What George Orwell Said About Why He Writes

"From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer," Orwell said.

  • Published 18 January 2021
Image via ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Claim

A meme reproduces part of George Orwell's explanation of the motivations behind his writing.

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Origin

In Jan. 2021, shortly after rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in response to dozens of internet conspiracy theories about the November election promulgated by President Donald Trump, Twitter permanently suspended Trump’s account, citing the risk of “further incitement of violence.”

These events prompted many online usages of the term “Orwellian,” a reference to writer George Orwell’s dystopian account of a future totalitarian state as portrayed in his novel “1984.” It also prompted the circulation of a meme supposedly reproducing a statement from Orwell about the motivation behind his writing:

This statement is indeed correctly attributed to Orwell. In 1946, the editors of the U.K. literary magazine ‘Gangrel’ asked a select group of writers to explain why they wrote, and Orwell’s essay on the subject included the line reproduced in the meme:

First I spent five years in an unsuitable profession (the Indian Imperial Police, in Burma), and then I underwent poverty and the sense of failure. This increased my natural hatred of authority and made me for the first time fully aware of the existence of the working classes, and the job in Burma had given me some understanding of the nature of imperialism: but these experiences were not enough to give me an accurate political orientation. Then came Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, etc. By the end of 1935 I had still failed to reach a firm decision.

The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects.