A Collection of Essays (Harvest Book) - George Orwell Such, Such were the Joys...
This essay is about Orwell's school years and also somewhat of a criticism of the educational system of the time. A section that I found particularly amusing was on how the English treated the Scottish Highlanders: "The pretended belief in Scottish superiority (At Orwell's school; they had an obsession with Scotland) was a cover of the bad conscience of the occupying English, who had pushed the Highland peasantry off their farms to make way for the deer forests, and then compensated them by turning them into servants." 4/5
Charles Dickens
In this essay George Orwell tries to find in Dickens' works his political ideology, which Orwell does by discovering what Dickens is not, instead of what he is. He says that Dickens was good at criticizing many of the issues of the day, but that instead of proposing a new system for the issues, he just wanted a more "moral" version of the current system, which Orwell contributes to Dickens not being imaginative enough. It also contains a pretty good statement from Orwell on the French Revolution: "In reality the whole of the Terror, so far as the number of deaths goes, was a joke compared to one of Napoleon's battles." 4/5
The Art of Donald McGill
Orwell explains why British artist Donald McGill's post cards are so popular and some of the underlining meanings behind them. 4/5
Rudyard Kipling
Orwell's opinions on Kipling and his writings, and a good explanation and criticism of the British Imperialism of Kipling's time. He also came up with a perfect summary of Kipling that I had nearly come to on my own after reading The Man Who Would Be King: "Kipling is a jingo imperialist, he is morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting." Another funny description Orwell made of Kipling was that he was a "good bad poet." 5/5
Raffles and Miss Blandish
This essay mainly focuses on how the detective novels had changed between the dawn of the twentieth century and the time Orwell wrote this essay (1944). Detective novels of his day had become much more violent and sadistic (No Orchids for Miss Blandish is the example he uses for this) then earlier detective novels like Sherlock Holmes and Raffles. He also makes the argument that authoritarianism is much more visible and rampant in the newer detective novels, where the only thing differentiating the police and the criminals is that the police are more powerful (might makes right), as the police use the exact same tactics in these novels as the criminals (torture, murder, random beatings etc.). 4/5
Shooting an Elephant
This is a story from Orwell's time in Burma as a sub-divisional police officer, when an elephant had escaped from captivity and rampaged through a village and killed a man. According to Orwell this is the event that showed to him the real nature of imperialism and why despotic governments act the way they do. 5/5
Politics and the English Language
This essay is a criticism of the direction the English language was (and possibly still is) going, particularly in the way it is being warped to help convey political messages. There are many criticisms in this essay, but the two that I found the most interesting were that Orwell held that writers are becoming much more abstract and less concrete in writing and how many Saxon based words are being switched out for their Greek or Latin "scientific" sounding equivalent. Two quotes that can summarize this essay quite well are "Political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible," and "Political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness." 5/5
Reflections on Gandhi
Orwell's opinions on Gandhi are mixed. On the one hand, he seems to admire his push for Indian sovereignty and his non violent methods, while on the other hand, he does not agree with many of the personal moral standards he advocates, as in fasting, emotional dis attachment (to the extent of not even having any close friends), complete abstinence etc., which he considers "inhuman". "No doubt alcohol, tobacco, and so forth, are things that a saint must avoid, but sainthood is also a thing that human beings must avoid." 4/5
Orwell briefly describes some of the things he observed in his time in Marrakech, Morocco. The relations between different ethnic communities, how they are often taught that their European overlords were superior to them, how many of the Europeans (Including Orwell himself) often noticed the plight of the animals before the plight of the natives, and overall a glimpse into the racism that is pervasive in an imperialistic power. 5/5
Looking Back on the Spanish War
Looking Back on the Spanish War is a brief recollection of Orwell's time fighting against the Fascists (the side that eventually won) in the Spanish Civil War. I found the entire essay very interesting, particularly the parts about how foreign governments and the left and right of Britain's political parties were taking sides in the war and how each would make the side that it supported into angels and the opposing side into demons. I think that we have a lot to learn from this essay in light of the current situation in Syria. A section I found extremely interesting in this essay was the one on atrocities in war, which the following quotes are taken from. "But unfortunately the truth about atrocities in war is far worse than that they are lied about and made into propaganda. The truth is that they happen," and "But what impressed me then, and impressed me ever since, is that atrocities are believed in or disbelieved in solely on ground of political predilection." My only complaint for this essay is that it is too short, though I heard that he covers much more about his time in Spain in Homage to Catalonia, which after reading this essay I now plan to read. It is also interesting to see many of the themes that Orwell ends up covering in 1984 first being contemplated in this essay. 5/5 (Is 6/5 possible?)
Inside the Whale
The first section is somewhat of a review of a novel called Tropic of Cancer, which, as I have not read (or even heard of) up until this point, I will not go any further into details. The second section is a talk on some of the popular poems of the post World War I period, and how the themes and styles of the popular poets and authors changed between the end of World War I and the dawn of World War II. This section contains an interesting description of Communism in Western Europe though: "The Communist movement in Western Europe began as a movement for the violent overthrow of capitalism, and degenerated within a few years into and instrument of Russian foreign policy." The third section goes back to discussing the works of Henry Miller (The author of Tropic of Cancer) and Orwell's interpretation of the story of Jonah, and thus the namesake of this essay. This section also shows an intense pessimism for the future of Western Civilization, which he predicted would descend into dictatorships which would try to kill the individual and freedom of thought (Basically the themes of 1984). 4/5
England your England
According to Orwell, every country is different and each has its own outlook and mentality. This essay is Orwell's attempt to show England's national outlook. The first section is merely an introduction to the theme while also briefly mentioning patriotism, which Orwell says that you cannot understand the modern world unless you accept how influential it is. The second section goes on to talk about how people from a certain country always carry certain stereotypes(which Orwell calls "national characteristics"), and he goes on to give a couple of examples, which I do not entirely agree with. The rest of the section goes on to discuss the national characteristics that Orwell has found true about the English people, which may or may not be true (I have never known anyone from England), although from my reading of English history it appears many might well be. Orwell also says that for how massive the British Empire was, that the mentality of the English people themselves was very peaceful and anti-militaristic. In the third section Orwell justifies his talking about the British people as a single people, even though many groups (Scottish, Welsh etc.) would disagree with his doing so. The fourth section is about the declining competency and usefulness of the ruling class and how useless they had become, and how for the entirety of the British Empire only a few of the English upper class were the ones benefiting and the rest of the British Empire (Even England itself) was on the whole still extremely poor. The fifth section talks about the decay of certain subsections of the middle class (he calls them the "Blimps") in the post World War I period, and a criticism of the left wing intelligentsia of the time. The sixth and last section of the essay talks about the changing economic circumstances of Britain and the rise of the "indeterminate" social class. He presents his dream for the post World War II England, which unfortunately for him, was just that. A dream and nothing more. 5/5
Boys' Weeklies
Orwell studies the weekly stories for boys of his day and attempts to identify the views of the people that read the stories, and the messages that the stories try to convey to their readership. He does this by examining the two oldest and longest running of the boys' weeklies, the Gem and the Magnet, though later he examines the newer weeklies. An interesting topic he brings up about the new weeklies is that they are more violent and adventurous, but were still no where as violent as the American equivalent of the day, which starred the typical American hero who "puts everything right by socking everybody else on the jaw." 4/5
Why I Write
The sixth and final essay- and the main reason I read this book. I wanted to find out what Orwell's inspiration for writing books like Animal Farm and 1984 was. It answered that and also had a short biography of what got him into writing. I am a little disappointed that it was so short, but it was still very good nonetheless. 5/5