Nigel Bryant, author of our popular study of the origins and rivals to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and author of his own sequel, Manor Farm, now applies his quotidian expertise in psychology to an examination of Eric Blair as he became George Orwell.
George Orwell – One of a Kind
by Nigel Bryant
I thought it might be challenging to combine my interest in George Orwell with my professional background as an occupational psychologist. I would like to consider personality theory and apply it to Orwell. Personality, like most psychological constructs is subject to much debate and differences of opinion. For the purposes of this discussion, however, I will define personality as the “relatively stable and enduring aspects of an individual which forms the basis for future behaviour”. Personality theories can be considered under two broad headings, trait and type.
Trait theories define someone’s personality as a series of traits or characteristics. A mundane example would be, on a scale of 1 to 10, Person A likes Marmite 3 and Person B likes Marmite 8. From this we could deduce that Person B would be more likely to eat Marmite in the future. Of course, there are more rigorous psychometric profiles. A good example is Cattell’s 16PF5 which has 16 personality factors and is in its 5th version. Factors include: A Warmth, C Emotional Stability, H Social boldness, and N Privateness. The Big Five personality traits, also known as the Five Factor Model, is a meta-taxonomy for personality traits. The five are: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness.
An alternative to traits is types. Here we are considering preferences. If I ask you to sign your name, you will use your left hand or right hand. Broadly, disregarding ambidextrous people, we consider the world as left-handed or right-handed. If you are right-handed, you could sign with your left hand, but it would feel unnatural and uncomfortable. Your preference is right-handed. Considering the previous example, the world is divided into two types: those who love Marmite and those who hate it.
One of the most popular personality assessments in the world is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a psychological-assessment system based on the work of psychologist Carl Jung. It was created by Katherine Briggs and daughter Isabel Myers. Two and a half million Americans a year take the Myers-Briggs. Eighty-nine companies out of the US Fortune 100 make use of it, for recruitment and selection or to help employees understand themselves or their co-workers. The MBTI has four dimensions with two preferences. These combine to give 16 types.
Illustration source: http://www.project-management-basics.com/
The first dimension is Extraversion-Introversion (E-I). Extraversion and Introversion are complementary attitudes toward the world. An extravert’s essential stimulation is from the environment – the outer world of people and things. An extravert acts, then (maybe) reflects. An introvert’s essential stimulation is from within – the inner world of thoughts and reflections. An introvert reflects, then (maybe) acts. Words associated with Extraversion are: active, outward, sociable, and breadth. Words associated with Introversion are: reflective, inward, privacy, and depth.
The second dimension is Sensing-Intuition (S-N). Sensing and Intuition are ways of taking in information. The Sensing function takes in information by way of the five senses – sight, sound, feel, taste and smell. Sensing people prefer definite and measurable. They live in the present, enjoying what’s there. The Intuition function processes information by way of a ‘sixth sense’ or hunch. Intuition people prefer opportunities for being inventive. They look toward the future anticipating what might be. Words associated with Sensing are: details, present, practical, facts, and repetition. Words associated with Intuition are: patterns, future, imaginative, innovations, and variety.
The third dimension is Thinking-Feeling (T-F) Thinking and Feeling are ways of making decisions. The Thinking person prefers to decide based on logic and objective considerations. They decide with their head. The Feeling person prefers to decide based on personal, subjective values. They decide with their heart. Words associated with Thinking are: head, objective, analyse, precise, and principles. Words associated with Feeling are: heart, subjective, empathise, persuasive, and values.
The fourth dimension is Judging- Perceptive (J-P). Judging and Perceptive are complementary lifestyles. A Judging lifestyle is decisive, planned and orderly. They prefer an organised lifestyle and like clear limits. A Perceptive lifestyle is flexible, adaptable and spontaneous. They prefer a flexible lifestyle and enjoys being curious. Words associated with Judging are: organised, structure, control, decisive, and deliberate. Words associated with Perceptive are: flexible, flow, experience, curious, spontaneous, openness, wait, discoveries, and receptive
Having reviewed the four preferences, we can consider where George Orwell might be on these dimensions. Usually an individual would complete a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTTI) but, of course, this is not possible here. Instead, we can look at examples of behaviour following my definition “personality forms the basis for behaviour”.
