Abraham Lincoln said, “Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.” Quite true, books can serve as a valid measurement of the limitation and uniqueness of the things we know. We can also gauge a man’s intellect on the kind of books he reads and how many of them. If you are a lover of wisdom, then you must also be a lover of books. I’d say, beware of a man who reads, by conversing with him, you might just discover how little the things that you know. Reading books stretches the limit of our mind and helps us grasp the underlying principles of this universe, which can not be achieved by intelligence alone.
As a book lover myself, I always tell my students to read books (now in digital form). My insatiable thirst for knowledge along with my strong desire to understand life has led me to collect hundreds of them about a wide variety of topics from novels, philosophy, sociology, psychology, and others that have incidentally helped me in my teaching and writing career.
In the many books that I have collected, two influential thinkers of their time have caught my attention. I have repeatedly read their books during my spare time and I have used them as reference materials in teaching social science subjects. They have striking similarities since both were products of their time. I see sharp parallelism in the writings of Sigmund Freud and George Orwell though some of us may disagree with it. As a start, they are both prominent writers in their respective fields, psychology, and literature. Sigmund Freud is a famous psychologist while George Orwell is a prominent essayist and novelist. They have written many books that have an enormous impact on people around the world. Their writings are considered classics in their respective fields. More than the obvious reasons, their works were serious critics of the unjust system of their generations.
Sigmund Freud has written numerous books that have shocked the world during his era particularly The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901) Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905), and Introduction to Psychoanalysis (1917), among others. His ideas were quite novel, weird, and were viewed as malicious by his critics during his time. Some of his intriguing assumptions are the following:
- Sex and aggression are two major motivations of man and they are always intertwined in complicated ways. These are the strongest hidden desires that we must sublimate.
- The self is the battleground of its three major components; the (pleasure-seeking), the superego (conscience or what culture dictates), the ego (the reality principle or identity). Although they are buried within us, their influence is so strong that our behavior is dictated by either of the three.
- The subconscious mind is more influential in determining the true self. The conscious part of our mind is just the tip of the icebergs and what matters is discovering the largest part, which is the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind contains hidden desires that are mostly forbidden or sexual. Unfulfilled wishes also take a large part of the human mind.
- The infant passes through a series of emotional and sexual stages. The infant or the child has to handle these emotional and sexual challenges to have a stable and normal personality later in his/her life.
- Dreams contain unfulfilled wishes, sexual urges, forbidden desires, and things that are considered taboo by society.
Freud began his scientific endeavor in psychiatry during the 19th century when neurologists were in charge of helping the mentally ill. At that time, neurologists were trying to unravel the mystery of the human mind and wanted to trace the root causes of hysteria based on their assumptions. Patients with such disorders went to various kinds of experts just to resolve it. When Freud entered the scene, he surmised that if a person was doing something he or she did not want to, his/her motive must be unconscious. His investigation also revealed that people were highly influenced by unconscious motives in most situations. To further trace the roots of mental disorder, Freud formulated the psychosexual stages of development in which, he argued, that people must go through multiple and conflicting motives. Following such a paradigm, if a force is not released, then it might find another outlet, perhaps, a destructive one. It may also be blocked by another unconscious force that is much powerful than it is.
Unfortunately, Freud’s techniques and theories were heavily criticized during his time particularly by experimental psychologists. Primarily, Freud’s psychoanalysts were rejected because it did not rely on experiments and the findings could not be replicated. Freud was even accused of having a subjective bias in his clinical practice since only the psychotherapist and patient can see the data that emerge in therapy hours.
Setting aside the controversies surrounding Freud’s Theory, I have learned a lot about human behavior through his books. Of course, as a basic topic in social science, I was able to read his books and teach them in college. I was exposed, if not enlighten, to numerous controversial issues of human behavior particularly the serious influence of some basic instincts such as sex and aggression. Some of his ideas that I find very appealing are “jokes are meant true,” the slips of the tongue, and the connection of dreams to our reality. Although these assumptions are still debatable, they are useful enough in unraveling certain gray areas in human behavior, which we can apply in real-life situations.
