George Orwell (English 246: Fall 2011)

Keep the Aspidistra Flying

September 21, 2011 · 39 Comments

The predicament facing Gordon Comstock in Keep the Aspidistra Flying bears a similarity to the choice defined by Flory: be a pukka sahib or die. “Serve the money-god or go under: there is no other rule.”



Comstock faces an intractable determinism, in which resistance to the ‘money-god’ cannot be fought without undermining ‘decency.’ The choice between a moral commitment and a common sense of ‘decency’ is decided at the expense of commitment. Is Gordon’s decision to return to a routine social life a betrayal of his criticism? Is his rejection of the middle-class society based upon his middle-class viewpoint? Please post your response as a comment before class on Wednesday, September 28.

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Categories: Orwell and Culture

39 responses so far ↓

  • Peter Barrasso // February 11, 2010 at 6:54 pm |

    In reaccepting his post in advertising at the New Albion, it’s undeniable that Gordon is physically and mentally returning to the materialistic, money dominated world that he so despises. However, Gordon’s time working in the library and living in poverty, his attempt to “throw away” his life, certainly shouldn’t be cited as the reasons for his return to the world he tried to leave. It should be noted that even in poverty Gordon continues to be dominated by the “money-god,” and even his attempts to escape are a failure as well as made evident by the facts that he takes the job in the library (even though it’s certainly not one of the “good job” from which he’s running, among other things), he continues to borrow money from his sister, and he eventually accepts the favors from Ravelston. He returns to advertising, even though Rosemary doesn’t force him to, because of his child and a number of realizations about his life. Now, to get directly at the question, marriage and the “good job” and the “money-god,” are the things from which Gordon has been running and has decided to oppose in his life. At the end of the book he not only gets back his job, and gets married, but he also buys a despised aspidistra. So, Gordon does betray his former values to an extent, but it is crucial to note that he chooses to do so. He knowingly goes back into the system he disdains, but he has no pretenses about his return, and he doesn’t do it out of necessity. He doesn’t try to morally qualify what he is doing, but he accepts his return and himself not as a “saint” but as a “scoundrel.” This differs from Ravelston’s justifications for capitalizing by using one’s talents and other people, because Ravelston argues that you can do and be good in a corrupt and broken system. Gordon, it seems, doesn’t have any concerns when he returns about being a saint. He accepts himself as a scoundrel and moves back into the “good” world to warn the masses about the social dangers of “P.P.” But then again, how much of a scoundrel can he truly be if he moves back into the really world because he loves Rosemary and his unborn child? Now, although it seems as though it is both a betrayal to his values, and hypocritical, it has to be noted, that one doesn’t have to live along the lines of ones values to believe them. Gordon understands this, and although his actions don’t uphold his values, his philosophy does.

    As far as whether his rejection of the middle class is based upon middle class ideas, I think it’s a little tricky to answer. Although Gordon spends a good deal of time in poverty, in his early life he was schooled well, and although his parents weren’t well off, he made his way into the job market, initially doing rather well. So, I think that Gordon’s formal education led him to gain a complex criticism of capitalism, and socialism, from a scholarly stand point, but I think his early life experiences and his later years in poverty also have to be taken into account. Also, Gordon sees that there is a problem with the current system, which the middle class characters don’t seem to notice or be bothered by. Essentially, I think that Gordon’s rejection of the middle class is based upon principles that are well informed by his education and his poverty (even his friendship with Ravelston), but not the middle class. This ties into the earlier point I raised about the differences between Ravelston and Gordon’s points of view. Gordon isn’t interested in being a “saint” as Ravelston is. Gordon has multiple outside perspective that makes his problems with being a member of middle class society different from members of the middle class society.

  • Julia Lovett // February 12, 2010 at 3:41 pm |

    Throughout Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Ravelston and Rosemary praise Gordon for his principles, and in turn justify and excuse his indecent behavior based upon those same principles. Ravelston and Rosemary acquiesce to Gordon’s lifestyle for different reasons—Ravelston lives vicariously through Gordon in attempt to absolve his own class guilt and Rosemary loves Gordon unconditionally—but, their tolerance and support of Gordon serve only to strengthen the novel’s straw-man construction of what are Gordon’s truly untenable anti-capitalist principles.

    Gordon’s principles are ultimately undermined by his behavior with money after his poem was selected for the Californian Review and his behavior in marriage—his agreement to marry, his desire to be married in a church, his insistence on a housewarming aspidistra; but his irresolute hand is first revealed in his poem. Up until his poem is revealed in its entirety, the process of writing the poem mirrors (in form and content) Gordon’s rejection of the money-god. Writing a poem is rebellious insofar as both the novel itself and the narrative (nobody buys poetry in the bookstore or borrows poetry form the library) privilege prose. But also, the recurring trope of Gordon working out lines of the poem accompanies some of the most lucid commentaries on class (e.g., chapter four is full of rich class analysis mediated by Gordon’s own writing process). The lines accrue deeper meaning when paired with such dense observation and insight on class differences and financial pressures.

    The potential value of his lines, however, and the project of writing a poem are undermined when the poem is presented in entirety. Here it becomes clear the poem is only for himself—“he walked homeward, repeating the poem to himself” (150) as though it is a religious chant he finds strength in. This poem, as a creed of Gordon’s principles, fails, and serves only to foreshadow his disingenuous commitment to non-capitalist social participation. The poem is composed of nine four-line stanzas, each composed of “a-b-c-b” rhyme. The rhyme scheme is masculine with the rhyme on the terminal syllable of each word (“hooves-rooves,” “year-spear”). Given Gordon’s situation and the context of his poem, a masculine rhyme reinforces an automatism of capitalism—his participation in the normative language economy foreshadows his eventual return to a capitalist economy. The poem is free verse, so there is no consistent meter, but many religious creeds (i.e., the Lord’s Prayer) also avoid strict metrical unity and Gordon’s poem gestures towards texts of religious reverence for the money-god .

    Gordon’s poem is an unsuccessful pièce de résistance against capitalism and the money-god because the poem’s images, word choice, and description are unoriginal—“bending poplars”, “careless summer days”, “winds blow cold.” The poem does not identify or create anything new, but rather uses over employed phrases and images that function as empty signifiers for overplayed ideas. Were the poem to take a less-conventional form, there would be ways manipulate these trite constructions to interrogate something, but as is they only work to reflect a mundane capitalism.

    The poem describes the money-god as the figure that dictates every action, “who rules us blood and hand and brain”, “who spies with jealous, watchful care, our thoughts, our dreams, our secrete ways”, “who buys our lives”. The poem’s success is perhaps its accurate description of how pervasive capitalism’s influence is, but it fails to offer genuine critique or offer a rupture from or alternative to capitalist discourse. To make a statement like the money-god “binds with chains the poet’s wit” is only descriptive and therefore assumed true, until the author does something different, until he demonstrates the poet’s wit in a way that genuinely questions or subverts the money-god. But Gordon’s poem offers no break in form or expression and the highly dictated punctuation—commas, semicolons, and periods are littered throughout–thwarts undefined spaces for any sort of counter reading. Furthermore, it is no coincidence that the last line of his poem is immediately followed by Gordon’s receipt of a windfall of money that is the catalyst for both his most genuine rejection of and whole-hearted participation in the money-god’s class structure.

