He had achieved almost all of his life’s goals. One of his few remaining was to be elected into the European Club. He will do whatever is necessary in order to achieve this goal.
Flory was good friends with a local Burmese doctor. Flory was Dr. Veraswami’s only hope of gaining entrance to the European Club. Dr. Veraswami was Kyin’s greatest obstacle to gaining access to the club. In order to ensure his election to the club, Kyin planed Flory’s downfall. He found Flory’s old mistress and convinced her to come into the church and proclaim that Flory owed her money for her services. A similar event embarrassed Blair while in Burma. Blair had an affair with a Burmese prostitute who later tried to extort money from him (Meyers 63). Flory was disgraced, and the young Englishwoman whom he had grown to love, hated him for his shame. Flory commited suicide when he realized that his true love would never return his affections. With Flory dead, Dr. Veraswami had no hope of gaining entrance to the European Club and Kyin was voted in. U Po Kyin was one of the most corrupt and self-serving individuals in the novel. U Po Kyin’s character serves to show Blair’s disgust with the educated and fortunate Burmese who let their own race down by becoming corrupt and ignoring their fellow countrymen’s problems (Crick 94). Blair effectively showed that all men can become corrupt and that the corruption in Burma was not just among the British (Jura 1).
Blair makes sure that people become aware of class stratification and racism through Burmese Days. It is shown throughout the novel. One of the main parts of the plot illustrates this better than any other. Dr. Veraswami, one of Flory’s good friends, was under attack from U Po Kyin. If Flory were to help Veraswami get elected to the European Club, he would have been protected from Kyin attacks. Flory wanted to help his friend, but since Veraswami was Burman, it would not have been socially acceptable for Flory to nominate him for election. To some, it was unacceptable for Flory to even be friends with Veraswami. Veraswami was considered lower class because he was a Burman. Dr. Veraswami was a successful doctor and surgeon, but his birth kept him in the lower-class. It was thought unacceptable for a middle class Englishman to be friends with a lower class Burman. Throughout the novel, Flory deals with trying to find the courage to stand up to his middle class friends and society’s expectations in order to save his friend. In the end, Flory commited suicide and Dr. Veraswami was ruined. “The glory of being a white man’s friend - the one thing that had saved him before - had vanished” (Burmese Days 283). U Po Kyin used his political position to have Dr. Veraswami demoted to Assistant Surgeon in an old run-down town. Blair showed that unfairness of class stratification and racism through the characters and their downfalls in Burmese Days.
Burmese Days was a compilation of all of Blair’s frustrations with Burma and the British Empire. One can only speculate that Blair’s final breaking point that brought about his resignation was similar to the realization that James Flory had that brought about his change in attitude toward his life in Burma (Crick 98).
Flory pushed back his chair and stood up. It must not, it could not - no, it simply should not go on any longer! He must get out of this room quickly, before something happened inside his head and he began to smash the furniture and throw bottles at the pictures. Dull, boozing witless porkers! Was it possible that they could go on week after week, year after year, repeating word for word the same evil-minded drivel, like a parody of a fifth- rate story in Blackwoods? Would none of them ever think of anything new to say? Oh, what a place, what people! What a civilization is this of ours - this godless civilization founded on whiskey, Blackwood’s and the “Bonzo” pictures! God have mercy on us, for all of us are part of it (Burmese Days 33.).
The British Empire’s use of the Burmese for their own profits, the racism against the Burmese, and the corruption within the British Empire and amongst the Burman politicians wore down Blair until he could no longer bear it. Blair became so sickened by the corruption, the class divisions, and the racism that he could not stand it any longer. Unlike Flory, who continued to accept his surroundings until his suicide, Blair went on leave and then resigned from the Indian Imperial Police (Crick 99). When asked why he resigned, Blair answered, “…mainly because I could not go on any longer in imperialism which I had come to regard as very largely a racket” (Flynn 32). A hatred of imperialism was quickly growing within Blair (Crick 102).
