The Fiction of Orwell
Orwell’s two classic fictions were Animal Farm and 1984 but he wrote others. His first fictional piece was Burmese Day and this touched upon his experience in Burma. As Orwell believed, colonializaton affected both the imperialist and the natives. The opening we are introduced to U Po Kyin, a Burmese magistrate. U Po Kyin was corrupt magistrate who learned that the best way was to play both ends with both the oppressors and his own people. U Po Kyin sided with the British and became a parasite upon the European masters. To gain movement upward, U Po Kyin was willing to sacrifice anybody that gets in his way- European or native. As Kyin observed when questioned whether faking evidence against a leading rival Dr. Veraswami would work, Kyin replies, “No European cares anything about proofs. When a man has a black face, suspicion is proof.”
The main character was Michael Flory and close friend of Kyin rival, Dr. Veraswami. Flory was a timber merchant but Kyin viewed Flory as weak man who will not defend or fight for Verswami. Flory had his weakness, a sexual affair with the local Ma Hia May, which would in the end destroy him. Dr. Veraswami biggest desire was to be ushered into the European club where he figured, correctly, that he would be become invincible and under protection of the British. There was movement to allow one native and Dr. Veraswami and U Po Kyin vied for that spot for the prestige that joining the club presages. Both understood that membership in the club would allowed either men to booster their own power. U Po Kyin in particular wanted that spot and even sets up a riot in the local town to gain that spot. U Po Kyin used his entire angle to gain his ultimate goal but what we saw was the evolution of Michael Flory.
Flory was ambivalent about imperialism. He profited from the system and he had been using Ma Hia May as his own sexual toy but he was a man who rather shy away from a fight as oppose to joining it. U Po Kyin counted on that when opposing Flory’s friend Dr. Veraswami and he knew that most European did not want a native in the club. The book centered on Flory changes as he became more courageous in defending Veraswami and during the riot, led in dispersing the crowd. Flory change of character came as a result of falling in love with Elizabeth Lackersteen causing jealousy from Ma Hia May, who in her own way loved Flory. This despite that Flory treated her more as a slave than a equal. Elizabeth did not feel the same way about Flory, even though they dated. She also was going out with an officer who transfered in from India. It would be women who destroy Flory. Ma Hia May blackmail Flory (with the aid of U Po Kyin) about their affair and the affair finally was expose after Flory became a hero during the riot, his chance with Elizabeth was gone. What we witness was U Po Kyin working behind the scene and working everyone like a puppet. Even when all appeared lost or if U Po Kyin was stymied, he always had one ace. After the riot and Dr. Veraswami’s reputation was enhanced due to his friendship with Flory, Ma Hia May exposed her affair. She did this on the advice of U Po Kyin.
In the end, all was lost for the major characters. Flory public disgrace led to his suicide and this ensured U Po Kyin victory over Dr. Veraswami as his protector was dead. Dr. Veraswami joined second-rate club of fellow Indians and one European drunkard and his position in the community ravaged. U Po Kyin died a rich and powerful man but before his pagoda was built. This portended a religious defeat as he was left to wander in the afterlife. It is Orwell way of saying if you lose your soul, what you gained on earth is meaniless. Orwell final dig at colonialism was through a conversation between Dr. Veraswami and Flory. Dr. Veraswami tells Flory how the natives were lazy and only the British made things work. Even the natives blame their own for their failures. There are few heroes and few heroic acts in Burmese days.
Coming up for Air was different from his other works. It detailed the story of George Bowling, a middle age and middle class bloke who was disilusioned about his own life and stifled marriage. On the horizon, he saw a war coming with Nazis Germany and as a World War I; he understood the horror of war.
His disillusionment of his marriage was detailed when George thinks, “When we were first married I felt I’d like to strangle her, but later I got so that I didn’t care. And then I got fat and settled down.” Like all middle age men, he looked in the mirror and discovered not the man he was but the man he had become. “One night you go to bed, still feeling more or less young, with an eye for the girls and so forth,” George says to himself, “And next morning you wake up in the full consciousness that you’re just a poor old fatty with nothing ahead of you this side the grave except sweating your guts out to buy boots for the kids.” What we see was the drudgery of middle class living with nothing to look forward and on top of that, a major war in which mass destruction and havoc just upon the horizon.
There was a need for humans to sometimes believe in the worse and certainly George Bowling somehow took aim at this urge after a meeting of local leftist denouncing the fascist, when he stated, “The Fascists are coming! Spanners ready, boys! Smash others or they’ll smash you!” He observed or engages in wishful thinking when he concludes, “What’ll will happen to chaps like me when we get Fascism in England? The truth is it probably won’t make the slightest difference.” Orwell’s middle class were trapped in grind and no hope for advancement. Was there a difference for the George Bowlings of the world whether a democratically elected government rules or the fascists? There was dark side to Orwell view, as stated previously that he felt he was on the losing side of history.
Bowling himself was afraid of the future and he seems surrounded by people who refuse to see the future. His friend Old Porteous mind stopped working “at about the time of the Russo-Japanese War. It’s a ghastly thing that nearly all of the decent people, the people who don’t want to go round smashing faces in with spanners, are like that. They’re decent, but their minds have stopped.”
So as Bowling asks, “The last thing I remember wondering before I fell asleep was why the hell a chap like me should care.” It was Orwell’s little man who was trapped in a world that he didn’t control. Like Winston Smith in 1984 or Mike Flory in Burmese Days, George Bowling did not control his fate but was shaped by the forces around him. When Bowling went back home to revisit his past, he saw what he had become. He ran into his old girlfriend but she had aged, as he had done. When he returned from his trip home, his wife accused him of cheating and he probably wished that he did. So Bowling existed in a middle class trapped, waiting for apocalypse with Germany.
