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Creative writer in politics : George Orwell's Burmese days : a study of imperialism at the local level Slater, Ian David

Abstract

This study examines George Orwell's contribution to our understanding of imperialism and to political writing in general. The basic assumptions of the study are that for a creative writer plot performs essentially the same function as model-building does for the political scientist and the role of the imagination is paramount both in the drawing of a novelist's picture of environment and in a social scientist's selection of variables. To show how a creative writer can offer the student of politics an unusual perspective of various systems of government (in this case, imperialism), the study draws upon concrete examples from Orwell's novel Burmese Days and other of his related writings to illustrate a number of political science's theoretical concepts. The study is also concerned with showing how Orwell was a pacesetter, as it were, in rejecting jargon as a means of expression and instead pressing vigorously, particularly in his description of imperialism in Burmese Days, for a straightforward yet imaginative prose in describing political as well as other events. The study assumes that Orwell's plea is echoed in a succeeding generation by others such as Landau and asserts that Burmese Days has either rendered many of imperialism's more harmful clichés impotent or has at least exposed them to closer scrutiny. At the same time, despite Orwell's often vehement denunciation of imperialism, it is assumed that there is implicit in the dialogue of some of his characters a recognition that while the system of uninvited foreigners exploiting and governing another people's country may be morally repugnant, in the light of an all-embracing and privacy-invading industrialism British imperialism may have been the least offensive kind of such exploitation. The study argues that our understanding of the motivations for group behaviour may, in some cases such as imperialism, be best pursued through more intensive studies of individuals within the group rather than by investing all of our attention in observing the collective action of the group. The study has evolved not from the notion that a creative writer can ever replace the perhaps more disciplined approach of the social sciences in understanding our world, but that he can significantly aid the academic world in illustrating its theoretical concepts. Finally, it is the overriding conclusion of this study that the moderately experimental nature of its juxtaposition of social science theory and fiction is mutually beneficial to both the social scientist and the student of literature in offering them new perspectives in their respective fields of interest.

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