October 20, 2021
7 Minutes

Why I Write

Book summary of Why I Write by George Orwell. Read this book summary to review the important takeaways and lessons from the book.

Orwell On British Society

  • There is something distinctive and recognisable in English civilisation.

  • The gentleness of the English civilisation is perhaps its most marked characteristic.

  • There is one art in which the English have shown plenty of talent, namely literature. But this is also the only art that cannot cross frontiers.

  • England is the most class-ridden country under the sun. It is a land of snobbery and privilege, ruled mostly by the old and silly.

  • In any calculation about it, one has got to take into account its emotional unity, the tendency of nearly all its inhabitants to feel alike and act together in moments of supreme crisis.

  • A family with the wrong members in control – that, perhaps, is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase.

  • It is worth noticing that the navy and, latterly, the air force, have always been more efficient than the regular army.

  • One thing that has always shown that the English ruling class are relatively sound is that in time of war, they are ready enough to get themselves killed.

  • In intention, at any rate, the English intelligentsia is Europeanised.

  • England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their nationality.

  • England is a country in which property and financial power live concentrated in a few hands.

  • The British working class are now better off in almost all ways than they were.

  • Given equality of sacrifice, the morale of England would probably be unbreakable.

  • Like all else in England, it happens in a sleepy, unwilling way, but it is happening.

  • We must add to our heritage or lose it. We must grow greater or grow less. We must go forward or backwards.

Orwell On Indian Independence

  • Had any Labour government come into office with a clear majority, and then proceeded to grant India anything that could genuinely be called independence. India would simply have got absorbed by Japan, or divided between Japan and Russia.

  • If India were simply 'liberated', the first result would be a fresh foreign conquest, and the second, a series of enormous famine which would kill millions of people.

  • What India needs is the power to work out its constitution without British interference, but in some kind of partnership that ensures its military protection and technical advice.

  • The average Indian suffers far more from his countrymen than from the British.

Orwell On Politics

  • The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

  • One cannot see the modern world as it is unless one recognises the overwhelming strength of patriotism, national loyalty.

  • Beyond a certain point, military display is only possible in countries where ordinary people dare not laugh at the army.

  • Patriotism is more robust than class-hatred, and more potent than any internationalism.

  • In the working-class, patriotism is profound, but it is unconscious.

  • Socialism usually gets defined as 'common ownership of the means of production'.

  • Socialism is not, in all ways, superior to capitalism. Still, it is sure that, unlike capitalism, it can solve the problems of production and consumption.

  • Fascism, at any rate, the German version, is a form of capitalism that borrows from Socialism just such features as will make it efficient for war purposes.

  • It is not worth losing a battle to bury a corpse.

  • Pacifism is a psychological curiosity rather than a political movement.

  • War is the greatest of all agents of change.

  • One can 'nationalise' industry by the stroke of a pen, but the process is slow and complicated.

  • No real revolutionary has ever been an internationalist.

  • Whatever may be right about democracy and totalitarianism - they're not the same.

  • There is no such thing as neutrality in war; in practice, one must help one side or the other.

  • Hitler said once that to accept defeat destroys the soul of a nation.

Orwell On Society

  • Since about 1930, everyone described as an 'intellectual' has lived in a state of chronic discontent with the existing order.

  • A generation of unteachable is hanging upon us like a necklace of corpses.

  • Everywhere privilege is squandering goodwill.

  • Right through our national life, we have got to fight against privilege, against the notion that a half-witted public-schoolboy is better for command than an intelligent mechanic.

  • The lady in the Rolls-Royce is more damaging to morale than a fleet of Goering’s planes.

  • The only approach to them is through their patriotism.

  • Without some kind of monetary reward, there is no incentive to undertake specific jobs.

  • It is always the direction that counts.

  • I only know that the right men will be there when the people want them, for it is movements that make leaders and not leaders actions.

  • The 'what do I get out of it' attitude to life has done nothing but harm.

  • However little we may like it, toughness is the price of survival.

  • When I saw the prisoner step aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide.

  • A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because of drink.

Orwell On Writing

  • Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing: sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse and political purpose.

  • When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, 'I am going to produce a work of art.'. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.

  • I will only say that of later years I have tried to write less picturesquely and more precisely.

  • In any case, by the time you have perfected any style of writing, you have always outgrown it.

  • All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

  • Look abroad for your inspiration.

  • Words like: phenomenon, objective, categorical, promote, constitute, exploit, liquidate, are used to dress up simple statements and give scientific impartiality to biased judgements.

  • Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac and deus ex machina get used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations (i.e., e.g., etc.), there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now present in English.

  • The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing consists mostly of words and phrases translated from Russian, German or French. The standard way of coining a new term is to use a Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix.

  • In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is typical to come across long passages which are almost entirely lacking in meaning. Words like: romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that do not point to any discoverable object.

  • Many political words get abused. The term 'fascism' has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies 'something not desirable'.

  • In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one gets resisted. Terms of this kind get used in a consciously dishonest way.

  • By using stale metaphors, similes and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself.

  • The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image.

  • A scrupulous writer will ask himself at least four questions: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it more transparent? Is this image fresh enough to have an impact? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

  • The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.

  • When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.

  • All issues are political, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, hatred and schizophrenia.

  • But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. Wrong usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better.

  • What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word and not the other way around.

  • Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meanings as clear as one can through pictures or sensations.

  • Never use a metaphor, simile or other figures of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a phrase out, always cut it out. Never use the passive where you can use the active. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

  • The political language gets designed to make lies sound truthful, and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

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