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Barron's Booknotes-1984 by George Orwell-Free Book Notes
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Later Orwell wrote propaganda for the BBC, an education in how to know one thing yet say another for the good of the people. As you'll see, this training foreshadowed Winston's job in the Ministry of Truth. England was under attack by air, and buzz bombs, Nazi V-2 rockets, exploded on London almost daily until the war ended. Every day people lived with death and danger and shortages of food and clothing. Russia, which had begun the war as Germany's ally, took up arms against Hitler, grappling with the Nazis at Stalingrad. History, then, laid the groundwork for 1984, in which major powers are always at war but the enemy keeps changing.

By 1944 Orwell was finishing Animal Farm, a parable about Stalinism. Because the Soviet Union was now a British ally, he had a hard time getting it published. Besides that, he was ill again. Eileen needed surgery but they put it off because of expense. In the final days of the war he went to Paris and Germany as a war correspondent. He was hospitalized again. While he was in Germany Eileen died in surgery, leaving him with an infant son they had adopted. Grieving and ill, he came home to begin another novel. This would be his last.

Publication of Animal Farm brought Orwell recognition and freedom from financial pressure. An enemy of totalitarianism, he saw what he thought were totalitarian tendencies in the British government. He took a country house on a remote island where he lived off and on while writing this final work, originally titled "The Last Man in Europe." Sick as he was, he put off going to the hospital until he had a first draft finished. His doctor said, "If he ceases to try to get well and settles down to write another book he is almost certain to relapse quickly."

But Orwell had a mission. He wanted 1984 to be "a showup of the perversions to which a centralized society is liable, and which have already been realized in Communism and Fascism." He feared for Britain. Struggling against enormous physical odds (as Winston struggles under torture), he went home to finish a second draft. "The striking thing," he said of his increasing weakness, "is the contrast between the apparent normality of the mind and its helplessness when you attempt to get anything on paper."


Once more he put off treatment in order to make a final typescript. He had broken his health but he had finished the novel that would outlive him by generations. Hospitalized, Orwell saw the novel published in 1949. It was widely praised in a postwar world that had awakened to the realities of the Cold War in which there are no friends, only friendly enemies. It was taken as a chilling warning by readers who lived with the daily possibility of absolute nuclear destruction, a possibility which had been raised by the explosion of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in the last days of World War II.

Unlike his hero, Winston Smith, who was defeated by the society and by his own weakness, George Orwell ended his life with a triumph.

It is useful to remember that every writer uses real life for material, but only the best writers learn how to transform it into living fiction. With intelligence and skill, they take what they know to create what they don't know, making something so real that it is truer than real life. In 1984, George Orwell has done this brilliantly. Because he was a wonderful novelist before he became a political reformer, he had the skill to make his message known all over the world.

BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, say the posters in Orwell's novel. His warning has passed into the language.

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