Orwell said, “I had the lonely child’s habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons.” Being lonely is not being an introvert. There may be no opportunity for social interaction. However, there are other pointers. Leaving English society and going to Burma to join the police force from 1922 to 1927 could be seen as seeking privacy. Changing his name from Eric Blair to George Orwell could have been a way of shielding his family from his exploits but it could be that changing his name created a persona shield. Why George Orwell? The pen name George Orwell was inspired by the River Orwell in the English county of Suffolk. George could reflect a need for privacy or anonymity. In the 1939 Survey, there are 94,953 Erics but there were 891,307 Georges, popularity possibly due to George V, 1910-1936, and, subsequently, George VI 1936-1952. The final evidence for Introversion (I) is the ultimate escape to Jura where he spent time gardening and writing Nineteen Eighty-Four.
How did George Orwell take in information? We know that his time in Burma, London, Paris, and Wigan resulted in written works, but Orwell was not a scientist accurately noting the results of an experiment. He assimilated the experiences and then wrote about them. He was inventive, looking for patterns, and looking at what the future might be. This suggests that his preference was Intuiting (N).
How did George Orwell make decisions? Leaving England to go to Burma, being an anonymous vagrant in Paris and London, going to Spain in late 1936 be a soldier with the Partido Obrero de Unification Marxista (POUM); these do not seem to be logical, objective decisions. They suggest empathy and personal conviction. On this evidence, Orwell’s preference was Feeling (F).
Finally, what of Orwell’s life style preference? Chain smoking, casual clothes, slightly dishevelled appearance, suggest a lifestyle that is not structured and decisive. Rather, it is about freedom, flexibility, and openness. George Orwell’s preference was Perceptive (P).
Combining the preferences, George Orwell could be considered as an INFP. INFP (introverted intuitive feeling perceptive) is one of the sixteen personality types defined by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). INFPs are relatively uncommon, making up about 4% of the population.
What is an INFP? INFPs are described as idealists. They see the world, and those around them, not as they are but as they could be. INFPs have strong principles, which they do not let go of easily. These principles drive them to help others better themselves, but as an introverted personality they rarely do so through direct confrontation. Orwell’s time in the POUM is an exception here. INFPs are more comfortable expressing themselves through art, writing, or other media, and can be surprisingly effective and creative communicators. Undoubtedly true for George Orwell.
INFPs who do not find a way to express themselves can end up shy and withdrawn, unable to relate their inner principles to the real world. But for most INFPs, their principles are a source of strength and comfort against whatever the world might throw at them. Had Eric Blair not found his vocation in writing, he could have ended up as a lonely gardener in a large country house somewhere.
Recently, there has been criticism of psychological assessment of individuals inferring their personality profile or personality disorders from observing their behaviour and mannerisms. One particular case involves trying to show that a world leader has psychological problems. Whilst I accept this criticism I would make two points. Firstly, we are not able to interview George Orwell or ask him to complete a personality profile. Secondly, I am not trying to discredit him by alleging severe mental disorders. I think it is useful for discussion if we consider Orwell’s possible personality type. If anybody can offer further insights, please let me know.
A question – do Eric Blair and George Orwell have the same preferences? The simple answer would be yes, they are the same person, yet we could consider that Eric/George are two personalities. A question for another time.
By the way Eric Blair was born under the star sign Cancer and according to Chinese Astrology is a Water Hare but that’s another story.
Nigel Bryant, author of Manor Farm, a sequel to Animal Farm is, like 60% of the world, an ISTJ.
Uploaded August 2018