39 pages 1 hour read

George Orwell

Why I Write

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 1946

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Summary and Study Guide


The essay collection Why I Write by George Orwell includes four essays published between the years 1931 and 1946. The essays detail Orwell’s opinions on art as political performance, totalitarianism and socialism, imperialism, and the state of the English language in printed political material. Orwell was also a novelist known for his works Animal Farm and 1984. He was born in India in 1903 to the wealthy sahib class, consisting of colonial administrators. He was educated in England and graduated from Eton College. His political writings reflect his deep understanding of classism in English society as well as his firsthand experiences with imperialism, fascism, and published writing.

This study guide references the Penguin Books edition published in 2004.


In the essay “Why I Write,” published in 1946, George Orwell explained his authorial history and outlined the four main motivations that inspire a writer (and other artists, by extension). In childhood, Orwell gravitated toward poetry, performance, and inner narration. Of the four motivations that Orwell noted, he found political purpose to be the most important. Orwell described the political issues surrounding the World Wars and the rise of totalitarianism in Europe.

In Orwell’s 1941 essay “The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius,” written during the Blitzkrieg of London toward the conclusion of World War II, Orwell posed an argument for a socialist revolution in England. He analyzed the failures of the Conservative Party led by Prime Minister Chamberlain, the insufficiency of capitalistic production to provide the necessary material support for war and critiqued the wide disparities of wealth in English social classes. He believed that a socialist revolution of equality and State-controlled production was imminent in England. In order to defeat Hitler and the totalitarian governments of Europe, Orwell said, a socialist England must be established.

In “A Hanging,” published in 1931 and the earliest essay of this collection, Orwell described an execution by hanging that he witnessed while stationed in Burma. The essay encompassed Orwell’s earliest misgivings about imperialism and exemplified his support of decolonization and equality discussed in the collection’s other essays. In watching native Indians execute an Indian prisoner under the direction of an English superintendent, Orwell realized the hypocrisy that drove the English Empire and the necessity of finding an ideological and political system that supported equality.

In “Politics and the English Language,” published in 1946, Orwell critiqued what he believed to be the degradation of the English language as used by political and academic writers. He gave examples of poor writing and said how pretentious diction, hackneyed metaphors, and overall vagueness suggest that the author is not truly engaged with the ideas they are writing about. Orwell made the connection between clear writing and clear thinking. He said that a regeneration of the political atmosphere in England was only possible if the language was first cured of vague and insincere writing patterns.

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