Monday, June 25, 2007

Gratitude for George Orwell on his birthday

The Writer’s Almanac, written by Garrison Keillor, has a tribute to George Orwell today, his birthday. He was born in 1903 as Eric Blair.

His success writing under the pen name George Orwell led him to use it in his everyday life as well.

I’m amazed that so few young people today have heard of, let alone read, Orwell. Those who have usually know him only for “Animal Farm” and, of course, “1984.”

Rarely will a student have read Orwell’s stirring essays, such as “Shooting an Elephant,” “A Hanging,” or “Why I Write.”

My hope is that one day schools and colleges will teach Orwell as routinely as they do Shakespeare.

It may have been Orwell who first welded my attention to the inhumanity of grotesque income disparities, a topic I repeatedly write about here.

Orwell called for a tax policy that would limit income inequity to no more than ten to one. Today it is in the thousands in parts of our economy. CEOs frequently make 500 or 600 times as much as their lowest paid workers.

In “The Lion and the Unicorn,” Orwell wrote, “A man with £3 a week and a man with £1500 a year can feel themselves fellow creatures, which the Duke of Westminster and the sleepers on the Embankment benches cannot.”

Near the end of his essay “Why I write,” Orwell shared with his readers a desire to write another novel after a seven-year hiatus. Of his expectations for the novel, he wrote, “It is bound to be a failure, every book is a failure, but I know with some clarity what kind of book I want to write.”

His clarity of purpose, and clarity of prose, ensured that the book itself would prove him wrong.

The book was “1984.” Far from being a failure, it became a frightening classic, a warning that rings as loudly today as it did when it was published in the summer of 1949, a mere six months before Orwell died at the age of 46.

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Blogger ...deb said...

I missed Keillor Monday. Thank you for bringing it up. I have recently begun reading Orwell's essays and find his writing and perceptions stirring.

My first (other than 1984 many, many years ago) was found in Lopate's collection of essays, which I am sure you've read. He included Such, Such were the Days. It discribes his early life and gives us a hauninting picture of why Orwell was so aware of social issues.

I recently took a writing class with Martha Geis and she brought Shooting an Elephant to the class. I think that must be my favorite essay ever.

I completely agree that more people ought to hear his wonderful voice.

Thanks, Rick.

9:27 AM  

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