Sunday, October 31, 2010

Synopsis of the Novels of George Orwell

(1) "BURMESE DAYS" (1934)
Flory's Despair
Burmese Days may be regarded as a quite straightforward novel, using autobiographical material. The strongest single impression conveyed by this novel is of loneliness, a solitude which is the cause of bitter pain and unsatisfied longing. The central character, Flory, is an English timber-merchant in Burma of the time of British imperial rule.
He is a bachelor in early middle age, quite cut off by now from all contacts with family or friends in Britain, and isolated also by temperament from the small community of British officials and others in the place. He realizes the hypocrisy of British imperialism; and he knows that his colleagues' values are shallow and narrow though he himself has nothing to offer in their place. He wants to recreate the Burmese national character and return the country to its primitive culture, something which the native politicians, like the corrupt U Po Kyin, do not want. Under the pressure of the system, Flory's moral character has deteriorated as well, and therefore he believes his only hope for survival is Elizabeth Lackersteen's love. He is painfully wrong about her and never finally sees that all she desires is to find a "respectable" husband and to become a "burra memsahib". When Elizabeth eventually rejects him, his last possibility disappears and he is overcome by despair.
The Enslavement of the Tyrannical Wielder of Power
Flory's wretchedness is similar to the narrator's in "Shooting an Elephant" where Orwell dramatizes even more pointedly the irony of the middle-class rise to economic and political authority. The real nature of imperialism, as the narrator of the essay learns, is that the wielder of tyrannical power is himself enslaved. Knowing that he should not kill the elephant, he yet shoots the animal because the Burmese crowd  expects it and he must save face as a policeman.
Flory's End, Suicide
After a time, even though Flory has seen the hollowness of British imperialism, he becomes a part of the system. Any strength that he might have possessed is depleted. At last he becomes a victim of his own class. Brought up to believe in its righteousness and honesty, he becomes aware of its hypocrisy; but his own individuality has by now been absorbed by the organization. As all values lose their validity for him, he disintegrates. Not even the opportunity of salvation in another person or the possibility of choosing another system remains for him. Unlike the lower classes, which have been able to maintain a sense of community, the middle and upper classes provide no moral support to their members. The only choice offered is between conformity and social isolation, both fatal for Flory. Eventually Flory commits suicide, his action being his terrible protest against his failures. Flory's suicide is a way of concluding the novel, but it is an essentially weak device that resolves neither the theme of the book nor the problems inherent in the colonial experience.
(This novel and its central character are based on Orwell's own experiences in Burma where he had served as a police officer).
The Loss of Memory, and Its Consequences
In this novel the central character finds the strength for endurance after a contact with the working class. Dorothy Hare, the only daughter of a widowed Anglican curate, has built her life and faith on weak, rigid habits. She lives, like an automaton, by religious catch-phrases. A sudden loss of memory, however, deprives her of all imaginary props, namely her faith and her routine parish duties, which have given some sort of order to her life. Thrown into the underworld of London among migrant workers, bums, and prostitutes, she must learn how to cope with existence and how simply to stay alive. The only fact that she knows with any certainty is that she does not believe in anything. When she regains her memory, she finds that she cannot go back to her father because of a scandal about her and an older man, Mr. Warburton. Eventually she is rescued from a police court by a rich uncle and sent to teach in an inferior private school. After nearly a year of teaching, where she learns that the sole motive behind this type of lower-middle-class school is profit, she returns to her father.
Life without Meaning
But Dorothy cannot readjust herself to her old faith. About the only thing which has remained intact after her exile is, strangely, her virginity. Deprived of her old faith, she is faced with absolute emptiness. But she has discovered that she is able to exist on her own. She finds in herself the ability to live without meaning, to survive despite inhuman conditions. At the end she even refuses any substitute for her lost faith: "Either life on earth is a preparation for something greater and more lasting, or it is meaningless, dark and dreadful." But she does resume her responsibilities as a "clergyman's daughter" because in that, she begins to see, remains her "salvation".
