George Orwell: His Life And Cultural Influence

A poster with the famous words 'Big Brother is Watching You' from a 1965 B.B.C. T.V. production of George Orwell's classic novel 1984. (Larry Ellis/Express/Getty Images)

Although Eric Blair was born June 15, 1903 in Bihar, British India to middle-class European parents as a cog in the British Imperialist machine, he eventually became the politically subversive, socially critical essayist and author known as George Orwell. Why Orwell? Apparently, wanting to spare his family the consequences of association with such an outspoken author, he decided the name of Suffolk's River Orwell was beautiful enough to use as a nom de plume.

Orwell showed an interest in writing early on, composing his first poem at age four and standing out in his boarding school classes for his intellect. Despite his academic prowess, however, he couldn't afford to go to university, so he returned to India to work in the Imperial Police. It was around this time that he wrote his famous essay "Shooting An Elephant," which describes shooting a rambunctious elephant as an officer in Burma despite feeling deep empathy for the creature. The experience left Orwell with unique insight into his own limited control, though he had more power than the Burmese people. "When the white man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom that he destroys," he remarked.