Politics and the English Language

Politics and the English Language Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on George Orwell's Politics and the English Language. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of George Orwell

George Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair to parents he described as a pair of snobs despite their meager cashflow. Through scholarships, Blair attended boarding school in England from the age 6 to 19. He was a sometimes-strong student but, partially due to his relative poverty, a social outcast. Blair spent his early 20s as a policeman in India, where he witnessed the horrors of British colonial rule firsthand. At 27, Blair left India to travel England and France, establishing his writing career with a collection of essays under the name George Orwell. Blair spent his 30s as a reporter, notably as a war correspondent for the Spanish Civil War. Blair’s career put him in the intersection of fiction and nonfiction. In fact, just prior to penning “Politics and the English Language” in 1945, Blair wrapped up a stint as a reporter and published his novel Animal Farm. After finishing “Politics and the English Language,” he started work on the novel 1984.
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Historical Context of Politics and the English Language

Orwell penned “Politics and the English Language” in 1945 during the final year of World War II. His essay makes several references to the aftermath of World War II and at one point notes the “continuance of British rule in India.” During the time Orwell was writing this essay, the British still exerted power over India and exploited Indian resources to fund the British war effort. Orwell also mentions “the Russian purges and deportations.” By 1945, Stalin had enacted a massive ethnic cleansing program throughout Russia, leading to the removal and murder of various ethnic and political groups. Finally, Orwell mentions “the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan,” which refers to the U.S. Air Force dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Other Books Related to Politics and the English Language

As “Politics and the English Language” suggests, Orwell never saw himself as just a novelist or just a reporter: he was always thinking and writing as both. In “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell argues that the style in which people communicate determines the degree to which their governments can successfully pass off lies as truths. As a reporter, Orwell demonstrated a distinct skill for teasing out the truth within political messaging, as seen in Keep the Aspidistra Flying and Homage to Catalonia. As a novelist, Orwell convincingly created dystopic political worlds by replicating the linguistic techniques of propagandistic communication, as he did in 1984 and Animal Farm. As an essayist, notably for “Politics and the English Language” and “The Prevention of Literature,” he explored the intersection of political and literary cultures. In “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell considers how, in light of World War II, wordy, vague prose contributes to a political culture of manipulation and violence. Edith Wharton argued a similar point after World War I in the 1923 Son at the Front. Similarly, with its attention on concision in prose, “Politics and the English Language” sits within a lineage of writing guides aimed towards improving clarity. These guides include The Plain English Guide by Martin Cutts (1996), Slaying the English Jargon by Fern Rook (1983), and Style, Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams (1995).
Key Facts about Politics and the English Language
  • Full Title: “Politics and the English Language”
  • When Written: 1945
  • Where Written: London, England
  • When Published: 1946
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Essay, nonfiction

Extra Credit for Politics and the English Language

Rejection. Orwell originally wrote “Politics and the English Language” originally intended for publication in Contact magazine. After Contact’s editor, George Weidenfeld, rejected the essay, Weidenfeld and Orwell’s friendship suffered.

Person of Interest. Britain’s spy agency, MI5, kept an active file on Orwell from 1929 until his death. Orwell’s bohemian clothing, supposed communist sympathies, and writings for leftist publications were all cited in the file, which was made public in 2007. In the end, the agency declared Blair’s communism unorthodox and non-threatening.