Why George Orwell Wrote 1984

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and experience teaching.

This lesson discusses George Orwell and his dystopian novel, 1984, with particular focus on Orwell's views on the world and how they contributed to his writing.

Orwell's Thoughts on the World

At the height of World War II, while much of the rest of the world was fearful of an Axis victory, British author George Orwell saw another potential problem. He saw that in the future, totalitarian rulers would spread their views across the world. Specifically, he writes about Stalin, wealthy politicians in the United States and United Kingdom, and leaders of other places where the population has little choice but to accept the decisions of policymakers. Simply put, Orwell imagines that a world like the one depicted in 1984 may not be so unlikely. After all, he had seen the foreshadowing of such a life himself when he served as an Imperial official in Burma, policing more than 200,000 people at one point. Upon ending his time as an official there, Orwell began to look at the plight of the oppressed with a more keen eye.

So what does Orwell say of this world? Ultimately, he says that absolute control by a few leaders of a few countries is not good for the world.

Cover of 1984
cover of 1984

Never Tested

In particular, he considers the United States and the United Kingdom to be especially vulnerable to a dictatorial occupation. After all, he states, these societies have never really been pushed on their democratic ideals. What if someone like a Stalin or a Hitler suddenly seized power? How would the United States and the United Kingdom respond? Specifically, he points to the fact that civil rights have already been reduced to the war, and yet no one seems to care. He mentions in a letter that during World War II the voting rights of those under the age of 26 had been compromised. Instead, what would happen if those civil rights were taken away with even greater speed? Could the citizens have enough courage to stop them from disappearing altogether? Orwell states that without a desire to confront these movements, there really is nothing stopping totalitarians from taking over.

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