Reading through both George Orwell’s essay and Joan Didion’s essay, the most important thing that jumped out at me is that there is no one answer to why people write.
Orwell claims that all writing must have some kind of innate political purpose, whether intentional or not. He also argues that a little bit of our past, our formation, is always present in our writing and is what makes us who we are. I would say that this little bit of our past from childhood is actually what dictates what our writing content is, and not some unknown political purpose. Having grown up in a very tumultuous time, fraught with political upheaval, his childhood must have been consumed by news on uprisings, filled with protests, and papered with propaganda. Naturally, then, he would grow up to think that all writing has something to do with something political.
Didion is the very opposite. She doesn’t focus on meanings, symbolism, or implicit analogies, she focuses on the peripherals, the details. To her, it is about description, and she hardly knows herself where her writing will go or what it will mean. She remarks that sometimes when people ask her about the deep inner truth of a sentence, she says she had no intention of it meaning anything else that what it said at the surface level. This, too, is a reflection of her childhood and her time at Berkeley where students were always taught to analyze and unearth hidden meanings. From a young age, she was distracted from these treasure hunts by the simplistic beauty of things around her. This tendency carried through into her later years and is why she writes with mystery and with the unknown.
But no writer is ever completely one or the other. Like Orwell says, he has political purpose, but can’t bear to cut out the elaborate details of an aesthetic piece. And like Didion mentions, she is always searching and questing for some kind of meaning in her work, and it might turn out to be political after all. The greatest thrill of being a writer is to try to explain something that is unclear, whether to you or to your audience, and then do it so beautifully, that they remember.