Why I Write by George Orwell
(Penguin Books, 2005, 120 pages)
This little book consists of four of George Orwell’s most popular essays. They offer his insight on why to write, how to write, and what subjects are worth writing about. In the first essay, “Why I Write,” Orwell offers what he thinks are the “four great motives for writing”: (1) sheer egoism (2) aesthetic enthusiasm (3) historical impulse (4) political purpose. All of these motives are evident in Orwell’s work. The audacity with which he attacks the English political establishment of his day could only be undertaken by someone with a healthy ego. He combines concerns for the aesthetic and the political in “Politics and the English Language,” when he shows how imprecise language can be used for nefarious political purposes. In “The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius,” as he discusses the need for a national democratic socialism to emerge out of the trials of the coming Second World War (the essay begins with the unforgettable line “As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me” ), Orwell displays a keen sense of the history of the English people.
The clarity and wit of Orwell’s essays make them a pleasure to read. They display the truth of one of his own aphorisms: “Good prose is like a window pane” (10). If you have read and enjoyed Nineteen Eighty-Four or Animal Farm, this collection will give you an even greater appreciation for the political purpose behind those stories. Whether reading his novels or his essays, you would be hard pressed to find a better writer than Orwell for clarity of thought and fervency of purpose.