  • Eric Pilch // February 12, 2010 at 5:25 pm |

    Gordon Comstock’s struggles with the ‘money-god’ constitute the central theme of Keep the Aspidistra Flying, and readers can hardly turn a page in the novel without some discussion main character’s financial constraints. Orwell makes clear that Comstock was acutely aware of his financial condition from a young age and was much poorer than his classmates, even while attending third-rate public schools. With a history of misery connected to his financial position and left wing political views, Comstock declares war on money and leaves a well paying job as a copy editor. Although his inability to stomach writing jingles for the materialistic masses contributes to the decision, something deeper is at work for Comstock. He simultaneously wallows and delights in his dead end job and lower class standard of living.

    At the same time, Comstock forfeits a certain measure of decency for his self-imposed impoverishment. His sister, who had sacrificed so much for him to attend school and have a measure of pocket money, is stunned by the decision to spurn a decent job. He also loses the ability to see Rosemary on a regular basis and cannot afford to take her out for more than a walk along the blustery streets of London. Comstock is finally constrained in his choice of residence, although he admits that Willowbed Road possesses a kind of “a kind of mingy, lower-middle-class decency” (22).

    In evaluating Gordon Comstock’s “decision to return to a routine social life,” it’s worth examining his thoughts near the end of chapter 11 after he decides to return to New Albion.

    “What had he done? Chucked up the sponge! Broken all his oaths! His long and lonely war had ended in ignominious defeat … Now that the thing was done he felt nothing but relief; relief that now at last he had finished with dirt, cold, hunger, and loneliness and could get back to decent, fully human life. His resolutions, now that he had broken them, seemed nothing but a frightful weight that he had cast off. Moreover, he was aware that he was only fulfilling his destiny. In some corner of his mind he had always known that this would happen” (237).

    Based on his own thoughts, it is clear that Comstock’s decision to return to respectable life is a repudiation of his criticism, albeit one that he secretly knew would take place at some point. Obviously, Comstock is forced to make the decision with a highly uncomfortable alternative—the abortion Rosemary’s baby—yet he acknowledges that he would have returned to respectable life at some point in the future.

    Finally, it does not seem that Comstock’s repudiation of middle class morality through the novel stems from middle class premises. It more likely stems from his inability to find or inherit great financial success (Comstock probably would accept the wealth and cool indifference to money of Reavelston given the opportunity) and bad memories of his wealthier schoolmates or peers. This, combined with Comstock’s leftist critique of materialism, leads to his rejection of middle class society while he still has the freedom to pursue such a goal.

  • Brendan Baumgardner // February 12, 2010 at 10:06 pm |

    Gordon Comstock spends the majority of Keep the Aspidistra Flying in a self-imposed conflict against capitalism, which he labels “the money-god.” Having decided at a young age that there can be only to options – to live according to the rules of the money-god or to suffer through struggle – Comstock leaves a relatively comfortable life working at New Albion to drop out of the money oriented world and live in poverty. The problem that arises is that Comstock never finds peace with his new life. He constantly vacillates between harsh judgment of the upper classes and intense self-loathing. Ultimately, Comstock relents and rejoins the routine social strata and returns to his “good” job. Without a doubt this undermines Comstock’s initial criticisms of society, but to positive effect. The fact of the matter is that Comstock’s guiding principals were so nebulous and juvenile that calling his change a betrayal is misleading. Comstock, at the age of thirty, was simply growing up.

    Comstock’s hatred of the “money-god” is established when describing his school days. Comstock’s relative poverty made him an outcast at school and gave him an early awareness of class relationships. He then rather blindly embraced the popular Socialist thinking of the time. As Orwell writes, “It was great fun. Every intelligent boy of sixteen is a Socialist. At that age one does not see the hook sticking out of the rather stodgy bait” (43). Here, it is established that the foundations of Comstock’s rebellion against the “money-god” are founded on fairly shaky grounds. Over the course of the novel, little is done to show any real philosophical growth. Page after page, Comstock continues to brood over the profound impact of capitalism on every aspect of life, but provides little substantiation and no reasonable alternative. In many ways, his broodings throughout his adult life continue to resemble those of a pessimistic teen.

    One must consider Comstock’s motivations for his war on the “money-god.” Chief among them must certainly be frustration. As a teen and young adult, he sees the failures of his family and is frustrated with both their problems, their failures to overcome their problems, and their ultimate complacency with their position. As a way of rebelling against this, as young adults do, Comstock opts to simply not play the game. Unfortunately the realities of the world prove very difficult. Comstock never finds his perfect balance as “the poet starving in a garret – but starving, somehow, not uncomfortably,” (49). The difficulties he encounters breeds greater resentment of the middle classes – seen clearly in his recurring meditations on war – and entrench him more vehemently in his own rebellion.

    There comes a point, however, when the difficulties Comstock faces reach a head and he is forced to reevaluate his life. When faced with barely sufficient wages and a baby with Rosemary on the way, Comstock ultimately decides to return to his “good” job at New Albion and join the middle class. While this may seem to belie his lifestyle choices over the prior two years, one could argue that it is actually Comstock dropping his contrived personality and embracing what he truly wants. The incident with the prostitutes is particularly telling in this regard. Immediately upon receiving a bit of money, Comstock flung himself into a life of comfort and excess, fleeting though it may have been. If there were more strength to his convictions, he ought not to have thrown himself so willingly into the world of the “money-god.”

    Undoubtedly, rejoining routine society marks a severe change for Comstock, but it is not the profound philosophical betrayal one might assume. Ultimately, Keep the Aspidistra Flying is a chronicle of Comstock’s denials resulting from juvenile viewpoints. He initially denies capitalism as a way of coping with the financial hardship of his family, and later leaves his “good” job to assure himself – to deny that his worldview was wrong. The meat of the novel is Comstock reinforcing these denials, and suppressing the increasing feelings of doubt in his way of life. Ultimately though, he relents. He acknowledges his rebellion as silly and common. Orwell writes, “He was thirty and grey in his hair, yet he had a queer feeling that he had only just grown up. It occurred to him that he was merely repeating the destiny of every human being. Everyone rebels against the money-code, and everyone sooner or later surrenders,” (238). After this moment, Comstock’s ruminations on life are fairly positive. So in the end, yes, Comstock does go against his thought process, but it was the inevitable conclusion of a contrived personality.

  • Colleen Nicholson // February 13, 2010 at 3:56 pm |

    In Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Gordon Comstock attempts to fight the middle class money world. Gordon’s decision to return to a routine social life is not necessarily a betrayal of his criticism of middle class society. His criticism was marked by the fact that he was always subject to the money-god without fully realizing it. Rosemary made it very clear that she didn’t want to force Gordon to get a good job, marry her, and help raise the child. It had to be Gordon’s own decision. Gordon ultimately realizes that despite his war on money, he has not really been living. He had his experiment, but when he decides to marry Rosemary, he experiences a great deal of relief. Although the thought of returning to writing advertising copy is the epitome of the money world, he accepts his place in the world: “He was thirty and there was grey in his hair, yet he had a queer feeling that he had only just grown up. It occurred to him that he was merely repeating the destiny of every human being. Everyone rebels against the money-code, and everyone sooner or later surrenders” (238). Although fighting against the money-god may not be universal, or even universal to the middle class, Gordon is able to step up and accept responsibility when he must. Gordon could hold tight to his experiment and his principles, but he would be much less of a man.

    Holding to his principles, writing poetry and working in bookshops, Gordon is able to make a living. However, he does not make enough money to do the sorts of things he would like to do. He is barely able to afford cigarettes, which aid his writing. He is unable to go to the pubs and drink as often as he would like. Most importantly, he doesn’t have enough money to be with Rosemary. He can’t afford dates and is embarrassed by the thought of accepting her offer to pay for anything. He doesn’t think he can afford to marry her, or even sleep with her, though he desperately wants to. Their trip to the country is quite ill-fated. However, we learn that while Gordon may believe that he is fighting the money-god by writing and rejecting good jobs, he still operates under its rules. He doesn’t consider himself a man without enough money: “ ‘Don’t you understand that one isn’t a full human being—that one doesn’t feel a human being—unless one’s got money in one’s pocket?’ ” (146). I think that these feelings that he is not a man, that he is losing a futile battle against the money-god, make it easier for Gordon to rise to the occasion when it presents itself.

