Orwell and I by Zulfikar Ghose: Summary and Analysis
Read below our complete notes on the essay “Orwell and I” by Zulfikar Ghose.
Orwell and I Introduction:
The essay is of great importance and a mirror to all the writers who belong to the former colonial regions. This essay sheds light on the fact that literature is all universal but it is not considered universal and even the writers are discriminated. He satires the attitude of English audience, journals, and writers; those who considered the writers from colonies as inferior. Zulfikar Ghose highlights the adverse effects of nationalism in literature which makes it biased literature. Zulfikar thinks that literature should be beyond prejudices because it is universal. Literature must not be treated as a tool to make people inferior. He is of the opinion that writers must not be judged on the basis of their country and origin rather they should be judged according to the quality of their work.
Orwell and I Summary:
Zulfikar Ghose starts his essay by asserting that George Orwell and he were born in India. It was the era of Pre-Partition, when India was ruled by British. He says that he started going to school and by the age of thirteenth, he would recite the poems of Shakespeare and Lord Byron. He then says that Orwell was taken to England when he was a child while he, himself, along with his parents was taken to England when he was a teenager.
Zulfikar says when he arrived in London in 1952, Orwell had already died. He then says that he like Orwell pursued a literary career and started writing for London Periodicals and BBC as Orwell did before him. He published his book as Orwell had published it before him. Zulfikar then states that the commonalities between Orwell and he were this much and they end at that very juncture.
He then gives the birth location of Orwell that he was born in Motihari located in the north of India and was taken to England when he was a baby of less than one year. Afterwards, Zulfikar gives his own account that he was born in Sialkot; he grew up in Sialkot and then in Bombay. His family migrated to England when he was 17 years old. He then posts a question what would happened if he was taken to England in first year of birth while Orwell, 17 years old. Then he answers as well that it would have made no difference at all.
He then says that Orwell would still have been seen as English writer because he was an English born writer while he, Zulfikar, would be inferior in ranking where he was placed after publishing his work in London. He says this was to happen because Orwell was a writer on unquestioned greatness.
He says the issue is not of racism and colonialism that he was looked down upon while Orwell was celebrated but it was the issue of nationalism. He even states that English have never been racist, though mockingly. He gives an example of it, when he graduated he could not find a single job, then he says that it was because of nationalism and cultural exclusivity which people are always drawn to.
Zulfikar says that his experience in London proved him wrong because he was of the opinion that people would be admired because of the quality of their work but things were contrary. He then says he had formed the notion that Orwell was praised because his prose was superior in imagination and style to others. Because it is the basic notion of thought formed by the study of literature and Zulfikar had studied literature.
Zulfikar’s notion was proved wrong. In a gathering, an English poet of no quality and Zulfikar were invited to a university. They were to read their own poetry. The English audience listened to the Zulfikar quite calmly but the English poet was listened with great praise and enthusiasm. Zulfikar then says that this was a sort of discrimination because they were good towards their natives. He then says that the following year Zulfikar was included in the Penguin Modern poets. Three poets were to be included s two English poets were there in the book as well. The book was reviewed by The Guardian which spoke well for the two English poets but didn’t mention Zulfikar.
He then says that it was not racism but nationalism. His view is that the English are reluctant to recognize an individual non-native superior than natives. The non-natives are considered as aliens. One of them said that the early years of century`s poetry was the poetry known written by Georgian poets so Eliot and Pound had wasted their time in writing something new in poetry. This gave raise to Philip Larkin. He knew nothing about foreign trends and wrote domestic poetry. He was applauded because of the same nationalistic glee.
Zulfikar says that the worst category among all the categories of literature is nationalistic literature. As English is the language of many nations so dividing English literature on nationalistic basis is very worst. He says for this English language a hierarchy is formed;
Writers who belong to United Kingdom, Ireland and USA are primary English language writers.
The secondary class is of the writers who belong to the British colonies like Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The third and lower rank is of the writers who belong to Africa, Asia and Caribbean.
He then says that this seems racial discrimination but the very roots of this are in nationalism. He then gives another example of this attitude, he says that Joseph Conrad was far greater writer than Thomas Hardy but Hardy is celebrated more than Joseph Conrad because he was alien to English language and English land.
Zulfikar then shares another experience and says that the journals like TLS and New Statesman would send his books for the review to a critic of Pakistani or Indian origin and they would include the review which was a clear cut message to the readers that it was not worth reading. He adds that the same was the attitude of The Observer which would collect the reviews of novels written by women at the end of the page under the title Novels by Women. The reader would know not to read the section. Similarly none bothered to read Zulfikar who was reviewed by Chaudhri.
He then says that it is very easy to count the bad deeds done to one individual but the ground reality is always somewhat different as well. The fact is that there must be many an English writer who seeing another Indian or Sri Lankan win a Booker Prize must complain that the judges were favoring the former colonial subjects for political reasons and not looking at literary quality. He then says that this national origin worked against writers such as Zulfikar. He says when he publishing his works, other writers from the former colonies also published their works, giving a rise to a new category of literature- Commonwealth Literature. He says this was another sort of discrimination because all those writers were yet not considered equal in rank to English writers of UK and America.
He then says that this category provided more chances for publishing the works this limited their scope. By calling them Commonwealth writers and publishing their Commonwealth anthologies meant they were to be kept away from main stream writers and their audience.
The remaining paragraphs talk about the discrepancies caused by the nationalistic glow in literature because literature is universal rather than national.
Orwell and I Analysis:
- The essay shows the attitude of the English people and literary circles towards the writers of colonized regions.
- Zulfikar Ghose highlights the hypocrisy of English people who always talk about humanism and teach it as well.
- But the reality is that they are racist and prejudiced people.
- Ghose also sheds light on the negative aspect of English people who favor literature as universal but the reality is very contrary to it.
- Zulfikar exposes the attitude of renowned English Journals which, too, are biased.
- He is of the view that English have always considered themselves superior in every walk of life.
- They have even treated the literature in same perspective.
- He mocks their division of literature on the basis of nationalism. They have divided the literature to show the writers belong to which region.
- On such basis they would then treat the writers.
- Zulfikar also satirizes the attitude of English audience towards non-native writers because they consider them inferior.
- Zulfikar points out that English do not accept the superiority of other writers and for such reason they always mistreat them.
- Zulfikar tries to point out the adverse effects of nationalism and gives a lesson of not treating literature and writers through national fervor because writers and art has no boundary.