Meaning of ‘Orwellian’

Orwellian” describes the situation, idea, or societal condition that George Orwell identified as being destructive to the welfare of a free society. It connotes an attitude and a policy of control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past, including the “unperson” — a person whose past existence is expunged from the public record and memory, practiced by modern repressive governments. Often, this includes the circumstances depicted in his novels, particularly Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Orwell’s ideas about personal freedom and state authority developed when he was a British colonial administrator in Burma. He was fascinated by the effect of colonialism on the individual person, requiring acceptance of the idea that the colonialist oppressor exists only for the good of the oppressed person and people.

There has also been a great deal of discourse on the possibility that Orwell galvanized his ideas of oppression during his experience, and his subsequent writings in the English press, in Spain. Orwell was a member of the POUM militia and suffered suppression and escaped arrest by the Comintern faction working within the Republican Government. Following his escape he made a strong case for defending the Spanish revolution from the Communists there, and the mis-information in the press at home. During this period he formed strong ideas about the reportage of events, and their context in his own ideas of imperialism and democracy.

This often brought him into conflict with literary peers such as W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender[1].

In 1940 he engaged himself in the practise of supporting mis-information for a revolutionary purpose with The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius. A counter-point to his previous work, immediately after his return from Spain, Homage to Catalonia. Homage was elementary in Orwell’s definition of the process of truth-power connection and its relevance to ideas of freedom versus authority, whereas Lion & Unicorn was a formative piece of ‘propaganda’. The narrative of the two is one that informed Orwell’s later works such as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm.

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