So I am reading an essay by George Orwell. The essay is written in first person (I) but what I
cannot understand is whether that is Orwell speaking in the essay or some random speaker that speaks in first person. Basically what I am asking is whether that is possible for there to be a narrator of a story who talks in first person without it being the author of the essay.

  • 6
    That's what's fun about first-person essays. You can't tell. And that's on purpose. You're sposta wonder about that, and question it, and think about it, and maybe do some research of your own to answer the question. That's why people write essays in the first place -- to stimulate thought and doubt and questions. Oct 16, 2014 at 2:26
  • If it's fiction, the first-person narrator is usually the character in the story, unless the story is semi-autobiographical. If it's non-fiction, I'd assume the narrator is the author.
    – Barmar
    Oct 17, 2014 at 23:19

1 Answer 1


Without knowing which particular essay you are talking about, it's impossible to tell whether you are reading the thoughts of George Orwell as his earnest self or as a character whose views and prejudices he is trying to represent to entertain his readers or to make a point about the character— or perhaps to try to re-create his younger self in hopes of understanding and explaining his motives. Even in books like Down and Out in London and Paris and The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia, the narrator describing the action is not simply the man responsible for writing the story—he is also a crucial character in selectively remembered and inevitably dressed-up scenes.

This would certainly hold true for a biographical essay such as "Shooting an Elephant," in which the narrator closely analyzes the pressures and motives and conduct of the George Orwell (or Eric Blair) he used to be, but also draws out the ways in which this younger Orwell embodies the burdens of empire—the defining, inescapable arrogance and fear of an imperial functionary.

One great instance of a narrator/memoirist who is clearly not identical to the author behind the scenes is Franz Kafka's "A Report to the Academy." In this biographical essay, the narrator recalls his early days as a free ape and discusses how his subsequent captivity forced him to become human. So the narrator is not at all like Kafka—except that the more deeply you read the piece, the more similar the situations of the former ape and of Kafka (and of all of us) seem to be.

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