George orwell’s portrayal of state manipulation in fiction and non-fiction Essay

Perhaps best known for his novels, such as Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) and Animal Farm, George Orwell uses his writing to explore political events during his lifetime. For Animal Farm, it comes in the form of the events surrounding the Russian revolution in 1916, and 1984 warns against a world beginning to be governed by propaganda, surveillance, and censorship. However, often, Orwell’s Non-Fiction is overlooked. His Essays and Letters for example, contain the same themes that are weaved through all of Orwell’s writing. In his essays, he details events from the shifting political landscape in the first half of the 20th century and lets his ideas flourish, later to become featured in his fictional works. Possibly his most esteemed work of Non-Fiction is “Homage to Catalonia” (HTC), a documentation of the time he spent in the Republican army in Spain during the Civil War. The account, published ten years before 1984 is a vital building block for Orwell’s later works. Written as a memoir, chronologically, Orwell begins to cement ideas more, entering into the conflict with his own ideas and theory and being affected by the things he saw and the people he met. There are passages in HTC that are very obvious pre-cursors to 1984 and it is these parallels and differences that will be explored in this Dissertation.

Setting and circumstance-

1984’s opening sentences provide a valuable summation of the mood and setting of the entire novel.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him”

Of course, it is not just dust following Winston Smith into his apartment, like everyone in the novel, he is plagued by constant surveillance. The dystopian future Orwell paints is vile and gritty, and citizens find themselves under the constant watch of Big Brother. The government, for which Big Brother is the mascot, is built on restricting the freedom and safety of its people.

The reader is introduced to Winston, the protagonist on a cold April morning. Thin and frail he struggles up a staircase only to be greeted on every landing by a poster depicting an enormous and wicked face underlined by the words

“BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU”.

Though Winston is a member of the ruling upper middle class, he still finds himself under the states oppressive control. His apartment is plastered by propaganda and cameras, which may be monitoring his every move.

In terms of HTC, because of the way it is written as a memoir, Orwell chooses a different method in the books opening to catch the reader’s attention.

“In the Lenin Barracks in Barcelona, the day before I joined the militia, I saw an Italian militiaman standing in front of the officers' table.”

The author then goes on to describe the man in substantial detail. Instead of a more eloquent setting description, such as that in 1984, HTC begins with an anecdote. In describing the enigmatic nature of his short conversation with this stranger, Orwell alludes to the common denominator they share, both having come from a foreign land to fight in Spain. Through word choice he also sharply makes it clear his immediate obeisance for the militiaman, describing the traits his face holds;

“Candour and ferocity”

All of this conveys the sense of awe that Orwell was feeling at being thrown in an entirely new world. The author wants to make the readers interests in the opening passages to parallel the way he felt at the time. Instead of clearly describing the setting, why he is there or the context of the conflict, he creates a sense of intrigue and makes the reader eager to discover what the wider context for the interaction may be. Orwell’s seemingly narrow focus that only lasts a brief moment also acquaints the reader with a prominent feature of war that continues through the whole book. In war, people may come and leave unpredictability but lasting impressions, positive or negative can be made in an instant.

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