Animal Farm was what Orwell calls a “fairy tale.” Animal farm began with detailing the oppression of farm life under man and the rebellion that freed them. Led by the pigs, the farm animal begins to reorganize their defenses against the human counterattack and simultaneously begin rebuilding the farm. The two leaders of the rebellion were Snowball, who represented Trotsky, and Napoleon who resembled Joseph Stalin. It was no accident that Napoleon was Europe first fascist and Orwell equated Stalin with Nazism and fascism. In Orwell mind, if you oppose Fascism, you had to oppose communism.
What happens is that after Snowball became a hero when he led the counterattack against the farmers who attempted to retake the Animal farm. Through the effort of Napoleon, Snowball became a non-person. Napoleon exiling Snowball was reminiscence of when Stalin exiled Trotsky, whose leadership helped shape the Red Army during the Civil War in 1920 vs. the White Army. Snowball was flushed from the pages of history and Orwell’s point that totalitarians needed to control history would be made stronger in 1984.
Snowball’s exploits were twisted not as the historical exploit that they were but as act of collaboration. Snowball becomes a bogeyman that becomes a threat to the revolution, thus giving the other animals someone to hate along with the human farmers. When things go wrong, Napoleon simple blamed a non-existent Snowball just as Stalin would blame his opponents of being allies of Trotsky, who was living overseas and truly powerless to influence events in the Soviet Union.
Over time, Napoleon took control and changes many of the rules and history of the revolution. George Orwell in both Animal Farms and 1984 jump on two themes- the totalitarian government attempt to control both the language and history for to control language and history is to control the memory of the people.
In Animal Farm, Napoleon continues to update the original commandments: All Animals are equal but some Animals are more equal than others as the Pigs consolidate their leadership. Equality that was the goal of the revolution no longer existed as it no longer existed in the Soviet Union.
In the end, Napoleon negotiated with the enemy and in the concluding scene; he made his peace with the local farmers and they with him. The revolution betrayed but as Orwell shyly writes, “Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs? The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” In 1939, Stalin engineered the Soviet-Nazis pact that allowed Hitler to start World War II and Stalin sent troops to conquer half of Poland. Just as Napoleon was not indistinguishable from his human counterpart, Stalin proved to be no different from Hitler. Animal Farm came out in 1943 when the Soviet Union was our ally against Hitler’s Germany but Orwell’s point was that one dictator was no different than the others. Animal Farm almost was not released due to its criticism of our Soviet ally but Orwell proved prescient when discussing communism and when in 1956, Khrushchev announced Stalin’s crime, he merely proved what Orwell already knew- Stalin was a monster.
1984 was Orwell darkest and most famous book. Winston Smith represented the everyday man as he rebelled against the state. Smith works in the Ministry of Truth and he is working on the tenth edition of Newspeak. Orwell, following up on a theme explored in Animal Farm, believes that the state must be control language to control the population. Newspeak allowed the state to determine the definition of words and change the meaning of words. In the era of Big Brother, Freedom is Slavery, War is Peace and Ignorance is Strength. Slogans replace thoughts and two-minute hate fest replace reason against Emmanuel Goldstein, the leader of the opposition against Big Brother.
The other aspect was that the state controls all sexual and marital relations. Marriages were marriages of conveniences and love forbidden. The state wanted to control all aspect of a party member life and emotions as well. As Smith found out in his torture at the end of the book, what the Party wanted nothing more than control and power. Power was the goal and nothing more. There was no pretence about doing good.
Winston envisioned himself as a rebelling against the government and believed the hope lay with the proletariats. This was an illusion for the proletariats could care less and if workers did, they could not do much anyway. When Winston and Julia had their affair, this too was an act of rebellion as they declared their love for one another. In the end, there was no revolutionary force, there was no Goldstein and Smith faced the full brunt of the state. The state broke Smith and in the end; he betrayed his Julia and all emotions of love removed from his innerself. In the end, Smith “truly loves” Big Brother.
Orwell died of TB in 1950 and died before his time. In the 1930’s and 40’s, Orwell was a voice in the wilderness similar to Whitaker Chambers for both men understood the true nature of the enemy we faced but from different perspective. Chambers became a conservative and religious whereas Orwell stayed a socialist.
Christopher Hitchens notes that in Orwell times, “all ‘cultivated’ people loathed the USA, Which was regarded the vulgariser of England and Europe. “ During the war, it became apparent that there was significant difference between the British and the Americans in the area of wealth. The average American soldier was middle class and for some Brits, the average American soldier was considered, “Overpaid, over sexed and over here.” (The GI own response was that the Brits “underpaid, undersexed and under Ike.) Orwell wrote, “it is difficult to go anywhere in London without having the feeling that Britain was now Occupied Territory.”
Orwell, like many British intellectual and writers, had dual feeling with America. As Christopher Hitchens noted that Orwell “always took American literature seriously.. and he came t the conclusion that its success as a new literature had something to do with liberty.” On the other hand, Orwell distrusted America’s commercial and mercenary culture and its “imperial ambitions.” Orwell had a blind spot about America. In one of life’s great irony, Orwell could not obtain the needed antibiotic in England required for treating his TB for it was manufactured only in America. As Hitchens concluded, “the American subject was in every sense Orwell’s opportunity.”
9/11 forced some on the left including Christopher Hitchens to reexamine the need for America power as there are worst enemies than American crassness or “imperial design.” Many of the left are now Democratic Socialists with emphasize on Socialism and Democracy takes a back seat to the Socialism. Many University are resembling a totalitarian vision as freedom of speech takes a back seat to safe spaces and eliminating “hate speech.” The Left in America is moving toward the Road to Serfdom predicated by Hayek and feared by Orwell.