The Writing

In Burmese Days, his first novel, Orwell lays the philosophical foundation for all of his later writing. Although fictional, and ostensibly confined to a particular time and place, the British colonial service in which he had worked, Orwell uses the experiences of a minor functionary in a colonial administration to broadly expose the cruel and tragic circumstances and outcomes of a society based on fear and domination by a minority "ruling class" in the service of the group and at the expense of all individuals, both the rulers and the ruled. This, of course, is the world later frighteningly portrayed by Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

In Burmese Days, Orwell considers these ideas in a "real" setting; his own experiences as a British colonial policeman in Burma early in the twentith century. Later, and at the other end of the "reality" spectrum (and Orwell's life), these same ideas are infused into the "entirely" fictional (although all too real) "future" circumstances of the rule by the Party in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Orwell’s point seems to be that human psychology, and its resulting social conditions, are a constant. From early in Burmese Days to the end in Nineteen Eighty-Four, which Orwell wrote in 1948, while contemplating the defeat of one form of totalitarism and the growth of another, Orwell clearly and simply illustrates that in every time, we, humanity, must understand ourselves and apply our understanding to forming and maintaining a more honest, secure and loving society and our individual relationships within it, if we are to avoid the horrors of Nineteen Eighty-Four, in whatever year they may occur.

From this connection of a particular reality to the supposedly fictional, the underlying truth becomes apparent; it is Nineteen Eighty-Four whenever the soul of the individual is sacrificed on the altar of the greater purpose of the group, as if the well-being of the whole was somehow unrelated to the integrity of its parts. Possibly, Orwell's point might have been more easily seen and widely appreciated if Nineteen Eighty-Four had been his first novel and Burmese Days his last. But life is really lived as Orwell writes it. From the particular to the philosophic, the lesson learned only upon looking backward.

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