A Kind of Work-Ethic
Orwell appears to be advocating here a species of "work-ethic" which we can understand as a devotion to the immediate and the particular in the interests of survival. In the end Dorothy turns to the task of making costumes for the church play. The problem of faith and no faith vanishes utterly from her mind.
Embracing Failure
The central figure in this novel is Gordon Comstock who tries to defy society, as Orwell himself did, by embracing failure. Comstock, the last member of an enervated middle-class family, feels that there is nothing in contemporary society to equal his talents, and so he goes under. But the mystique of failure is nothing more than a revelling in self-pity, an adolescent gesture of defeatism designed to avoid responsibility. It is not a sign of strength but rather of moral exhaustion; akin to Flory's final act, it is a surrender, an admission that one can no longer control one's own life. The acceptance of failure constitutes the last gasp of the shallow liberal imagination confronted by hard fact.
The Choice
The reconstruction of Gordon's will is carried out through the agency of the girl, Rosemary Waterloo (a name of obvious significance). She gives herself freely, without fear of the consequences, when he is on the verge of final disintegration. Becoming pregnant, she presents him with the choices of abortion, having the child out of wedlock, or marriage and a return to his former advertising job. He accepts the last course because, as he sees, it has something to do with life.
(4) "COMING UP FOR AIR" (1939)
The Story of a Middle-Aged Insurance Agent
The basic situation and several details in this novel come from the French writer, Marcel Proust. The novel tells the story of George Bowling who is a middle-aged man from the lower-middle-class, closely involved with family and friends, and caught up in the social and economic system. Bowling is a rather stout, undistinguished-looking insurance agent living with his wife and two children on a jerry-built housing estate in the Thames Valley. He is in search of the past time: that is to say, the way of life which he known during his boyhood in the small market-town of Lower Bin field.
Three Phases of Bowling's Life: the First Phase
The life and times of George Bowling are described in three phases. First, there is the Edwardian boyhood in a quiet Oxfordshire market-town, which is presented convincingly and unsentimentally. In this portion of the novel, describing the life of a lot very prosperous shop-keeping family, Orwell is obviously indebted to H. G. Wells (above all to Wells's novel, History of Mr. Polly). The one feature of the Edwardian time which, in Bowling's view, differentiated it from what followed, was a feeling of security, even when people were not really secure. This feeling of security is in the following manner:
More exactly, it was a feeling of continuity. All of them knew they'd got to die, and I suppose a few of them knew they were going to go bankrupt, but what they didn't know was that the order of things could change. Individually, they were finished, but their way of life would continue. Their good and evil would remain good and evil. They didn't feel the ground they stood on shifting under their feet.
The Second Phase
World War I brings an end to this kind of stability and iniates what Bowling calls "a ghastly flux". Bowling finds himself removed from the grocer's shop and, after some service in France, becomes an officer with the ridiculous responsibility of guarding twelve tins of beef on the Cornish coast. For Bowling, the war upsets not only his individual attitudes and expectations but also the whole social and moral order of England: "After that unspeakable idiotic mess you couldn't go on regarding society as something eternal and unquestionable, like a pyramid. You knew it was just a balls-up."
The Third Phase
After the war Bowling returns to a society which is permeated by a feeling of fear. This society is the same which Orwell had already described in Keep the Aspidistra Flying; but in this later novel the horror and the vulgarity of it are described very elaborately. There is the fear of losing a job; there is the commuter's round; there are the shoddy new suburban housing estates which sprawl over the countryside and bury Lower Binfield; there are the cheap clothes, the mass-produced furniture and food, and the mad ideologies preaching hatred, a hatred which originates from the all-pervasive fear symbolized by the dive-bombers which had raided London during the war.