George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair), his pen name, has also written many famous literary pieces such as Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and Animal Farm (1945), among others. His works were sharp criticisms of the impact of totalitarianism on society. Through his novels, he was able to popularize the themes of socialism during the 19th century. His books have been widely read by scholars, academicians, and literary experts because of their deep-rooted agenda that intends to expose the evils of totalitarian governments that existed during his time and resolve such problems through a socialist approach. Some of his underlying assumptions are the following:
- Socialism is the answer to social and economic conflicts in his era.
- The Stalinist approach of communism is not the way but a humanist approach should be implemented in which people are treated equally and humanely.
- Using animals as characters in a novel is effective in presenting an irony about the depressing human conditions. The irony of the novel is the pursuit of humane society by animals on a farm (humane agenda by animals, get it?). He was able to create a novel through a fairy tale genre but inculcating a subliminal message about the socialist agenda.
- He wrote, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others(Orwell, 1945).” This was an intriguing and subversive proclamation by the pigs who manage the government in his novel. This is a social commentary on the hypocrisy of governments that advocate absolute equality but only a few enjoys such equality in reality.
- In his “1984” novel, he was able to present the future when the war would persist because of the agenda of totalitarian rulers. The hidden agenda of the said novel was to present the adverse impacts of totalitarianism, limited freedom of the people through government surveillance, and restricted behaviors of people in society. The novel subliminally attacks the Stalinist approach in communism and broadly assessed the truth about how people are wrongly manipulated by a totalitarian state.
- One of his intriguing and famous statements,” War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength(Orwell, 1984).” Orwell is an expert in presenting irony and contradictions in his novels. In the said novel, the Party intends to continue the war for the attainment of peace. Slavery is also promoted as a form of freedom while ignorance should be perceived as a strength. However, in reality, these assumptions are contrary to the truth. Peace can not be achieved through war. Slavery is the antithesis of freedom while ignorance is a sign of weakness.
I have learned many substantial insights from Orwell’s books especially about communism and socialism. I like his advocacy on Marxism and his opposition to bourgeois democracy. His criticisms on capitalism as being exploitative are also persuading for me. Although his advocacy on the abolition of capitalism and totalitarianism regime to achieve a more Utopian and genuine social democracy is still unrealistic, it is still ideologically appealing.
Now, Freud and Orwell are quite influential in understanding the periods in human history when wars and chaos were prevalent. Their writings were more of an expression of the conflicts that reside within them along with their sentiments against an unjust system. For Freud, mental disorders were results of the turmoil that occurred in Germany. He argued that the chaos in Germany resulted in the unhealthy sublimation of some forbidden and hidden motives, which were sexual. He noticed that the increasing rate of people with psychiatric problems during his time was a major consequence of the oppressed social and economic system of his time.
Orwell’s writings were also a reflection of the discontent of the people in Europe about the prevailing social and economic system. Orwell channeled his social ideals through his writings, which were mostly against the inhumane way of governing the people. The historical events during his time can be observed in his writings particularly in 1984 and Animal Farm where he depicted the adverse impacts of wars and the oppressive nature of authoritarian government.
Consequently, Orwell’s works had clearer historical perspectives than Freud’s writings. However, Freud’s historical agenda had been sublimated in the way he approached mental disorders. It could be speculated that psychiatric conditions during his time might have been caused by the chaotic conditions brought about by an authoritarian regime. However, Freud attributed such human conditions from individual conflicts as a residue of the unjust system.
The parallelism of Freud and Orwell’s writings can be traced to how they criticized the social system of their generations. Freud’s books were burned by the government when the Nazi Party took over Germany due to its radical interpretation of human behavior, which was based on sexuality. On the other hand, Orwell was a well-known critique of the Stalinist communist approach. He even volunteered to join an anti-Stalinist unit. Although some experts claim that his books were based on his experiences during the Spanish Civil War, the agendas highlighted his hatred against totalitarianism. In my mind, Freud contributed to the way how I look at people while Orwell gave me deep insights into the difference between Stalin’s communism and authentic Social democracy.
Orwell, G. 1984. Retrieved from,
Orwell, O. (2014).Animal Farm. Retrieved from