Critical Essays The Role of the Author


Orwell lived in a time in which he felt oppressed in terms of his writing — publication was difficult in general, and his important work, Animal Farm, for example, had a difficult time finding a publisher. So it is not hard to see why he made Winston Smith a kind of writer, giving him such an intense urge to write that Winston risks his existence to begin a journal. Winston's work in the Records Department is also a kind of writing, even though he is essentially producing propaganda that he knows to be lies. Orwell plainly reveals some of his own frustrations about the challenges of being a writer in a highly political time, war time and post-war Europe, through Winston's experience.

Orwell uses writing and the role of the author to illustrate the particular horror of the environment in 1984. The printed word in 1984 is so dangerous, most books are banned. Winston even has to toss away Julia's note professing her love for fear that three words printed on a scrap of paper would have them both "vaporized." Letters to others are checked off according to purpose, books are written by machines, and many of the acceptable canonized writers, such as Shakespeare, are translated (mutilated) into Newspeak. In Orwell's Oceania, in fact, authors are essentially "vaporized." With books written by machine, the artist is useless. Orwell further emphasizes the danger to literature by having Shakespeare "translated" into Newspeak, effectively destroying that as well.

Orwell also uses the book supposedly written by Emmanuel Goldstein, enemy of the people, as a "bible" of sorts to show how the pen is indeed mightier than the sword, at least in theory. Of course, whether the book — and even its claimed author, Goldstein — is an authentic revolutionary document itself or an elaborate lie of the Party is purposefully left unclear. In 1984, Orwell strongly implies that even this book is a forgery.