    I would say that Gordon’s rejection of the middle class society almost certainly springs from his middle-class premises. The truly poor, such as the tramps in Down and Out in Paris and London, cannot afford to reject a “good job” promising financial security. On the other end of the spectrum, Ravelston, though a Socialist, cannot seem to comprehend Gordon’s situation. He would happily give Gordon as much money as he needed or wanted, not understanding Gordon’s complicated relationship with money and the money-god.

    While Gordon’s rejection of middle class society is based on his middle class roots, most of the middle class is perfectly content to be middle class. His family struggles financially, but still clutches the hope that one day they will have money again. Gordon critiques his own family, not because they don’t have money, but because they worship money and are unable to live without it. He admires the lower class, the man who’s “got blood and not money in his veins” (44). In Gordon’s mind, his family is not really living. His family understands even less than Ravelston why he rejects his good job. Initially, the aspidistra was hateful to Gordon, representing the prison of the money-god, but he realizes in the end that “The aspidistra is the tree of life” (239). Gordon realizes that he can live as a member of the middle class. He embraces the aspidistra, and much to Rosemary’s surprise, he insists that they buy an aspidistra.

  • Nolan Johnson // February 13, 2010 at 6:55 pm |

    Comstock’s idea of the “money-god” develops less from the influence of society in general and more through his family’s obsession with money and failure to properly manage their own. Although Comstock is continuously exposed to individuals of different classes and learns through his days at school that money does affect his status among his peers, he places an overwhelming importance on money because of his family’s money problems. In the conclusion of the novel, Comstock manages to resolve his problems of working a job that makes him money by moving beyond his family’s money problems and obsession and accepting a new life with Rosemary.
    Samuel Comstock, Gordon’s grandfather, pushed the family into the middle-middle class through his success in business. Throughout his lifetime, Samuel made money and attempted to push his children into doing the same. This push for success forced the children into careers that they were ill-suited for and therefore unable to actually succeed in, causing them to become failures financially. At the same time, the status of the family focused on the financial success of Samuel, a goal that all future generations of Comstocks strove for but could never reach. After the grandfather’s death, the loss of the family wealth without the loss of their own feelings of social status caused an obsession with appearing wealthy and able well off. This obsession with obtaining money and retaining their status was not mirrored with society, however, caused Gordon to have a worldview focused on the perversion of money.
    While growing up, Gordon’s family was forced to make sacrifices for him in order to send him to school, making his schooling a symbol of their waning wealth as well as the need for him to save the family’s social status. Because of the financial implications attached to Gordon’s schooling, his ideas at school became focused on money. This obsession becomes apparent because although Gordon manages to fit in among his intelligentsia friends, he still argues that all of the other students looked down upon him because of his lack of money such as when they focused on how much loose money he handed to the headmaster upon returning from breaks. His attempt to blame his problems at school on the relative poverty of his family illustrates his own focus on money rather than that of his peers. Similarly, Gordon’s willingness to remain in school for his final year after his father’s highlights his selfishness in trying to preserve his social status rather than doing what was best for his mother and sister.
    Gordon’s apparent moral commitment to abandon the pursuit of money culminates when he leaves his job at New Albion. Although he claims that the focus on money and the constant attention given to it is immoral and a perversion of what it should be, Gordon continues to rely on it and focus on it even in his state of poverty after leaving the advertising firm and after he begins working at the bookstore. Throughout the beginning of his story, Gordon reminds the reader that he cannot smoke, drink, heat his room, entertain his girlfriend or do many other things simply because he has no money. Additionally, after leaving the firm, Gordon relied on his sister for money before finally committing to getting a new job. At both these points, Gordon demonstrates an unwillingness to make the necessary sacrifices in his life to live without money, echoing the selfishness he showed by remaining in school after his father’s death.
    When Gordon finally does move to a slum and work for even less money than he made at the first bookstore, it is not of his own choice, but because he is forced to do so because of his own actions. Similarly, his return to New Albion is not freely made but forced upon him by the necessity to marry Rosemary and raise their daughter. Upon returning to New Albion and abandoning his focus on the money-god, Gordon is able to put himself into his work successfully and happily demonstrating that it is not money itself that was Gordon’ problem, but rather the obsession with it that the issue. Gordon manages to work under the same conditions and in the same atmosphere of advertising that he had initially worked, but without the problems that the money-god seemed to initially create because he is no longer personally obsessed with money, but rather accepting of the need for it. This ability to live a respectable and decent life happily demonstrates the false natural of Gordon’s moral commitment to avoid the money-god and the reality that it was only his own personal obsession with money, developing from his failing family’s attitude, that caused any moral dilemma in Gordon in the first place.

  • Nicole Tortoriello // February 14, 2010 at 9:59 am |

    Unlike Flory’s rejection of the pukka sahib lifestyle, Gordon’s criticism of the “money-god” is unrealistic, as demonstrated by his inability to live by his own standards of poverty and his unhappiness when he tries. Gordon’s decision to return to a routine social life is not a betrayal of his criticism, but a realization that this childish way of living is unsustainable and he must lead an adult life.
    By making a sustained effort to make as little money as possible, Gordon spends far more time worrying about financial affairs than do functioning members of the middle class. He cannot go out to eat with Rosemary or his friends, lives in conditions that make him miserable, and spends an unreasonable amount of time debating how best to ration his cigarettes. Orwell explains how Gordon reached his current mindset, saying,
    [The Comstocks] had accepted the money-code, and by that code they were failures. They had never had the sense to lash out and just live, money or no money, as the lower classes do… There are two ways to live, he decided. You can be rich, or you can deliberately refuse to be rich. You can possess money, or you can despise money. It hardly even occurred to him that he might have talents which could be turned to account (Orwell 44).
    Contrary to his assertions that he would not worship the “money-god,” Gordon succumbs to the same mindset for which he criticizes his relatives. He does not “lash out and just live,” but spends his time lamenting his lack of money. He blames his poverty for all of his hardships, though he could have solved many of them had he spent less time pondering his poverty, and more time proactively living his life. He is so preoccupied with “deliberately refusing to be rich” and “despising money,” that he has failed to “just live.”
    This can especially be seen during his weekend trip with Rosemary. After he must spend the majority of his money on lunch at a hotel, he is incapable of thinking of anything but his remaining funds for the rest of the trip. This line of thought distracts him from enjoying his time with Rosemary. He even blames his lack of money for his and Rosemary’s decision not to consummate their relationship due to their lack of contraception. He claims he could not have bought contraception, due to his lack of money, and they cannot risk a pregnancy for the same reason. Yet, if he saved enough money to make the trip, he certainly had money to buy contraception beforehand. Had Gordon taken a moment to consider the non-monetary implications of his trip, he would have had time and funds to buy contraception before the trip. Additionally, if Gordon was a functioning member of the middle class working a “good job,” he could have married Rosemary, and they would not have to worry about not having the money to raise a baby.
    Further, he uses his hatred of money to mask his disdain for middle class labor. Orwell explains Gordon’s attitude when his family sacrificed their livelihood to continue his education, saying, “He had declared war on money, but that did not prevent him from being damnably selfish. Of course he dreaded this business of going to work. What boy wouldn’t dread it? Pen-pushing in some filthy office – God!” (45). It is not money that Gordon truly despises, but the work he must do to earn a living. Gordon fails to outgrow his mindset, refusing to hold a “good” job once he has finished his education, and quitting his job at the New Albion as soon as he will be asked to work harder under the guise of “Making Good.” However, his concession to find a job that is not a “good” job, betrays his “war on money.” Were Gordon serious about forgoing financial security for the sake of “just living,” he would have no need for a job at all. Stuck in the middle class mindset, he recognizes the need for money to live. As such, he finds his eventual job at Mr. McKechnie’s bookshop, and after losing that, finds work with Mr. Cheeseman.
    Flory rejects not only the pukka sahib lifestyle, but, more importantly their mindset. He is practical enough to recognize that he must submit to some of their ways of life in order to live comfortably, but my making friends with Dr. Veraswami, and enjoying the Burmese culture, he successfully repudiates the pukka sahib mindset. Such a feat is impossible for Gordon in his war against money. While resisting the money-god, he continues to earn a living, betraying his cause. His hatred for money is not truly born of a philosophical quandary, but of his desire to avoid work he does not enjoy. When he finally agrees to seek a “good job” at the New Albion in order to take care of Rosemary and their child, he is realizing the futility of his childish cause, and taking appropriate responsibility in his life.

