Why Orwell Matters by Christopher Hitchens
I love George Orwell, but I haven’t read 1984 and Animal Farm since I was 17—the summer before college—and I haven’t read the rest of his fiction at all. But I love the nonfiction. I taught “Shooting and Elephant” and “Politics and the English Language” to countless freshman and not only memorized important passages, but stored away their main ideas, about anti-colonialism and about deliberate obfuscation, among those very most important ideas to me. I recently read Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier, and Homage to Catalonia and was convinced that Orwell matters significantly. So this book was a natural for me.
Hitchens’ writing and his arguments are sophisticated. I read this one like a text at school, looking up relevant stuff, marking passages, writing in the margins. It’s a little book. Hitchen’s goal was not a complete analysis of Orwell so much a plea to take this guy seriously, don’t let this 20th century writer fade away as relevant only to his own time (1903-1950—Orwell died of TB and he might have been saved had he been able to get the appropriate antibiotic from the US in the immediate post-war period).
Hitchens seems to think Orwell’s anti-colonial stance his most significant since that’s the first concept he tackles. So do I. I’m positive that “Shooting an Elephant”, which I read first in a Freshman English class myself, colored my view of colonialism, arguments about postcolonial literature, and about the third world generally. Before reading this book I’d have said my own anti-colonial bent was learned as a Peace Corps Volunteer in
Hitchens goes on to analyze how both the left and the right have used and abused Orwell as well as his ideas about