(5) "ANIMAL FARM" (1945)
Napoleon, the Pig, as an Autocrat
Animal Farm tells the story of how a number of animals drove away their human master from the farm with their united strength and became the masters of the farm. All the various animals participated in this revolt against their human master, Mr. Jones by name. The animals proclaimed the ideal of equality and comradeship and resolved to work together to improve the living conditions on their farm. Their efforts bore fruits and they reaped a rich harvest. But the pigs, being the cleverest and the most intelligent animals, emerged as the ruling class, and the ideal of equality was soon forgotten. The pigs were led by two very dynamic leaders called Napoleon and Snowball, who were skilfully assisted by another pig called Squealer. Soon a rivalry began between Napoleon and Snowball. Napoleon, by his machinations, was able to drive away Snowball from the farm with the help of his fierce dogs whom he had secretly reared and trained. After the expulsion of Snowball, who was never afterwards seen on the farm, Napoleon became the sole leader of the community of animals. But after a very short time Napoleon began to violate and deviate from all the Seven Commandments which had been formulated at the beginning for the guidance of the conduct of all the animals on the farm. Napoleon then became an even more autocratic ruler of the farm than Mr. Jones had been in his days of the ownership of the farm. The pigs as a class began to be treated as a superior caste and a privileged group, while all the other animals (horses, cows, sheep, etc.) had to be contented with a subservient role.
One Commandment Enough
Napoleon ordered the building of a windmill to generate electricity for the farm, and all the animals had to toil very hard to build the windmill under the general supervision of the pigs. Boxer, a cart-horse, proved to be the most hard-working animal, and he showed his devotion to Napoleon by adopting a motto: "Napoleon is always right", in addition to his previous motto: "I will work harder." The windmill, when almost complete, was brought down by a furious winter gale. Napoleon, assisted by Squealer, gave out that the windmill had been destroyed by Snowball who had crept to the farm under the cover of darkness and pulled the windmill down. All the other difficulties and hardships, such as the shortage of food and the threat of starvation, were also attributed by Napoleon to the mischief being done by Snowball, even though nobody had seen Snowball anywhere after Snowball had been driven away by Napoleon's dogs. The windmill was rebuilt, but it was again destroyed, this time by a neighbouring farmer by the name of Mr. Frederick. This time again it was given out that Snowball had helped Mr. Frederick in the destructive business and that Snowball was pursuing his vicious activities against Animal Farm. The windmill was built a third time and was put to some use on Animal Farm. Squealer continued to spread the propaganda against Snowball who, as has already been pointed out, was not at all in the picture. Continuing his violations of the Seven Commandments, Napoleon ordered the execution of all those animals whom he suspected of being his opponents. The killings were carried out by Napoleon's dogs. The Seven Commandments were then reduced to only one which ran as follows: "All Animals Are Equal But Some Animals Are More Equal." This modification of the original Seven Commandments meant that the pigs had to be recognized by all as a superior class having the right to govern all the other animals. Napoleon and the other pigs now also adopted the practice of walking on their two hind legs and holding whips in their trotters. This they did in imitation of human beings who have only two legs to walk upon. In this way Napoleon violated yet another of the original Commandments. Napoleon went on becoming more and more autocratic till he became a complete dictator and established a totalitarian form of government on the farm.
The Moral of the Story
The moral of the story is that the revolutionaries, who overthrow an autocratic regime, themselves become autocratic in course of time because, by acquiring more and more power, they become more and more selfish and begin to aim at self-glorification and self-aggrandisement. Thus, they betray the revolution, just as Napoleon betrayed it on Animal Farm and Stalin betrayed it in Russia.
A Satirical Novel about the Future
Nineteen Eighty-Four is Orwell's satirical novel about the future. It is a warning to the world, a very vivid presentation of the terror that could occur in the near future if all the totalitarian ideas were put into practice and we were all compelled to live in a world of fear.
A Permanent State of War
England in 1984 is no longer called England but "Airstrip One", a province of Oceania. Besides Oceania there are two other Powers on earth: "Eurasia and Eastasia." These three Powers are engaged in a permanent war for control of a densely populated but militarily helpless no-man's-land situated between them in India, Africa, and Indonesia. The war is conducted, however, without a desire to win, for none of the Powers is interested in bringing it to an end. There is even a suspicion that the government of Oceania occasionally fires rocket bombs, which fall on London, in order to remind the population of the war and keep them in a state of fear and hatred. By tacit agreement, highly destructive weapons like the atomic bomb are not used by any of the Powers.
