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Barron's Booknotes-1984 by George Orwell-Free Book Notes
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According to friends, Orwell went north without preconceptions. In Burma he had learned what evils an absolute government can do even when it's trying to help people. His "down and out" days had taught him about class divisions and the horrors of poverty. Living among the poor in Northern England, he underwent a socialist conversion. Recognizing the plight of the poor was not enough, though; he had to urge the public to do something about it. And so he wrote The Road To Wigan Pier, alerting the public to the harsh lives of these people.

That summer George and Eileen married and went to live above a country store in an English village. While Eileen, a trained psychologist, got stuck tending the store, Orwell wrote. Their honeymoon ended dramatically with the outbreak of civil war in Spain, where Francisco Franco and his Spanish generals were trying to overthrow the brand-new people's government.

Idealists from all over the world were going to Spain to help the new government, which had only recently taken the place of a monarchy. They saw Franco's fascists as threatening the cause of freedom and democracy everywhere. Meanwhile, in Germany, the Nazi party under Adolph Hitler was in complete power. Hitler was rattling his weapons, preparing a bid to take over Europe. In Russia, the people's revolution had done away with the czarist ruling class, but under Stalin, the Communist government threatened the freedom of the people. Stalin was engaged in purging his enemies from the party. Both these totalitarian powers were now aiding Franco. Orwell saw this as an opportunity to live out his ideals and went to Spain to fight for the "Popular Front" government.


The political thicket Orwell waded into was so complex that historians are still trying to untangle it. There were several parties fighting Franco; alliances kept changing. Orwell was excited by what appeared to be a classless society in Barcelona. To help preserve it, he joined one of the splinter parties fighting Franco and went to the front to fight.

By the time he returned to Barcelona six months later, everything had changed. The classless society had vanished; the rich were back in power. The party he had joined was out of favor and he was in danger of being purged. Riots and street fighting raged. History rewrote itself as he watched. Although it would be eight years before Orwell found the vocabulary to transform the nightmare into a novel, these experiences paved the way to 1984. Injured by a sniper's bullet, Orwell left Spain disillusioned by the sad end of the Popular Front's efforts: Franco would take over the country. Orwell was convinced that Stalinism, which purged political enemies for the "good" of the state, was as dangerous as Nazism. He was also certain that he must fuse his politics and his art.

He would become a political reformer, trying to change the world through his writing. In "Why I Write," he says, "Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it."

Orwell was a democratic Socialist who believed in a centralized government that would take over such things as medical care and running the railroads for the good of the people, bringing benefits to all. At the same time, he believed this government should be run by the people. This was, he believed, the fine line Great Britain must tread-doing what was best for the people without hampering their freedom.

At the time, he believed Britain could do this while staying out of the impending clash with Hitler. During this period in the late 1930s, Hitler prepared to make war, while in Russia, Stalin got rid of his enemies through a series of political purges. Hitler and Stalin were allied. Orwell finished his book about the Spanish experience, and called it Homage to Catalonia. Ill again, he went with Eileen to Morocco to recuperate.

Meanwhile, Hitler marched on Poland, on Holland, on Belgium, on France. Britain's entry into World War II in 1940 was inevitable and marked the end of Orwell's brief period as a pacifist. He enlisted in the Home Guard because his health prevented his joining the armed forces.

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