His experiences in Burma led him to the belief that every human life is valuable and it is a horrible thing to end. In his essay, “The Hanging,” Blair describes the first time he witnessed an execution. At first he is unmoved by the situation, but then as the prisoner is being brought to the gallows, he side-steps to avoid a puddle. Blair realizes the humanity of this act (Honkasalo 2). “It’s curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to destroy a healthy, conscious man…I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it’s in full tide" (Meyers 70). Blair realizes that the prisoner is a living breathing human being. Even though he will be dead in just a few minutes, he steps around a puddle not wanting to get his feet wet. Blair came to value human life after watching the hanging of a prisoner.
Blair wrote a second essay on his experiences in Burma entitled, “Shooting an Elephant.” In the essay, Blair describes a situation were an elephant had escaped from its owner and was causing trouble in town. Blair goes to stop the elephant. When he finds the elephant, it is eating grass and very docile. He knows that he should not shoot it, but at the same time he knows that the crowd that has gathered expects him to shoot it because it had killed a man. Blair retrieves an elephant rifle and empties all of his bullets into it, but is unable to kill it. He can no longer bear the elephant’s agony, so he leaves. He hears later that the elephant died thirty minutes later and was stripped of its meat by the crowd (Notheruser 6). After shooting the elephant, Blair said in his essay, “I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys…I had done it solely to avoid looking like a fool” (Meyers 72). Blair was forced to obey the strict laws of the British Empire, but by doing so, he restricted his own freedom and at the same time, oppressed the Burmese (Notheruser 7). Blair recalls that at the time, “all I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible” (Meyers 71). Blair hated the British Empire, but he hated the Burmese just as much. There is no evidence that the event actually occurred. It is more likely that the essay is symbolic of the coming downfall of the British Empire. The elephant’s slow and painful death is symbolic of the British Empire’s slow death (Meyers 72). Blair calls for an end to British imperialism. He appeals to them not by saying how imperialism and oppression are morally wrong, but on the basis that it must be done to protect their freedom.
After resigning from the police, Blair moved to London in order to teach himself how to write. Blair soon decided to live among and become part of the lower class in London and then in Paris. He wanted to expose himself to the lifestyle that he and the rest of the middle and upper classes were repulsed by. During his year of self-induced poverty, Blair was forced to interact with and essentially become a lower class working citizen. He became the very thing that he had looked down upon for so many years. He came to realize that everything he had as a middle class citizen was because of the work of laborers in the lower classes. He began to truly believe that class stratification was unfair and that socialism was a perfect solution to the problem. These experiences inspired him to write Down and Out in Paris and London and strengthened his belief in socialism. Down and Out in Paris and London was rejected by two publishers but was finally picked up with a few changes, including the addition of the pseudonym George Orwell (Kollár 8). Blair chose to use a pseudonym in order to protect his parents from embarrassment. His year in poverty would have been looked down upon by the middle and upper classes and would have disgraced his parents. The name, “George Orwell” was chosen to reflect Blair’s love of English tradition and countryside. George was chosen because it is the name of the patron saint of England and Orwell is the name of a well loved English river (Clayworth 6).
The name, “George Orwell” became well known throughout the literary community. Very few knew the author by the name of his birth. His concealed identity led to a humorous encounter with another well known author.
To his delight he found Hemingway’s name. He had never met him. He went up to his room and knocked. When told to come in, he opened the door, stood on the threshold and said “I’m Eric Blair.” Hemingway, who was standing on the other side of the bed, on which there were two suitcases, was packing, and what he saw was another War Correspondent and a British one at that, so he bellowed, “Well what the -ying hell do you want?” Orwell shyly replied “I’m George Orwell.” Hemingway pushed the suitcases to the end of the bed, bent down and brought a bottle of Scotch form underneath it and still bellowing said “Why the -zing hell didn’t you say so. Have a drink. Have a double. Straight or with water, there’s no soda” (Crick 324 ff.).
