SHOOTING AN ELEPHANT
E. M. Forster, Listener
2 November 1950, p. 471
Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970), English novelist, author of Howards End (1910) and A Passage to India (1924).
George Orwell’s originality has been recognised in this country; his peculiar blend of gaiety and grimness has been appreciated, but there is still a tendency to shy away from him. This appeared in our reception of his most ambitious work, 1984. America clasped it to her uneasy heart, but we, less anxious or less prescient, have eluded it for a variety of reasons. It is too bourgeois, we say, or too much to the left, or it has taken the wrong left turn, it is neither a novel nor a treatise, and so negligible, it is negligible because the author was tuberculous, like Keats; anyhow we can’t bear it. This last reason is certainly a respectable one. We all of us have the right to shirk unpleasantness, and we must sometimes exercise it. It may be our only defence against the right to nag. And that Orwell was a bit of a nagger cannot be denied. He found much to discomfort him in his world and desired to transmit it, and in 1984 he extended discomfort into agony. There is not a monster in that hateful apocalypse which does not exist in embryo today. Behind the United Nations lurks Oceania, one of his three worldstates. Behind Stalin lurks Big Brother, which seems appropriate, but Big Brother also lurks behind Churchill, Truman, Gandhi, and any leader whom propaganda utilises or invents. Behind the North Koreans, who are so wicked, and the South Koreans, who are such heroes, lurk the wicked South Koreans and the heroic North Koreans, into which, at a turn of the kaleidoscope, they may be transformed.