I can’t say Orwell’s essays were my favourite thing we have read this year, but I still really enjoyed them. Before reading his essays, I didn’t really care who Orwell was or what he did. Of course I knew he wrote Animal Farm and 1984, two very well known novels, but other than that, I didn’t really care for him. To me, he seemed like one of those authors that everybody liked simply because they were told to like him. Of course looking back now I realize this was a very stupid conclusion, and one I was not qualified to make considering I had not read any of his work. And now, after reading a few of his essays, I can see why Orwell is such a celebrated author.
In Shooting an Elephant, Orwell states
“But even then I was not thinking of my own skin, only the watchful faces behind. For at that moment, with the crowd watching me, I wasn’t afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone.”
This is one of the quotes that resonated with me the most from any of the selected essays we were given. It is not just something that I myself can relate to, but something everyone can relate to. In our life, we have all done something stupid in order to make ourselves look better in front of others. I can think of a few good examples of this for myself, some of which can never be shared with anyone, ever. But my point is, everyone has a moment where they act irrationally in order to make themselves appear something they are not. Our behaviour is shaped not by what we choose to do, nor what we believe is the right thing to do, but rather, what others will think of what we do. In Orwell’s case, it is shooting a loose elephant, something he did not want to do, to avoid looking foolish in front of others.
At the end of the essay, Orwells says
“I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool”
The thing that resonates with me the most about this quote, and this essay in general, is Orwell’s ability to be honest in his writing and with himself, he admits that the sole reason he shot the animal, was to avoid looking cowardly. Orwell does not try to paint himself as this amazing hero who saved everyone from a wild elephant. Instead, he is honest with himself and the reader about how he was not only afraid of the elephant, but more afraid of being laughed at and seen as a fool. I find this particularly inspiring. Being able to be honest with not just yourself but with others as well is an admirable quality, one that I have yet to master. I believe it is also this quality of Orwell’s writing that draws me to it. Think about how boring Shooting an Elephant would be if Orwell had just written about how he heroically shot an elephant in order to protect the lives of others. Nobody wants to waste their time reading that, not to mention how overdone the whole “epic hero” trope is. It is the internal struggle we see in the essay that makes it more relatable and allows the reader to really connect with the story, and thus, making it a more enjoyable read.
Another one of Orwell’s Essays that had a big impact on me was Politics and the English Language. This one hit very close to home for me, because I am very guilty of using the vague, unnecessarily complicated language Orwell criticizes. Anyone who took English with Mr. Macknight last year remembers getting our assignments back with a bunch of numbers scribbled all over the pages, and then filling out the marking key log. Well, my most common error I made on nearly every single one of my practice papers was #29: “Omit needless words.” It got to the point I hated the number 29 because I saw it written all over my paper so much. I guess I missed the memo that using big words (most of the time incorrectly) doesn’t actually make you sound smarter. I was saying so much but so little at the same time, and it was stupid. I was wasting my time trying to use these big fancy words when I could have gotten my point across in a much less pretentious manner, and more efficiently too, which probably would have saved me some time writing. However, after getting our A Doll’s House paper back, number 29 wasn’t even in my top 3 mistakes, so if that’s not improvement then I don’t know what is. In all honesty I do still sometimes catch myself trying to use big unnecessary words, but then I remind myself that in the end it just reduces the quality of my writing. If there is one piece of useful advice I took from this essay, it is that less is more.