  • Lukas Autenried // February 14, 2010 at 11:20 am |

    Gordon’s return to a routine social life was not a betrayal of his criticism because the way in which he went about criticizing people’s fixation on money was ill-conceived from the start. Gordon saw people’s measuring of success and virtue in terms of wealth as morally reprehensible. He therefore purposefully rejected all opportunities for success or money that were given to him because he did not want to be a slave to the money-god like everyone else. However, Gordon’s failure was not the result of returning to a routine social life but his enslavement to money during his rebellion against the money-god. Not in the sense that he determined success or virtue based on money, but because Gordon came to view everything in terms of money. Gordon’s mind became so fixated on money and how it was the underlying catalyst for everything in society that he was unable to live his own life. He blamed his self-imposed poverty for other people not liking or respecting him, for not being able to be a successful writer and for women finding no interest in him. Instead of being liberated by his war on money, Gordon was trapped by it, unable to enjoy life, unable to think. Gordon was enslaved to the money-god in the worst way because it prevented him from enjoying life. Instead of taking his own advice and living life happily on a low income like the working class, Gordon became obsessed with his self-imposed humiliation. It was because he had no money that he couldn’t spend time with Rosemary, it was because he had no money that he couldn’t share a drink with Flaxman at the Crichton. And even when Gordon had opportunities to enjoy life such as his trip to the country with Rosemary, he would only focus on the change in his pocket and how it was all going to be gone instead of enjoying the moment. All the while he refused any help from people who had the means to assist him while essentially ruining his sister’s life in the process because to him burrowing money from family didn’t count all in the name of maintaining his sense of respect or decency. Gordon’s return to a routine life should not be viewed as a betrayal of his criticism that people measure success and virtue in terms of wealth. Instead his return to the job at the advertising agency was more a recognition that people in fact do not view everything in terms of money. Gordon recognized that money was simply a necessary evil in order to enjoy the greater things in life such as his new wife and baby. In his rebellion Gordon was no better or different than the people he was criticizing because he viewed his life completely in terms of money. By returning to a routine lifestyle, Gordon was not abandoning his belief of what money’s role in society should be. For Gordon, money was not the ultimate barometer of success, but a necessary vehicle in allowing him to live comfortably. Much like Ravelston, Gordon still in theory was opposed to the money-god, but he also recognized the need for at least some money in order to live life in the society he existed in. If Gordon was to truly live life unconcerned with money he would have to either live outside of society or change the one he lived in. Lacking the capacity to do either of these, he realized the need to reabsorb back into society. If his criticism was that money was inherently evil and should be avoided at all costs then his return to a routine life should be seen as a betrayal. But since the core of his criticism was people’s belief that money was the equivalent of success and happiness, Gordon was not abandoning his criticism, but liberating himself from the very same fixation that he despised other people from having. By finding happiness in meaningful things such as his marriage and friendships instead of material things such as the products advertised in the advertisements he was making, Gordon’s return to routine life was the culmination, not the betrayal of his criticism. By making money for the purpose of the other things that bring true happiness and not for its own sake, Gordon had truly escaped the influence of the money-god.

  • Julia Alcarez // February 14, 2010 at 2:02 pm |

    Gordon Comstock’s decision in Keep the Aspidistra Flying to re-enter the socially decent workforce to support his burgeoning family is clearly a betrayal of his avowed distaste for money’s hold over the general public, but it is hardly immoral. Decency is the paramount issue in Gordon’s life as long as he maintains social contacts; the expectations of his friends, family and lovers are not the generic, easily dismissed ones of a capitalist machine. Rather, they are the all too real concerns of individuals who must make a way in the world, relying on each other for support and compassion. As Gordon notes, it is much easier to rise than sink in this society, for his community will not easily release him. The impenetrable hold his friends and family maintain on him is much harder to undermine than a hated political ideology which one can destabilize at will. Interestingly, Gordon’s role as a rebel against London’s social structure is entirely passive, while his acceptance of the order is marked by active participation; his new role as father-to-be necessitates production rather than the floatation to which he has become accustomed. Gordon’s obligations as a brother, friend and lover are nearly impossible for him to subsume under his desire to escape all trappings of the “money-god”; until the very end, he is consumed by guilt which prevents his sinking into obscurity. This guilt intimates that his desires for passivity are selfish at heart; his conscience and his inner turmoil all point to the fraught nature of his decisions. His inability to reconcile himself to this reflects that his distinction between “decency” and his advocated “moral commitment” is a false one; the sacrifices entailed by leaving behind capitalism prevent it from being considered a moral path.

    Gordon’s upbringing lends force to his rejection of the “money-god” and all its trappings, for from a young age he felt capitalism’s oppression. However, family is a constant, both those we are born with and those we choose; rejecting his upbringing and his surrounding society would necessitate rejecting family as well. Gordon’s initial inability to disregard money (it being “the only thing worth worrying about”) reflects his deeply held attachment to his community and his own potential social mobility. Though he passionately disavows the effect of capital on one’s moral journey through life, it dominates him more than it does any other character. His obsession with money and the lifestyle that accompanies it no doubt stems at least in part from his childhood, but to blame all of one’s woes on upbringing is simplistic and selfish. His choices in lifestyle and political temperament reflect an astonishingly egoistical nature, growing over the course of novel but finally resolved with its conclusion. Gordon’s choice to re-enter the stream of workers in London finally releases him from the selfish cocoon in which he has wrapped himself, choosing the difficult but moral path to “do right by” his family. There is certainly a moral aspect to disregarding society’s trappings and notions of the “proper behavior” when the underlying principles are faulty, but the relationships between individuals and the strength of community are utterly human in nature, and are too important to be ignored.

    Gordon’s decision in Keep the Aspidistra Flying is certainly a betrayal of his moral commitment, but it is hardly a problematic one, given the alternatives. His flawed construction of morality versus decency prevents the reader from considering this decision as a betrayal in the ultimate sense. His contrary action is disappointing at best, for his obligations to his family and friends are ultimately more important; his decision to support these relationships is the most proper choice Gordon makes, in terms of morality, throughout the novel.