The name, “Eric Blair” was the name of an Indian Imperial Policeman and a British war correspondent, but George Orwell was the name of one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century.
Down and Out in Paris and London is essentially an autobiography of his years of self-induced poverty. The novel follows his experiences as a lower-class citizen, first in Paris, then in London. Speaking of Down and Out in Paris and London, Blair said, “As for the truth of my story, I think I can say that I have exaggerated nothing except so far as all writers exaggerate by selecting. I did not feel that I had to describe events in the exact order in which they happened, but everything I described did take place at one time or another” (Crick 112). The events actually took place in his life, but the order of events is sometimes skewed.
Blair worked at several restaurants and hotels throughout his two year stay in Paris. He eventually found work at a restaurant as a plongeur, the French word for “dishwasher.” He claimed to be working seventeen and a half hour days with few breaks, but claimed this was not uncommon in Paris. His experiences as a plongeur led to many of his socialist views. Blair uses the plongeur to symbolize the common worker repressed by the upper-class and his belief in the need for socialism.
[A] plongeur is one of the slaves of the modern world. Not that there is any need to whine over him, for he is better off than many manual workers, but still, he is no freer than if he were bought and sold. His work is servile and without art; he is paid just enough to keep him alive; his only holiday is the sack... [they have] been trapped by a routine which makes thought impossible. If plongeurs thought at all, they would long ago have formed a union and gone on strike for better treatment. But they do not think, because they have no leisure for it; their life has made slaves of them (Francis 6).
Blair came to the conclusion that the rich were ignorant of the true conditions in which the lower-class person suffered in daily. The upper-class individual knew that it is a poor condition, but having never experienced it, he does not know the true horrors of poverty. Because of this, upper-class citizens allowed the lower-class citizens to continue to exist in such poor conditions, fearing that if the lower-class were to be freed from poverty and oppression, their own freedom would be in jeopardy (Francis 7).
His years in poverty taught him not to despise the poor, but to respect their struggles. He realized they were the backbone of society and were not common filth. Blair became aware that lower-class citizens were not in the lower-class by choice:
At present I do not feel that I have seen more than the fringe of poverty. Still I can point to one or two things I have definitely learned by being hard up. I shall never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a beggar to be grateful when I give him a penny, nor be surprised if men out of work lack energy, nor subscribe to the Salvation Army, nor pawn my clothes, nor refuse a handbill, nor enjoy a meal at a smart restaurant. That is a beginning (Francis 11).
Blair threw out all of his old prejudices and misconceptions about the poor and replaced them with respect.
In 1936, Blair moved to Spain to write newspaper articles on the Spanish Civil War. The Civil War was between the socialist republic and General Franco's fascist military rebellion. Blair was captivated by the socialist republic in Barcelona. There was no class distinction and everyone shared everything. Before now, Blair had believed that true socialism was impossible, but now that he had seen it in action, he wanted to become a part of it. Blair joined the militia and fought on the frontline. He was shot through the neck, but lived. Blair recorded his experiences in Homage to Catalonia, a first person account of the war . By the end of the war though, things were returning to normal and the socialist reality that Blair had arrived at was now just a dream. Blair left Barcelona with the belief that functioning socialism was possible and not just a lofty idea of men who will not act on their talks (Kollár 11).
His experience in Spain led him to two beliefs. Socialism is possible, if only for a short time, and human nature will tend to divide society into classes. Nothing Blair wrote better exemplifies this than Animal Farm. After expelling the humans from the farm, the animals create a socialistic society. All animals are completely equal. Each animal is assigned a duty that fits their strength. The horse, “Boxer” does a great deal of the manual labor because he is by far the most powerful animal. The pigs, “Snowball” and “Napoleon” study techniques for running a farm. They also learn to read and write. They then teach this to the other animals. The atmosphere in Animal Farm reflects that of Barcelona, Spain in 1936. However, just like in Barcelona, things return to the status quo. Snowball and Napoleon begin to argue over the future of the farm and Snowball is eventually run off the farm by Napoleon and his trained attack dogs. The animals begin to form social classes. The pigs place themselves into the role of the ruling class because they are the smartest animals. The dogs become members of the middle-class, and they work for the pigs as guards. They have many of the same benefits as the pigs but they lack the power. Finally, the rest of the animals become members of the working class. They do all the work and have few, if any benefits. Animal Farm represents the tendency of humanity to create social classes.