The Rewriting of History by the Ministry of Truth
One of the functions of the Ministry of Truth is constantly to rewrite history so as to suit the purposes of the Party which governs Oceania. Those, who know the truth and try to remember things which the Party wants to be forgotten, are re-educated in the prisons and torture-chambers of the Thought Police. They are liquidated and "vaporized"; and they become "un-persons" whom no one is allowed to mention. The Party thus also controls not only the present but the past also.
Three Classes of Society in Oceania
The society of Oceania consists of three classes: the dominant, privileged few called the "Inner Party"; the closely watched agents of this power, called the "Outer Party"; and the "proles" or the masses who have to be kept under control by acts of terror or by entertainment, but who are otherwise unimportant. (The proles constitute eighty-five per cent of the population).
The Administrative Set-up of the Totalitarian State
The supreme dictator has the title "Big Brother" and his portrait with a bushy moustache looks down threateningly from every wall. He is a man without equal, knowing everything, and always correctly predicting everything. (It is not quite clear whether this man really exists or is a mythical figure). There is an underground movement directed against the Party and led by the Jew, Emmanuel Goldstein who, however, is a mere invention of the Party. Periodically, the hatred of the masses for this non-existent leader of underground opposition is systematically aroused, especially during the so-called "Hate Week" which is observed once a year and which reaches its climax in the public execution of thousands of war criminals. There is a Ministry of Peace which is responsible for war; there is a Ministry of Love which concerns itself with political crimes, especially the so-called "thoughtcrime". And there is a Ministry of Plenty which administers an economy of permanent shortages.
Wretchedness and Misery in Life
The wretchedness and misery of life in the England of 1984 leave a strong impression upon our   minds.   Despite   constant production efforts and successful Three-Year Plans, there are never enough goods to buy. Everything is State-owned, and nothing is genuine stuff—Victory coffee, Victory gin, Victory cigarettes; even the apartment block in which the hero of the novel lives’ is called Victory Mansions. There is a smell of cabbage on the staircase; the running water is luke-warm at best; and the elevator is out of order. The telescreen is a kind of television set which at the same time records the picture of the spectator; it is installed everywhere, in homes, in offices, in parks and other public places, so that no one is safe from the prying eyes of the Thought Police who keep everybody under surveillance. The official language is called "Newspeak" the object of which is to make free thought impossible through abbreviations and amplifications. The three great slogans of the Party are: "Peace is War": "Freedom is Slavery"; and "Ignorance is Strength".
The Sad Love-Story
Despite everything, there is a love-story in the book, and love itself is taboo in Oceania. A clerk of the Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith, falls in love with a girl called Julia who works in the one Ministry though in a different department. Both of them are inwardly opposed to Big Brother, to the Party, and to all that the Party stands for. They reveal their secret thoughts to O'Brien whom they look upon as a kindred spirit but who proves to be a fanatical supporter of the Party and who eventually has them arrested. Winston Smith is subjected to various tortures till he breaks down completely and is then converted to the Party creed.
The Importance of the Past
Orwell's object in writing this book clearly was to warn
mankind of the dangers that are in store for them if the present
trends towards authoritarianism and totalitarianism continue. The dangers visualized by him may not (indeed, they did not) materialize in 1984 but they will surely materialize one day if adequate safeguards against them are not employed. For his fictitious description of the future, Orwell borrowed his material largely from Soviet Russia, but he also borrowed certain elements from Fascism and Nazism. However, the novel's scope becomes even wider if we were to assume that Orwell's theme is the totalitarian danger that lies within ourselves and in all the political systems of our time. Orwell's main concern is the recognition of how closely human freedom is allied to historical truthfulness, to an authentic recording of the past. Absolute power is maintained by parties and governments by depriving people of their past, the beauty and value of the past, and by giving them a concoction of lies invented by the Ministry of Truth. Winston Smith in this novel can free himself from the domination of Party ideology only by remembering his earliest childhood impressions, by recalling traditional England as it was before the "Revolution", and by preparing the way to the historical truth that leads back to the real past. When Winston conspires against the dictatorship with his girl friend, they emphasize their fatal decision by drinking real wine, and they cannot find a better thing to drink to than "to the past".

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