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Review of George Orwell: “Why I write” Essay

“Why I Write” is a short essay by George Orwell (1946) in which he details the different writing stages he went through from his childhood until he became an adult, and the reasons that encouraged and motivated him to become a passionate writer. Moreover, the author deals with writers� different motivations during their lives and also their intentions when they put pen to paper.

In the essay, Orwell introduces background information. The aim of providing the latter is to allow readers to have a deep knowledge of his development as a writer and thus, be able to have a much more objective point of view to criticize his motives for writing.

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Orwell, at a young age, felt that he had a special dominating word power. Although he tried to escape from that sort of world, he finally carried on with it and wrote his first poem which was published in a local newspaper at the age of eleven. Firstly, he was engaged in literary activities. Afterwards, from the age of fifteen until twenty-five, he narrated his own life, actually, making a great effort to write seriously.

The author states “I was somewhat lonely, and I soon developed disagreeable mannerisms which made me unpopular throughout my school days”1. The lonely feelings he suffered when he was a child made him become isolated from his peers and thus, he developed a particular attitude that definitely influenced him on his way of writing for the rest of his life.

In this piece, Orwell supports ” it is his job, to discipline his temperament and avoid getting stuck at some immature stage, but if he escapes from his early influences, he will have killed his impulse to write”2. What the author tries to explain on this statement is that writers must learn how to manage their feelings. Furthermore, the message of the latter evidence is that the control of an author�s own emotion is definitely necessary so as to write what they consider in a proper way. However, he also wants to reflect the necessity of these not to kill writer�s impulse to develop art.

I strongly agree with the fact that by and large, writers should work on shaping their attitude but just in order to control their mannerism. Likewise, I do not support the idea of author�s discarding their own experiences so as to write properly. My own point of view is that a person is a combination of feelings and emotions. We are shaped by the experiences that build up our own sense of being because of all the stunning experiences we have come through during our entire lives and it is impossible to put away our personality from how we write or even how we act.

There are four reasons for writing that Orwell believes exist in every writer�s life: “Sheer egoism, Aesthetic enthusiasm, Historical impulse and Political purpose”3.

Orwell explains in the first motive that younger writers desire “to be remembered after death” 4and defends the fact that selfish and individualist ways of thinking are oppressed when they grow up even though there is a minority who get stuck on this stage.

However, the author supports the fact that the second and third reasons are based on the “perception of beauty in the world and their right arrangement”5 and the “desire to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity”6, respectively. Meanwhile, in the fourth motive Orwell states the “desire to alter people�s idea of the society that they should strive after”7.

According to Orwell, “They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one write the proportions will vary from time to time”8. Nevertheless, I do not agree with the perception that these four motives exist in every writer due to the evidence that there are many writers who have never been involved in politics or, for instance, never had historical purposes. In my opinion, it is not compulsory that they go through all these stages. Authors have the ability to decide, which means that they might choose to write because of just one of these four motives or instead, a combination of some.

Orwell initially believed that he was motivated by the first three motives but his circumstances changed and so did his reason for writing. Working on a job he disliked had influences on the author�s way of thinking and acting. A result was that Orwell acquainted himself with the working classes in society. But important events that happened in the 1930s, such as Hitler�s rise to power in Germany or the Spanish Civil War, drove him to focus his writings on the ultimate motive, the �political purpose�. Therefore, from that moment onwards, Orwell became involved in the democratic socialist movement as he stated “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism. [..]. And the more one is conscious of one�s political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically [..]”.9

It is appreciable on the latter statement how this author was focused on the events that were occurring at his present without taking into count the past. According to my, Orwell barely gives relevance to embedding ourselves with knowledge about our ancestors. The political facts going on during that time affected his present, this being his focal point. Hence, acting against the actual situation in the 1930s, was the way of helping so as not to make the same mistakes in the future.

In comparison, Antonio Gramsci (1950,p.324) in “Selections from the prison notebooks” argues “The starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and knowing thyself as a product of the historical process to date which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory. The first thing to do is to make such an inventory”10. Gramsci�s point of view, in contrast with Orwell�s, is focused on the past knowledge in order to build up coherent criticisms on the present.

In my view, I completely agree with the subjective judgement of focusing on the past in order to embed our minds with knowledge enough and therefore, be able to make constructive criticisms. However, Gramsci drives this idea to an arguably exaggerated point. Instead, Orwell shaped his attitude as “Act. Then think”.

Words were for Orwell the medium to spread his message, the way to take part and act against the political situation installed in that period. The author felt the necessity to uncover and refute lies, abuses or whatever he found politically unfair as is reflected in the statement below.

For that reason, the aim of his work was at that moment, as he explains, to “Make political writing into art. [..] I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing”11. This statement shows both, his personal implication in order to transmit a message and what his target was.

The author�s aim was to make people aware of the political situation they were presently living in and encourage them to take part in the revolutionary movement against the outrage and abuse of power.

It is clearly shown in the above evidence how Orwell acquired an emotional attitude, fighting against what he considered unfair; therefore, the author composed his writings with the inclusion of his own personality and feelings.

I completely support Orwell�s way of writing but not due to the political purpose that he demonstrates behind each of the words he writes. The reason why I position myself with this author�s way of spreading a message is owed to the combination of beliefs and feelings he enables readers to perceive while reading what he puts on paper. Orwell�s implication in his own ideals reflects his passion to alter people�s way of thinking and therefore, obtain the political changes he expects.

The author ended up with “Why I Write”, putting forward two contradictory statements, ” It is true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one�s own personality.”12 ” Looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally”. 13

Orwell, in my opinion, knew he should manage his own feelings so as to create proper art and thus, engage people into reading his books. However, he felt that all that he wrote during his life without a political purpose was meaningless to him; therefore, only words that embed political meaning are the ones with life.

Finally, comparing the previous evidence referred to with T.S.Eliot�s “Tradition and the Individual Talent”14, in my view, it is appreciable over and over, the similar ways of thinking and acting between these two authors.

T . S. Eliot’s states “The point of view which I am struggling to attack is perhaps related to the metaphysical theory of the substantial unity of soul: the poet has not a personality to express but a particular medium, which is only a medium and not a personality, in which impressions and experiences combine in peculiar and unexpected ways”15. This author with the below evidence wants to transmit either that great poetry is composed out of feelings or the necessity of every writer not to exclude their own personality so as not to kill their motivation to write. According to my, the latter idea is the one that both authors have in common.

In conclusion, “Why I Write” is an essay that shows Orwell�s fascination with the psychology behind the writing. He demonstrates through his words that he is the kind of writer who completely understood his profession and thus, illustrating the motivations which encouraged him to become a writer. Furthermore, the way he puts forward his feelings and emotions to his words among everything, reflect a crucial part of his personality; a real fighter.

REFERENCING:

George Orwell (1946). Why I Write. London: Gangrel.

Antonio Gramsci (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

T.S. Eliot (1919). Tradition and the Individual Talent. London: The Egoist.

1 George Orwell (1946). Why I Write. London: Gangrel. 1.

2 Ibid. 2.

3 Ibid. 2-3.

4 Ibid. 2.

5 Ibid. 3.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid. 2.

9 Ibid. 4.

10 Antonio Gramsci (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. London: Lawrence and Wishart

11 Ibid. 5.

12 George Orwell (1946). Why I Write . London: Gangrel. 6.

13 Ibid.

14 T.S. Eliot (1919). Tradition and the Individual Talent. London: The Egoist

15 Ibid. 3.

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