George Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair on June 25, 1903 in Motihari in India, which was at that time part of the British Empire. His family was not very wealthy and like most middle-class English families of that time, their livelihood depended on the Empire. In 1907, his family returned to England. His parents managed to send him to a private school in Sussex and when he was thirteen, he won a scholarship to Wellington. Soon after that, he won another scholarship to the well-known public school, Eaton. After being forced to work very hard at preparatory school, Blair lost interest in any further intellectual exertion that was not related to his personal ambition. In his book Why I Write he says that from a very young age he had known that he must be a writer. But, he also realized that in order to become a writer, he had to read literature. However, in Eaton, English literature was not a major subject and he spent his five years reading works by the masters of English prose including Jonathon Swift, Laurence Sterne and Jack London on his own.
He failed to win a university scholarship after the final examinations at Eaton and, in 1922, he joined the Indian Imperial Police. This decision was not the usual path that most Eaton students would have taken. Blair preferred a life of travel and action and he served in the force in Burma (now known as Myanmar) for five years. He resigned from the police force for two main reasons: firstly, being a police officer was a diversion from his real ambition of being a writer; and secondly, he felt that as a policeman in Burma, he was supporting a political system in which he could no longer believe. Even at this time, his political ideas and his ideas about writing were closely related. In his book The Road To Wigan Pier he wrote that he wished to “escape from every form of man’s dominion over man”, and he felt that the social structure of British Imperialism was that “dominion” over the English working class.
After he returned to London at the age of twenty-four, he began to teach himself how to write. He spent most of his time writing in very poor living conditions because he felt that the poor in London and Paris represented the people of Burma under British rule. When he came back to London he lived among the homeless and poverty-stricken because he felt that he should expose himself to such living conditions. In December 1929, Blair announced his decision of writing a book describing his time spent in Paris. This book was originally entitled A Scullion’s Diary was later changed to Down and Out. He also wrote Burmese Days, which was about his experiences in the service. In 1935 he wrote A Clergyman’s Daughter, followed by Keep The Aspidistra Flying in 1936. That year, he received a commission from the Left Book Club to study the state of affairs of the poor and unemployed. This lead to him writing The Road To Wigan Pier. He once again lived among the poor to write this book, a detailed portrayal of the mining communities of north England. When the Book Club read what he had written about the English class system and socialism they were not pleased with his criticism of English socialism. He had described it as unrealistic and taunted the fact that most socialists tended to be from the Middle class.
After that, he went to Spain, with the intention of writing newspaper articles about the Civil War that had erupted there. The conflict was between the communist, socialist Republic and the Fascist military rebellion. Orwell was greatly surprised when he found out that in Spain, class distinction appeared to have disappeared. Although there was a shortage of everything there was equality. At once, he enlisted in the POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificacion de Marxista), which was associated with the British Labour Party, to join in the struggle. He felt that socialism was worth fighting for and after receiving basic military training he was spent a couple of uneventful months in Aragon where he was injured in the throat. After he returned to Barcelona, he found out that everything had returned to its “normal” state and had to escape arrest by leaving for France. His experience in Spain left two impressions, one of hope and one of despair in his mind. Firstly, that socialism was, even though impermanent, a possibility and secondly, that humanity would always seek dominance over others through violence and conflict.
In 1938, Orwell became afflicted with tuberculosis and spent some time in Morocco. There, he wrote Coming Up For Air. When the war between England and Germany broke out he wanted to enlist but was unfit to do so. He later joined the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1941 as a talks producer. After leaving the BBC in 1943, he began writing Animal Farm and in 1946, he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four. These two famous satires helped him attain prominence in the late 1940’s. In January of 1950, George Orwell succumbed to his illness and died.
George Orwell’s books, documentaries, essays and criticism during the 1930’s and 40’s established him as one of the most significant and prominent influence of the 20th century.