Animal Farm is also an allegory on Soviet Russia. There are many obvious similarities. In the beginning of the story, an old pig named Old Major tells of a vision he has of animals being free and gives the animals a song called “The Beasts of England.” Old Major represents Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. “The Beast of England” is the idea of communism (Animal 8). Then as a democratic coalition, the animals overthrow their human dictator in much the same way that the Russian Czar Nicholas II was over thrown by the people. The humans that are run off do not just represent the Czar Government, but also capitalism (Symbolism 4). The animal revolt symbolizes the Russian Revolution. Then Napoleon and Snowball take control of the farm along with the rest of the pigs. Napoleon represents Joseph Stalin and Snowball represents Leon Trotsky. The pigs represent Soviet intelligentsia (Phillips 1). The farmer, Mr. Jones, tries to retake the farm, but is unsuccessful. This is symbolic of the civil war between the Bolsheviks and the anti-Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks, like the animals, were successful. Snowball, like Trotsky, was the hero of the war. Like Stalin and Trotsky, Snowball and Napoleon become enemies. Snowball is chased off the farm by Napoleon’s attack dogs just as Trotsky was banished from the USSR. Both Snowball and Trotsky are proclaimed to be traitors and their good works are forgotten and replaced with lies in the minds of the citizens. The attack dogs represent Stalin’s secret police or the KGB and the military.
Napoleon then sets out the plans for the windmill, which the animals dedicate themselves to completing. The windmill symbolizes Stalin’s Five Year Plan, which was a projection of Russia’s growth through industry (Symbolism 15). When the windmill was destroyed due to a storm, Napoleon blamed Snowball and conspirators. The conspirators were killed by Napoleon’s dogs. In the same way, when Stalin’s five year plan failed, he blamed conspirators and killed thousands in what is known as the Great Purge. The animals would soon begin to rebuild a new windmill just as Stalin created new Five Year Plans after the previous ones failed.
Napoleon then begins to rewrite the history of Animal Farm. Blair first experienced the rewriting of history during the Spanish Civil War. The communists in Spain changed the events in order to favor them and sent this information to England. These altered events were accepted as fact. This outraged Blair. The changing of history becomes a major theme in many of his later works, most notably Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Napoleon then begins to change the rules that originally governed Animal Farm in order to give him more benefits and power. He begins to inhabit the farm house. A place originally restricted to animals. Similarly, the Kremlin, the home of the Czars was preserved after the revolution as a museum. Stalin later took up residence there (Animal 7). Napoleon is able to make these changes through propaganda spread by Squealer. Squealer symbolizes the propaganda that was spread throughout Soviet Russia to disillusion the people into believing that Stalin, like Napoleon, was working for their best interests.
Napoleon then begins to trade with their human neighbors. He trades some timber with Mr. Frederick for money which turns out to be false. This is a reference to the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Mr. Frederick most obviously symbolizes Hitler and in a lesser sense, Nazi Germany. Mr. Frederick is said to have flogged an old horse to death, which is a reference to Hitler’s euthanasia program. He starved a cow, which symbolizes Hitler’s treatment of the Jews, and he threw a dog into the furnace, which is a reference to Hitler’s Night of Knives (Animal 1). Germany and Soviet Russia acted as friends, but when the chance came, Germany stabbed Russia in the back. The men from Frederick’s farm then attack Animal Farm and destroy the windmill. This is known in Animal Farm as the Battle of the Windmill. This most obviously represents the Battle of Stalingrad during Germany’s invasion of Russia in World War II (Animal 7).
