George Orwell, Doubleness, and the Value of Decency

George Orwell, Doubleness, and the Value of Decency

George Orwell, Doubleness, and the Value of Decency

George Orwell, Doubleness, and the Value of Decency

Synopsis

In its analysis of Animal Farm , Burmese Days , Keep the Aspidistra Flying and Nineteen Eighty-Four , this book argues that George Orwell's fiction and non-fiction weigh the benefits and costs of adopting a doubled perspective - in other words, seeing one's own interests in relation to those of others - and illustrate how decency follows from such a perspective. Establishing this relationship within Orwell's work, Anthony Stewart demonstrates how Orwell's characters' ability to treat others decently depends upon the characters' relative capacities for doubleness.

Excerpt

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.

—Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”

George Orwell is almost unavoidable today. His famously “plain” prose style makes him easy to read. His strong opinions on the importance of a plain prose style and his clearly written essays on a range of subjects, from the joys of English cooking to the evils of colonialism, make him the perfect subject for university composition classes. Animal Farm is short and intriguing on a number of levels, and so is an excellent text to teach in high school English classes (where I read it for the first time in about 1980). And, of course, Nineteen Eighty-Four retained its relevance as long as there was a cold war and has had its relevance renewed by the “war on terrorism. ”

In one of his most famous essays, “Politics and the English Language, ” written in 1945, Orwell lays the charge that the English language is “in a bad way” (17.421) because of a prevalence of sloppy usage, especially in political speech and writing. In the essay, he examines the reasons for the language’s lamentable condition. In order to draw out the cause-and-effect connection between the political climate and the language’s state, and in turn how the habit of sloppiness then increases further the problems in political thinking, he uses one of those characteristically crystalline descriptions that helped made him one of the great prose stylists in the language: “an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks” (17.421). But while he does criticize the status of the language as he sees it, he never gives up on the possibility that the language might be improved. After all, he insists in the same essay, “the process is reversible” (17.421).

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