  • Jane Kone // February 14, 2010 at 2:23 pm |

    Gordon Comstock declares war on the “money-god” but he never sends his troops out to battle. Although Comstock eventually settles into the life of the middle-class man he so despised, one cannot claim that Comstock does not resist the society of the “money-god” wholeheartedly. Rather, one must first acknowledge that Comstock’s determinism to do so is conflicted. He longs to drift down into the underworld of the impoverished, but the realities of living in squalor and solitude only make Comstock scorn himself and his choices. The further Comstock plunges into the abyss of poverty, the more he realizes that money is his one path towards necessary human decency. However, such a realization does not shatter Comstock’s determinism, but only reinforces the evil of the “money-god.” For example, in Comstock’s eyes, a woman will not look at a man who is poor nor can a poor man keep the woman whom he is wooing. The reality of this situation does not force Comstock to immediately betray his criticism and join the money-oriented society, but society’s attitude in regard to this situation perpetuates the conclusions Comstock has already made about the “money-god’s” influence over the world. Namely, the world despises the condition of people such as Comstock and for such a reason, he shall remain outside of society. Nevertheless, Gordon Comstock’s conflicted determinism becomes apparent in such realizations. Comstock cannot declare war on the “money-god” and both live a dejected existence and fantasize about the opportunities money would bring him. Such a dual mentality inherently poses a problem to Comstock’s ideology and subsequent actions because it ultimately surrenders itself to the “money-god.” Therefore, one can argue that such a confliction contributed to Comstock’s eventual reintegration into the society he has tried so hard to evade.
    Comstock’s fixation on the “money-god” reinforces his dependency upon money and the middle-class. In declaring war on money, Comstock has not sworn off acknowledging the benefits of wealth, but has developed a certain obsession with his particular position in society–as a man earning, at most, two quid per week. By necessity, this fixation on class also mandates Comstock to focus on the classes in conflict with his own, thus drawing the “money-god” closer to Comstock’s consciousness. Just as John Flory was marked by birth with a tormenting discoloration on his face, Gordon Comstock is marked by his poverty and a self-consciousness about how those in the upper classes perceive his existence. Furthermore, both men are trapped in between two societies that they cannot fully accept or participate in. Flory is both a pukka sahib and sympathetic to the Burmese, while Comstock belongs to the lower class but is continually faced with opportunities to overcome his poverty. One can thus argue that Comstock is born into a conflicted body that, on the one hand, has every opportunity to rise above its birth class, but on the other hand, has no desire to join the ranks of the middle-class. Comstock therefore faces the unique predicament of both resisting the “money-god” and acknowledging his own presence in the society in which he wishes to remove himself. The question of Comstock’s existence therefore becomes crucial in determining whether he truly betrays his determinism by joining the middle-class, for how can a conflicted man follow an ideology he himself initially conceals?
    Gordon Comstock is above all a self-conscious man, consumed by a desire to forswear the society that applauds the rich and loathes the poor. Comstock therefore declares war on the “money-god,” but does so in secret. Such a nonchalant attitude towards such a grand determinism ultimately sets the tone for a war that will eventually be surrendered. Nonetheless, one glance at Gordon Comstock reveals his poverty. However, it is not poverty that consumes Comstock. Instead, Comstock is cripplingly self-consciousness in regard to money, preventing him from not only living a humane existence–in terms of basic necessities– but also hindering his intellectually aesthetic capabilities that he associates with his participation in the lower class. In the end, Comstock betrays his moral commitment against money in favor of himself as a human being and not as a pawn in a class-oriented society. Thus, Gordon Comstock’s declaration of war against the “money-god” was surrendered to the necessity of a harmonious human existence.

  • Gregory Patterson // February 14, 2010 at 9:31 pm |

    It appears to me that Gordon Comstock’s decision to return to middle class life constitutes a betrayal of his initial criticism. Throughout Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Gordon obsesses over money. He always knows the exact amount in his pocket and is constantly subdividing it in apprehension of expenses. He doesn’t worship the “money-god” that enthralls the middle class. Instead, he despises it. Gordon’s goal is to sink into the proverbial “mud,” to live like a tramp or beggar with no use for money whatsoever. Yet, for some reason, he is unable to take that next step. He likes having a job but certainly not a “good” one. In a way he tries to mimic his friend Ravelston, upholding the tenets of an ideal. But, Ravelston can only afford to do so because he is wealthy. It is very easy to support an ideal when one has the means to live comfortably.

    Gordon perceives the world as having two types of people: those who worship the “money-god” and those that live under the radar. For two years, Gordon attempts to do the latter, to through off the chains that money throws upon us. But, inevitably, he fails. He acknowledges that he would never have kept it up. That the baby wasn’t the essential reason for returning to a comfortable four pounds a week. Instead, it was a sort of public excuse. A way to show Rosemary that he hadn’t really given in but was forced to by moral obligation. Gordon makes himself out to be quite a man of high morals. He admits, after he made the decision to move back to New Albion, that he was overwhelmed with relief, a relief that hadn’t occasioned him since he’d gone off the reservation. To compound this betrayal of his societal criticism, he retakes the job working as a copywriter for those ads he so malevolently spat at. Additionally, he demands that he and Rosemary buy an aspidistra for their front window. This act is a symbol of his surrender. For so long, the aspidistra represented everything that was wrong about middle class society. The way it endured, ugly and noxious. It seems that his giving in is most strongly represented by his demand for the hated plant in the forefront of his life: the front window, the symbol seen by the world. Indeed, its seems difficult to argue that Gordon stuck to his guns.

    In response to the second question, it certainly seems that Gordon’s rejection of middle class society is based upon middle class premises. He has witnessed first hand the drudgery of middle class life; the constant worries about money. He has seen his family sacrifice their own lives, most obvious in the case of Julia, so his education would go smoothly in the hopes that he would restore their desire for familial wealth. Gordon is disgusted by their actions though he takes liberal advantage of them. He was ostracized by his peers at school for lack of capital, wearing second-rate suits and having very little spending money. All of these small things piled into a general revulsion for the middle class he was so entrenched in. Many times throughout the novel, Gordon makes note of the natural glow the wealthy exude. His jealousy is clear; his revulsion of his own class steadily increases. Gordon is simply a product of his own upbringing. His hate is a reaction to the way in which he grew up. He was smart with literary leanings. He was surrounded by people with more money then himself. His path seems almost destined, but in the end, he returns, content to live a comfortable life in the shade of the aspidistra.

  • Anthony Francavilla // February 15, 2010 at 1:05 am |

    What I find most interesting about the question is the description of Gordon’s predicament as an “intractable determinism”. While the description is undoubtedly accurate, the word “determinism” is an interesting one as it is revealed in Gordon’s self-evaluation of the decision that his entire rebellion was a futile revolt against predestination, “Moreover, he was aware that he was only fulfilling his destiny” (237).

    This predestination is emphasized throughout the book by instances in which actions originally thought to be in defiance of the “money-god” in the first half of the novel are shown to act in its service in the latter half. For example, Gordon’s passion for poetry seems to stem from its antithetical relationship with the money-god and capitalism rather than any real skill or passion for the art (in fact, Gordon is shown condemning poetry as dated and trivial more often than not). However, the irony of utilizing this “proletarian” passion for commercial advertising comes to a head towards the end of the book when Gordon comes face-to-face with the four-line Bovex Ballad (230). This seems to suggest that even as he sought to cling to poetry in defiance of capitalism, Gordon was actually serving it, a point reiterated by his work at New Albion.