Boxer, the hardworking horse, was badly injured in the Battle of the Windmill. Boxer symbolizes the average soviet worker. He blindly obeys the commands of the one in power. Boxer soon begins to lose strength and is unable to work. Napoleon sells him to be slaughtered at a glue factory, but he does not tell this to the animals. He tells them that he was taken to a Veterinarian and died from his wound, praising the glory of Animal Farm right before his death. In the same way, The hardworking soviet worker was sent to fight the Germans in World War II. They were undersupplied and malnourished, just as Boxer and the rest of the farm animals were. The soldiers were forced to die at the hands of the Germans, and those who ran were killed by their superior officers. Their families were told that they died bravely, selflessly serving the motherland, when in fact they were ruthlessly sent to be slaughtered.
As time passes, the pigs begin to take on more and more human traits. They walk upright, wear clothing, and sleep in beds. Napoleon invites the neighboring farmers over for a game of cards. The rest of the animals peek in the windows of the farm house to see. They realize that they can no longer tell the difference between the pigs and the humans. Likewise, the people of Soviet Russia lived in ignorance for many years, believing that their country was still a true socialist country. They realized too late that the man who was allegedly working in their best interest, was in fact building up his power until he became the very thing that had brought about the Russian Revolution: a cruel dictator.
Blair, who described himself as a democratic socialist, saw that Russia had realized his dream of a socialist country. He also realized that they had perverted the true nature of socialism so much that it had become a totalitarian country. Blair, as in many of his works, takes something in which he sees an obvious flaw, and criticizes it mercilessly. “Animal Farm serves not so much to condemn tyranny or despotism as to indict the horrifying hypocrisy of tyrannies that base themselves on, and owe their initial power to, ideologies of liberation and equality” (Phillips 3). Blair did not intend to damage the socialist cause by writing Animal Farm; he simply wanted the world to see the perversion of socialist ideals in Soviet Russia and point out the hypocrisy of its rulers (Baker viii).
Blair attacked the Soviet Union because of their perversion of socialist ideals and class stratification. The Spanish Civil War resulted directly in an assault on Soviet Russia and Stalin for another reason. Toward the end of the war, Stalin had gained partial control of the Spanish government through his political apparatchiks. Stalin was openly supporting a democratic Spanish government. Blair had fought in a Trotskyist outfit in Spain. Stalin was trying to eliminate all traces of Trotsky’s contribution to the Russian Revolution and that brought attacks on Blair and his fellow soldiers (Baker v). Blair said of the experience, “We were lucky to get out of Spain alive” (Baker v).
His experiences as a lower-class citizen also lead to his writings on the dangers of a naïve working class. This is seen strongly in Animal Farm and in Coming Up For Air. In the allegory Animal Farm, the animals work diligently as a whole after chasing out the cruel farm owner. They do not work too hard and there is plenty of food for everyone. They write seven commandments that ensure equality among animals. After the pigs take control of the farm, things begin to change. The pigs force the animals to work harder, the work is unevenly divided, and food becomes scarce. The commandments change also to fit the pig’s needs. The animals are convinced of the pigs’ superiority and are afraid to question their judgment. Since the other animals are not as smart as the pigs, they forget the original commandments. When they are changed, they believe the pigs when they claim that it had always been this way. Animal Farm is an obvious satire about communist Russia and its great flaws, but it is also a satire about society as a whole. Blair is making it clear that the working classes of the world are ignorant to the truth of their existence. Like the gullible and hard-working Boxer, the working class chooses to believe that the ruling class has their best interests in mind and does not question the ruling class when told to do something that does not make sense (Phillips 5). They blindly obey the will of the ruling class. “Animal Farm demonstrates how the inability or unwillingness to question authority condemns the working class to suffer the full extent of the ruling class’s oppression” (Phillips 5).
