I am a huge fan of George Orwell. I remember reading Animal Farm in high school. It was my first introduction to literature besides the hidden copies of Salem’s Lot and Catcher in the Rye in our back pockets. Of course our favourite part of the Salinger novel was the farting in church scene. I went to a Catholic high school, so farting in church was a great symbol of discontent. A few high school church gatherings were very smelly indeed.
Recently, I picked up a copy of Orwell’s “Burmese Days” (ok, so I downloaded it – who actually wants to kill trees for a paper copy – that’s so like seventies). It’s a great read, but holy cow some situations in the book are out of date. The novel takes place in the 1920s in Burma where Orwell spent five years as a policeman (1922-1927). The main character Flory (Orwell) has a birthmark on the side of his face, a mark he tries to hide and is very ashamed of. It is a great symbol of Orwell’s discontent with English colonialism. Orwell was also very aware of the use of language as we are today. Language is politics. In Orwell’s most progressive way, he made sure the term “Chinaman” was replaced by “Chinese” through out the novel. A most twenty-first century approach, but that’s pretty much where the modern progress stops.
Other situations are shocking. The alcohol drinking is incredible, the Brits drink and smoke no matter what time it is. I’m sure people today get up and drink alcohol, but doing so is considered a problem. These guys head to the European only club at nine am for rounds of gin and tonic (another shocking situation – a whites only club). Even the angered Flory falls into this booze trap, “No I don’t want breakfast. Get me a gin.” However that’s not the socially responsible way for the twenty-first century man. Today’s voice might say, “Dude, perhaps you should calm down and go for a run or do some yoga. Then we can get a kale and spinach smoothie. I think you’ll feel much better.” In Orwell’s time a very fit guy cut himself down to fifteen cigarettes a day and a half litre of gin. I can’t imagine an athlete today doing either of those activities while training.
Then there’s the hunting. A female character in the novel declares, “Let’s go shooting. It would be so fantastic if we shot a leopard. Oh how I hope we kill a leopard.” And they do. But today’s voice,”OMG beeatch you’re not going to shoot a leopard are you? Who the hell kills wild animals? It’s environmentally irresponsible and the government of Myanmar will have you arrested.” Flory would respond, “What the hell is Myanmar?” “Dude, they don’t call it Burma anymore. The military government changed the name back in the eighties.” Flory, “That’s great. So no more imperialism?” “Well, bro, almost. Myanmar had a brutal military dictator for almost twenty years.” Flory, “Some one should write a book about it.” “They did bro, it’s called nineteen eighty-four.”
And this is why we need to read books that may appear out of date because it shows us how we’ve progressed (or not) as a society. Now go buy an e-copy. We don’t use paper anymore. Consider the environment. And a very happy birthday George. You would have been 114 on June 25th.