    Similarly, Gordon takes Rosemary’s unwillingness to have unprotected sex with him in their excursion to the country as another victory for the money-god, and he even goes so far as to identify contraception as another capitalist tool, “This birth-control business! It’s just another way they’ve found out of bullying us” (142). With this condemnation in mind, the couple’s first sexual experience in Gordon’s apartment later on can at first be interpreted as a small victory against the money-god and its decent society. Nevertheless, Rosemary’s inevitable pregnancy is what ultimately pushes Gordon back into that society’s embrace at the end of the book. So while it seems to Gordon that the only options are to “serve the money-god or go under,” the novel suggests that no matter what one does there exists only one outcome: serve the money-god. This might suggest some acknowledgment on Orwell’s part of the ultimate futility of socialism (at least some forms) despite ideological agreement.

    The question of whether or not Gordon’s decision to return to a routine social life is a betrayal of his criticism is more difficult than it appears. At first glance, the answer seems to be a resounding yes—after 200 pages of almost annoying resistance, Gordon commits to decent society to the point where he demands an aspidistra plant be placed almost in a position of worship as a symbol of the money-god in his and Rosemary’s apartment. However, his decision to return to New Albion and marry Rosemary seems to be the first thing that Gordon does that he truly wants, as evidenced by his relief in the passage stated above (237). His commitment to poverty brought him only misery, a misery that he fanatically defended. His obsession forces him to act as more of a slave to the money-god than any other character in the novel even as he pursues liberation. By the end of the novel, however, Gordon occupies a new role—that of the decent, socially conscious man; a figure not unlike Ravelston that clings to socialist ideals without sacrificing basic desires. I do think it seems that Orwell favors the latter character model, or at least believes it to be the most realistic although I would stop far short of holding Ravelston as any ideal standard as his faults are many throughout the novel.

  • Erin Parlar // February 15, 2010 at 1:09 am |

    While Gordon Comstock’s decision to return to a “good” job at the end of Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying is a clear betrayal of his own anti-capitalistic principles, it is necessary to observe that in turning his back on one moral commitment, he is actually reinforcing another such commitment, one that transcends his personal war on the “money-god”. In this case, it is the moral obligation of providing the best possible life for one’s progeny that supersedes Gordon’s personal vendetta against capitalism.
    Gordon’s war against the “money-god” is rooted in his lower middle class upbringing. As the narrator notes at one point, “[p]robably the greatest cruelty one can inflict on a child is to send it to school among children richer than itself” (41). Immersed in an atmosphere of school-boy bullying and banter, Gordon actually creates a materialist façade for himself, believing that his own worth was measured by the income of his parents. This eventually leads to “a crawling reverence for money,” leading Gordon to blame “his parents for their poverty as though they had been poor on purpose” (42). As Gordon matures, he discovers the inner workings of capitalism, “money-worship” that he believes “has been elevated into a religion” (43). Gordon believes that this ascended status of commercialism dispels the traditional values of “good” and “evil”; the only standards of morality are reduced to “failure and success” (43). Hence, it is only by shunning the “money-god” and the superficial values it generates that Gordon can attempt to construct and abide by a morality untainted by the clutch of capitalism. As Gordon observes, “[t]here are two ways to live….You can be rich, or you can deliberately refuse to be rich” (44). In fighting “the money-god and all his swinish priesthood,” at age sixteen, Gordon Comstock “had declared war on money” (45).
    However, there is an apparent irony that pervades throughout Gordon’s fight. By breathing the “free air, free of the money-stink,” Gordon’s life of “moral decency” is actually one of physical and mental destitution (49). By rejecting the health and normalcy attached to a “good” job, the effects of poverty begin to assail upon Gordon’s constitution. As the narrator notes, “[i]t is in the brain and the soul that lack of money damages you” (57). The effects of this mild poverty provide the basis of Gordon’s failures: the lack of ingenuity to finish London Pleasures; his sexual failures with Rosemary; the incapacity to enjoy, for one night, the capricious profits of his largely unsuccessful career. “Social failure, artistic failure, sexual failure- they are all the same. And the lack of money is at the bottom of them all” (78).
    It is at the nadir of his existence that Gordon is saved by Rosemary’s surprise visit. At this point, after facing the disgrace and consequences of his drunken debauch, Gordon was attempting to slowly disconnect himself from the small, social milieu of which he had once been a part. In Gordon’s eyes, in the battle against the money-god, it was better to “sink” to a lower world where no moral values existed than to submit oneself to the standards established by commercialism. As Gordon observes, “[h]e liked to think that beneath the world of money there is that great sluttish underworld where failure and success have no meaning; a sort of kingdom of ghosts where all are equal” (203). Hence, receding slowly into a realm of meaninglessness would allow Gordon to achieve a level of equality he had not been able to attain formerly in his life. When Rosemary presents Gordon with the knowledge of her pregnancy, Gordon faces the biggest decision of his life: to continue his own personal crusade, or provide for a family that can only be sustained by a submission to the money-god?
    Hence, when Gordon decides to provide for Rosemary by taking up his old job at the New Albion, he is clearly turning on a psychological mindset he had created and lived by his entire life. By working on the very advertisements he himself had so recently abhorred, Gordon is decisively betraying his own criticism of the “sinfulness” of capitalism. In rejecting the self-imposed position of the lower middle class life for the upper middle class, Gordon resigns himself to his old foe, the “poor weedy specimen,” the aspidistra, a symbol of respectability for the middle class as a whole (208). Consequently, it is by imparting life that Gordon is able to regain control of his own, conforming to the middle class virtues established by the money-god, abdicating from his fight against materialist values, all in the attempt to keep the aspidistra flying.

  • Kyla Machell // February 15, 2010 at 10:26 am |

    Gordon Comstock, the starving poet, “thirty and moth-eaten,” finds himself caught in an inner struggle between maintaining his commitment to a rejection of capitalism and his war against the money-god and succumbing to “decency.” Throughout the novel Comstock stubbornly maintains his dogmatic renunciation of the laws of money, yet through this criticism he remains bound to the very ideology he supposes to denounce. His ultimate decision to return to a decent life and get a “good” job further emphasizes the futility of his criticism.

    Comstock, whose upbringing gave him a “crawling reverence for money” approaches his criticism of the capitalist society in which he lives from an inherently impossible standpoint: he repeatedly asserts his profound hatred for the way in which money defines and undermines every single aspect of his society and yet, by defining himself in monetary terms, he undermines his own criticism. Much like Flory, Comstock is unable to succeed in his criticism from the very beginning as his criticism is really an affirmation of his belief in the “money-priesthood” that he tries so desperately to escape.

    For two years Gordon Comstock perseveres in his desire to sink “down in the ghost-kingdom, below ambition,” into “the great sluttish underworld where failure and success have no meaning.” While he succeeds in maintaining a job in which there is no need for ambition or thought, he remains obsessed with the money he claims to hate. His relationship with Rosemary demonstrates his utter and complete failure in his attempt to escape money—by defining his very manhood, his masculinity, in terms of his ability to BUY things for Rosemary, he is subscribing to the very ideology he criticizes. Gordon Comstock is so committed to hating the money-god that he defines his entire life in terms of money, setting himself up for failure from the start. Money enters every realm of his life, from his work to his friends, even to his sex life. In his encounters with Rosemary, money becomes the reason for his sexual inadequacy.

    Despite the underlying flaws of his criticism, Comstock is indeed committed to his moral opposition to the society he lives in. He refuses all opportunities to better himself in a kind of self-loathing manner, and almost manages to squander away any chance at happiness in his devotion to his cause. After his drunken debacle, he finds himself wholeheartedly committed to escaping the laws of society, for “ before, he had fought against the money-code, yet he had clung to his wretched remnant of decency, but now it was precisely from decency that he wanted to escape.” Gordon Comstock wanted to go down and out in an attempt to succeed in a complete denunciation of capitalism. However at the very moment it seems he just might achieve his success, the money-god finds him and demands he return to the world of decency. Gordon’s decision to abandon two-year crusade against money is in fact a betrayal of his criticism. He never truly abandons his “wretched remnant of decency” because his attempt to live outside the world of money resulted in the creation of his entire world on the basis of monetary definitions.

