Science and Moral Life   /   Spring 2013   /    Essays

George Orwell: Ethnographer of Modernity

Thomas Cushman

IN 1936, GEORGE ORWELL WAS  TRAVELLING in the north of England, immersing himself in the squalid lives of the British working class, which had been devastated by wave after wave of economic crises. He wrote in painstaking detail, and with no small amount of personal immiseration, about the travails of their dirty and dangerous jobs and the general hopelessness and wretchedness of their existence. When not work- ing in jobs that were likely to kill them, and for wages that barely allowed them to subsist, their daily existence was a constant rehearsal of pain, which Orwell captured with the special insight and empathy that came to characterize his vast opus.

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