In Coming Up for Air, George Bowling, a middle-aged insurance salesman recounts his childhood and wishes to recapture the innocence of his youth. He returns to his hometown in hopes of stirring up old memories and reliving them. He soon finds that everything has changed and the town he once knew no longer exists. The town he knew was destroyed by industry, which now covers the beautiful landscape of his childhood. He realizes that innocence and childhood can never be regained. He had hoped to come up out of the murky waters of lower-middle class life for one last breath of fresh air before death and realized that it was impossible to do. “Coming up for air! But there isn’t any air. The dustbin that we’re in reaches up to the stratosphere” (Coming Up For Air 257). He comes to realize that there is nothing left for him but his work and his family. Unfortunately, he does not care for either.
Blair believes that if the working class man would stop living in a nostalgic state and break free from their naïve existence, they could create change. It is the working man, like George Bowling, who can create a better society:
There are forces of common sense and decency in the characters and traditions of the English working class with which, if they realized their power and had the right to leadership, drawn from the lower middle classes, they could shake off exploitation, avoid war and build something better. As with the submerged tortoise, there is both power and hope in the common people, however sluggish they appear (Crick 251).
Blair argues in Coming Up for Air that hope lies in the common people. The novel was written as a warning of days to come if the working classes did not act. The world was spiraling down into war and the working class had the power to stop it by simply using the inherent power that they hold to apply political wisdom (Crick 252). In Blair’s mind, the political wisdom that had not been applied was to create socialist democracies.
The novel takes place prior to World War II. The book itself was published before war broke out. Blair predicted World War II in Coming Up for Air. George Bowling contemplates the outbreak of war. “The bad times are coming, and the streamlined men are coming too. What’s coming afterwards I don’t know, it hardly even interests me. I only know that if there’s anything you care a curse about, better say good-bye to it now, because everything you’ve ever known is going down, down, into the muck, with the machine-guns rattling all the time" (Coming Up For Air 269). He realizes that with another world war, everything will change. He thinks about the effect it will have on the working class. He decides that no matter what happens, the working class will remain the same. Their lives will not change no matter who is in power. They will continue their lives in ignorant obedience to the ruling class.
Blair then paints a picture of what the post-war world may look like through the eyes of George Bowling.
The world we’re going down into, the kind of hate-world, slogan-world. The coloured shirts, the barbed wire, the rubber truncheons. The secret cells where the electric light burns night and day, and the detectives watching you while you sleep. And the processions and the posters with enormous faces, and the crowds of a million people all cheering for the Leader till they deafen themselves into thinking that they really worship him, and all the time, underneath, they hate him so that they want to puke. It is all going to happen. Or isn’t it? Some days I know it is impossible, other days I know it’s inevitable (Coming Up For Air 176).
Bowling says that while he is afraid of the bombs and machine guns that will come with the war, what he is most afraid of is what the world will become after the war. The world he fears and describes is remarkably similar to the world Blair creates in Nineteen Eighty-Four (Crick 251). Blair warns that if the working class does not break loose from their naïve state, society will get caught up in a war between governments vying for more control over the lower-classes.
During World War II, Blair joined the British Broadcasting Corporation after becoming unfit to fight because of his tuberculosis. He then became an editor for the Tribune and wrote Animal Farm. After the war he moved to the island of Jura where he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four (Kollár 12). He wrote some of the novel while in a hospital due to his lifelong bout with tuberculosis. He finished Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1948. He was soon admitted to the hospital again. He was never able to recover and spent the last year of his life in the hospital. He died on January 21, 1950 (Jura 6).
“Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it” (Meyers 170). It was 1936 when Blair went to Spain to join the Spanish Civil War. Up to that point, he had never experienced totalitarianism. His writings were focused on the problems he had experienced in Burma: British imperialism, corruption, class stratification, and racism. It is reasonable to say that Blair’s experiences in Spain had the greatest impact on his writing. He devoted the rest of his works to warning the world of the dangers of totalitarianism and promotion of democratic socialism, which he believed was the solution to the problems of society. His experiences in Spain did more than just shape his writings, they changed his life. In 1936, Eric Blair died and a new man was born, a man that would change the way the world viewed totalitarianism through literature, a man by the name of George Orwell.
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