    Furthermore, Gordon’s rejection of middle-class society is in fact approached from middle-class premises, adding to the inherent failure of his criticism. By defining himself and the people around him in terms of money, Gordon betrays his obsession with the values and societal structures of the bourgeois society he so ardently tries to escape. He thus approaches his critique of the middle-class and capitalism from a view that is at heart, committed to the very ideology he claims to despise. In this way, Gordon Comstock’s failed criticism allows Orwell to question both the society Gordon lives in as well as those who attempt to escape it.

  • Julia Lovett // February 15, 2010 at 2:58 pm |

    Throughout Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Ravelston and Rosemary praise Gordon for his principles, and in turn justify and excuse his indecent behavior based upon those same principles. Ravelston and Rosemary acquiesce to Gordon’s lifestyle for different reasons—Ravelston lives vicariously through Gordon in attempt to absolve his own class guilt and Rosemary loves Gordon unconditionally—but, their tolerance and support of Gordon serve only to strengthen the novel’s straw-man construction of what are Gordon’s truly untenable anti-capitalist principles.
    Gordon’s principles are ultimately undermined by his behavior with money after his poem was selected for the Californian Review and his behavior in marriage—his agreement to marry, his desire to be married in a church, his insistence on a housewarming aspidistra; but his irresolute hand is first revealed in his poem. Up until his poem is revealed in its entirety, the process of writing the poem mirrors (in form and content) Gordon’s rejection of the money-god. Writing a poem is rebellious insofar as both the novel itself and the narrative (nobody buys poetry in the bookstore or borrows poetry form the library) privilege prose. But also, the recurring trope of Gordon working out lines of the poem accompanies some of the most lucid commentaries on class (e.g., chapter four is full of rich class analysis mediated by Gordon’s own writing process). The lines accrue deeper meaning when paired with such dense observation and insight on class differences and financial pressures.
    The potential value of his lines, however, and the project of writing a poem are undermined when the poem is presented in entirety. Here it becomes clear the poem is only for himself—“he walked homeward, repeating the poem to himself” (150) as though it is a religious chant he finds strength in. This poem, as a creed of Gordon’s principles, fails, and serves only to foreshadow his disingenuous commitment to non-capitalist social participation. The poem is composed of nine four-line stanzas, each composed of “a-b-c-b” rhyme. The rhyme scheme is masculine with the rhyme on the terminal syllable of each word (“hooves-rooves,” “year-spear”). Given Gordon’s situation and the context of his poem, a masculine rhyme reinforces an automatism of capitalism—his participation in the normative language economy foreshadows his eventual return to a capitalist economy. The poem is free verse, so there is no consistent meter, but many religious creeds (i.e., the Lord’s Prayer) also avoid strict metrical unity and Gordon’s poem gestures towards texts of religious reverence for the money-god .
    Gordon’s poem is an unsuccessful pièce de résistance against capitalism and the money-god because the poem’s images, word choice, and description are unoriginal—“bending poplars”, “careless summer days”, “winds blow cold.” The poem does not identify or create anything new, but rather uses over employed phrases and images that function as empty signifiers for overplayed ideas. Were the poem to take a less-conventional form, there would be ways manipulate these trite constructions to interrogate something, but as is they only work to reflect a mundane capitalism.
    The poem describes the money-god as the figure that dictates every action, “who rules us blood and hand and brain”, “who spies with jealous, watchful care, our thoughts, our dreams, our secrete ways”, “who buys our lives”. The poem’s success is perhaps its accurate description of how pervasive capitalism’s influence is, but it fails to offer genuine critique or offer a rupture from or alternative to capitalist discourse. To make a statement like the money-god “binds with chains the poet’s wit” is only descriptive and therefore assumed true, until the author does something different, until he demonstrates the poet’s wit in a way that genuinely questions or subverts the money-god. But Gordon’s poem offers no break in form or expression and the highly dictated punctuation—commas, semicolons, and periods are littered throughout–thwarts undefined spaces for any sort of counter reading. Furthermore, it is no coincidence that the last line of his poem is immediately followed by Gordon’s receipt of a windfall of money that is the catalyst for both his most genuine rejection of and whole-hearted participation in the money-god’s class structure.

  • Kristin Halsing // February 15, 2010 at 4:25 pm |

    Although Gordon explains his removal from society and his “good job” as a way to escape the “money-god,” he never succeeds in completely shaking off this “god” and refusing to be ruled by money and wealth. Thus, his return to his previous social life is not exactly a betrayal of his criticism, since he never entirely abandoned his previous mindset. Furthermore, he reverts to his old lifestyle because Rosemary is pregnant; it is his responsibility to take care of his child, which makes his decision admirable, not weak.
    Gordon expresses his desire to work in “a job that would keep his body without wholly buying his soul” (Orwell 54) instead of working at the New Albion, and, indeed, succeeds in finding a lower-salary job as a bookshop assistant. However, even at a job where he does not encounter as many people who are slaves to the “money-god,” he still focuses much of his attention and energy on the effects of having, or in his case, not having, money. He still serves the “money-god,” but in a different way than he did at the New Albion. He lets his lack of money control his life, in every way possible. He says to Ravelston that “[money] is the price of optimism” (Orwell 85). He refuses to let Rosemary pay for his bus ticket, let along his meal, and even accuses her of not sleeping with him because of his poverty (Orwell 119). He asks himself, “How can you make love when you have only eightpence in your pocket and are thinking about it all the time?” (Orwell 139). He even, at one point, refuses to spend his last threepence, because he fears the judgment and opinions of those around him, that “they’d know it was [his] last threepence” (Orwell 71). Gordon, although physically removed from the world of the “money-god,” never completely escapes it. If he truly were to live up to his criticisms, he would act as he wanted, without any fear of people thinking less of him. He would also not chalk up every negative aspect of his life, and every insecurity, to his poverty.
    Because, even when living as a poor workingman, he never truly loses sight of the importance of money, it cannot honestly be said that he betrays his criticisms when he returns to the New Albion, and the social world he once inhabited. It is less of a “return” and more of a final agreement between his thoughts and his actions. After he decides to marry Rosemary and return to his previous life, he feels relief (Orwell 237), which stems from his ability to, once again, live the life he always thought he did. Even in poverty, he thinks about money more than anything else. He never completely escapes the “money-god,” and therefore does not completely betray himself when he returns to his old life.
    In addition, his reason to return to the New Albion, and wealthy London society, is completely admirable. After impregnating Rosemary, he needs to take responsibility for her and for his child. Even if his return to society could be seen as betraying his morality, it would be a necessary betrayal for a legitimate and important reason.

