Words as Witness: George Orwell’s Literary Rebellion

Evan Swensen
3 min readNov 29, 2023

“Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism,” George Orwell once reflected. This statement captures the essence of a writer whose works transcend mere storytelling, embedding themselves deeply in the landscape of modern thought and society. Born Eric Arthur Blair, Orwell is renowned for his genuine commitment to truth and justice, manifesting through his poignant writing. This article delves into the heart of Orwell’s literary journey, exploring how his life experiences and perspectives on writing have left an indelible mark on society.

Orwell’s life was a tapestry of experiences that profoundly shaped his worldview. One pivotal episode occurred during his time in Burma as a British Imperial Policeman. This period profoundly influenced his views on imperialism and oppression, themes he later explored in essays like Shooting an Elephant. Orwell’s disenchantment with imperialism grew as he witnessed the brutalities of colonial rule, leading him to resign and return to England. This experience was not just a career change but a transformation in his ethos, steering him towards a path of political and social commentary through writing.

Another defining chapter in Orwell’s life was his participation in the Spanish Civil War. Volunteering to fight against the Fascist forces, Orwell joined the POUM (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification) militia. His experiences in Spain, where he witnessed the horrors of war and the betrayal of political ideals, were pivotal in shaping his later works, especially Homage to Catalonia. This period reinforced his disdain for totalitarianism and highlighted the complexities of political allegiances and the distortion of truth in propaganda, themes he later explored in Animal Farm and 1984.

Orwell’s works have profoundly impacted society, influencing public opinion and shaping discussions on crucial issues like totalitarianism, surveillance, and the manipulation of language. 1984, a dystopian novel about a society under constant surveillance, has become a reference point in discussions about government overreach and privacy rights. Similarly, Animal Farm, an allegorical novella, exposes the dangers of absolute power and the corruption of ideals, resonating with various historical and contemporary political situations. Through these works, Orwell not only critiqued the societal issues of his time but also provided a timeless commentary on the human condition.

George Orwell’s legacy extends far beyond his literary achievements. He was a visionary who used his pen for social and political change. His commitment to truth, justice, and the power of the written word continues to inspire and challenge readers. His works are not just narratives; they are mirrors reflecting the perennial struggles of society, urging readers to question and think critically. Orwell’s influence is a testament to the transformative power of writing — shaping history and impacting individual lives.

Orwell’s literature is a beacon for those who aspire to use writing to influence and change. Readers are encouraged to delve into Orwell’s works to explore the depths of his insights into human nature and society. For aspiring writers, Orwell’s journey underscores the importance of authenticity and courage in writing. Let his legacy be a reminder of the written word’s power to challenge, illuminate, and transform the world.

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Evan Swensen

Book publisher, editor, author, Author Masterminds charter member, founder of Readers and Writers Book Club, and bush pilot.