Treatment of Democratic Principles and Individual Action
George Orwell’s legacy in literature can be reflected in his great novels Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, two political satire novels that criticized the basic foundations of political systems prevalent during his time (mid-20th century), specifically, Stalinism/socialist-communist leadership that ‘governed’ the Soviet Union during this period of modernization. While he was known for the political nature of his novels, he has also written essay that provoked analytical thought through his deconstructive narrative of topics that seemed to be non-political. In these essays, Orwell was able to “politicize” these topics, critically exploring their nature and dynamics and contextualize his analysis in the overall political environment from which these topics emerged and prevailed. Examples of these seemingly ‘apolitical’ topics are sports and “good bad books,” and insightfully, writing. For the discussion that follows, each topics that were given analytical treatment are represented through the following essays by Orwell: “The Sporting Spirit,” “Good Bad Books,” and “Writers and the Leviathan.”
It could be said that Orwell’s writing style is analytical. Further, this ability to analyze about the important and the mundane becomes more effective because he provides a different worldview about topics that are reflective of democratic principles and freedom of individual action. In “The Sporting Spirit,” for example, Orwell ‘politicizes’ sports by thoroughly analyzing the competitive nature of sports. Interestingly, Orwell looked at how, for example, competing football teams from the Soviet Union and Great Britain was actually a display of a fight for nationalistic and state superiority, wherein a team’s victory would mean victory for one country and international shame for the losing team’s country. In fact, Orwell termed sports as “mimic warfare”: it replaced the act of going into war by engaging in an activity that is highly competitive, yet does not explicitly articulate the political ramifications of said competition to both competing countries. As in the example of Dynamos and Arsenal football teams, the conclusion of the game does not end with one team winning; ultimately, a conflict of international political scale has just started as a result of this new political status (winner and loser) established by the outcome of the football game.
Orwell extended his analytical line of thought to “good bad books,” books that are “readable” and have no “literary pretensions.” While devoid or lacking in creativity found in famous novels and stories, “good bad books” must be given credit, according to Orwell, for their ability to convey truth as it is, not ‘sugarcoated’ by literary / creative techniques. This kind of books provides a function to society still, simply because they are “deeply moving and essentially true.” “Good bad books” is one way from which truth can be illustrated and communicated to the readers, literary/creative techniques aside.
Lastly, Orwell’s analysis of writers, writing and politics dealt with the issue of how a writer balances the delicate roles of being political and writing politically. For Orwell, the political in the writer must be separated from his/her writing. While the writer is not discouraged to write about politics, s/he must be able to write about it impartially. However, one of the dilemmas presented by Orwell is the difficulty of attaining this, as the political inevitably permeates through the being of every individual (and not just writers). This difficulty can be illustrated as follows: while the individual might criticize an owner of a multinational corporation because of its detrimental business practices, s/he might symbolically succumb to the very institution s/he is criticizing when s/he buys a pair of jeans from the corporation’s shopping malls. Thus, for a writer, it is difficult to remain objective when these real, everyday needs must be met, which in effect, breaks the very principles from which the writer is coming from. Orwell recommends that writers must, to the best of their ability, be as objective as possible by not losing sight of the topic or issue at hand, and ensure that his/her writings are a “product of the saner self that stands aside refuses to be deceived”
Orwell, G. (1995). E-text of “Good Bad Books.” Accessed 19 May 2011. Available at: http://orwell.ru/library/reviews/books/english/e_books
____. (1995). E-text of “The Sporting Spirit.” Accessed 19 May 2011. Available at: http://orwell.ru/library/articles/spirit/english/e_spirit
____. (2003). E-text of “Writers and the Leviathan.” Accessed 19 May 2011. Available at: http://www.george-orwell.org/Writers_and_the_Leviathan/0.html
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