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Even if you’ve never read a single word written by George Orwell, you’re probably familiar with his name. His style and perspective are so distinct, we have transformed his name into an adjective, one that conjures a nightmare vision of misleading terminology, state surveillance, and distorted history. When something is described as “Orwellian,” it means authority reigns supreme—and freedom is nowhere to be found.
Much like Cervantes, Shakespeare, and Tolstoy have come to represent the literature of their nations, Orwell captured and conveyed the spirit of Great Britain in the first half of the 20th century like no other writer of his generation. In essays like “Such, Such Were the Joys,” nonfiction reports like Down and Out in Paris and London, and novels like Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell laid bare the hopes and fears, the hardships and triumphs of the British people.
But George Orwell was more than just a writer. He was a political and social sage who valued, above all else, individual freedom. He was a champion of individuality in the face of authoritarian regimes. That’s one reason why, more than 60 years after his untimely death, Orwell’s struggles are still our struggles. The concepts he invented in his fiction—Big Brother, doublespeak, 2+2=5—have always felt as if they are on the cusp of becoming reality. As a civilization, we’re constantly standing on that precipice, and Orwell reminds us where our values lie. His works aren’t just entertainment—they’re cautionary tales and red flags of warning. And if we ever hope to understand threats to freedom and how to stop them, we have to learn from them.
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