  • Katherine Giuliano // September 24, 2011 at 5:14 pm |

    Thus far in Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Gordon Comstock has oscillated between supposed resistance to the ‘money-god’ (when he is jobless and when he is working for minimal pay at Mr. McKechnie’s bookshop) and maintaining a common sense of ‘decency’ (when he works in the accounts department and at the New Albion). I say “supposed resistance” because I think that even in his times of resistance, Gordon is constantly ensnared by money.
    Gordon comes from a middle-class family who “had accepted the money-code” (44), trying to maintain a common sense of decency by sending him to school, even if it meant that Mr. and Mrs. Comstock, as well as their daughter Julia, had to work twelve-hour days to afford the cost of schooling. Gordon’s schooling actually galvanizes his disgust for money and its enslaving capacity; he is taunted by the other students for his poverty, instilling in him “a crawling reverence for money” (42).
    Whether he is declaring war on the money-god or complying with the money-world for decency’s sake, Gordon is constantly embattled by this “crawling reverence for money.” When he first finishes school, his Uncle Walter gets him “a ‘good’ job” (46), the type of job that, to Gordon, epitomizes reverence to the money-god. In an attempt to resist, Gordon refuses to take the job; he quickly succumbs and accepts the job, however, after his refusal sickens his mother. Eventually, he returns to his moral commitment to fight the worship of money by quitting the “good” job that his uncle had procured. His rejection of the middle-class society, in the form of quitting his job, is, in my opinion, based on his middle-class viewpoint. First, his viewing such a job as “good” is a middle-class viewpoint, instilled in him by his middle-class family. Second, his upbringing in a middle-class family exposed him to the toiling that people are willing to do for money, and his schooling made him realize the embarrassment of poverty; these experiences ground his hate for money. Finally, Gordon’s middle-class background allows him to choose to live in poverty. For the lower class, living in poverty is not a choice, but for middle-class Gordon, whose middle-class connections secured him a middle-class “good” job, living in poverty is his choice.
    He lives in poverty for seven months, during which time he comes to realize “that you do not escape from money merely by being moneyless. On the contrary, you are the hopeless slave of money until you have enough of it to live on” (50). Even in his attempt to defy the money-god, he is still enslaved by it, and he returns to the social word of decency by accepting another “good” job at the New Albion. Soon enough, he quits this second good job and takes a job in Mr. McKechnie’s bookshop, a “blind-alley job” (55) with a pay of only two quid a week and no chance for advancement.
    Overall, I think that Gordon does betray his criticism because while he criticizes those who worship money, he too worships money. Even when he takes the bookshop job and chooses to live a poor life, he is completely engrossed by and obsessed with money. On the very first page of the novel, we learn that he has “fivepence halfpenny—twopence halfpenny and a Joey” (3). Throughout the rest of the novel, he is constantly counting the money he has in his pocket. Furthermore, he focuses on all of the things he lacks because of his lack of money. He had “gone under” because of his war against money, yet he is still controlled by money, or rather his lack of it.

  • Ian Palm // September 26, 2011 at 6:38 pm |

    Up till this point in Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Gordon has proven to be a truly miserable character. He is nothing more than masochistic sod that one couldn’t possibly relate to. His pathetic nature has nothing to do with the object with which he is obsessed with discussing, that being money. His moral crusade against the ‘money god’ is a manner in which he can disguise his true nature, that being a self-loathing prick who gains pleasure in self-pitying and has no remorse for upsetting others in the process. Gordon clung to ‘the mere pleasure of tormenting himself and making Ravelston uncomfortable’. This is a vivid demonstration of this pathetic man’s critical moral illness. There is such a continuous drone of despicable attitude that the book has proven to be an incredibly difficult read up till this point. His time with Rosemary is a shed of light in this respect, as she seems to be the only one able to bring him joy that is not at another’s listening expense.
    Gordon is so quick to judge others, which is undoubtedly a key facet to his job in the bookshop as it allows him to judge the clientele in his mind. An example can be seen on page 18 when he feels a secret joy at not having a suffrage book in stock. Nevertheless this attitude is a prime example of his ironic composition. It is precisely because of his middle class upbringing that he is able to criticize the upper classes. However he systematically isolates himself from the true lower class as he still associates with upper classes and lavishes the opportunity to be rid of the lower class visitors to the store such as the old lady who attempts to sell books. He ‘never felt any pity for the genuine poor. It is the black-coated poor, the middle-middle class, who need pitying’ (p.71). In addition he is so quick to burn bridges for the other party’s suspected pompousness at rejecting his presence such as in the case of Rosemary and the Dorings. He cannot fathom the possibility that these characters have their own lives and concerns and immediately draws conclusions that they think that they are better than him.
    Another ignorant juxtaposition he has is regarding socialism. His dear friend suggests he read Marx’s book, a philosophy that is very important to Ravelston and yet he completely disregards the notion despite the abundance of time he has at his disposal. Early it is said that ‘every intelligent boy of sixteen is a socialist. At that age one does not see the hook sticking out of the rather stodgy bait (p. 43). Nevertheless he is bitter towards taking financial success with New Albion. He consequently seems to love to hate. He is sick with envy and scorn; poisoned by a lust to be different yet recognized. He despises the notion of capitalism and socialism. This replicates his hypocrisy at neglecting recognition for writing for New Albion (‘writing lies to tickle the money out of fools’ pockets’) and yet also hating the fact that he is irrelevant to the writing scene. What does he seek to achieve if his poems were published? He can’t keep himself from criticizing the countless wordsmiths in the bookshop, and he can’t see himself collecting money on ‘lies’, then what does he believe his poetry achieves? Poetry is a medium for the reader to temporarily suspend reality and place him or herself in an emotionally invested manner of a created scenario. Consequently poetry is as much a lie as promoting attributes of a product, for one exaggerates reality by an image that does not exist. Gordon seems to be leading the life of a madman. When he lives in stability he wishes for the contrary. However he is not content with his life as a writer and bookkeeper. Should his writing be recognized it would lead him to fall under his perceivably negligible position of being wealthy again. It can therefore be deduced, that in either case, he betrays his announced opinions as they are never linear and he does not cease to contradict himself.

  • Monica Perrigino // September 27, 2011 at 10:24 pm |

    I am troubled by the idea that Comstock’s resistance to the “money-god” is contingent upon his undermining of “decency.” Based on his views and everything he has stood by up to the climax of the novel, it seems almost contradictory that he would be bound by any conventional ideals of “decency” where he is required to consider and care about what his peers would deem to be “right” or “respectable.” Of course, when appealing to norms of standard human emotion, it seems absurd and heartless that someone in his position would not care about doing the “decent” thing for Rosemary, but I feel that Keep the Aspidistra Flying never even remotely suggests that Comstock would choose a course of action simply because it is “the norm.”

    While I as an individual certainly would not have advocated that Comstock maintain his current way of life and thus continue to reject the “money-god,” I do think that he betrays his own criticism in returning to a routine social life. Orwell himself addresses this supposed betrayal, but he attempts to justify it by stating: “It occurred to [Comstock] that he was merely repeating the destiny of every human being. Everyone rebels against the money-code, and everyone sooner or later surrenders. He had kept up his rebellion a little longer than most, that was all. And he had made such a wretched failure of it!” (238). I disagree with the initial premise that “everyone rebels against the money-code” in the first place, but I especially take issue with the allegation that “everyone sooner or later surrenders.” There is absolutely no reason that Comstock has to give in to a sense of “decency” – again, a concept that is inherently linked with a middle-class ideal. In fact, two feasible alternatives are proposed, and they are only rejected on the basis of “respectability.”

    First, Comstock refuses to allow Rosemary to abort the baby, merely asserting that it is “a blasphemy, if that word had any meaning” (226) and “disgusting” (227). Once again, as a twenty-first century reader with arguably “normal” viewpoints, I certainly understand where Comstock is coming from. However, it almost seems to me that an abortion would be the perfect solution for a man in his scenario. After all, the birth of a child only adds one more person to the human race that Comstock seems to abhor so passionately. I feel that this is encapsulated especially well via the description of the baby that Comstock discovers in the textbook: “Strange that our beginnings and endings are so ugly – the unborn as ugly as the dead. This thing looked as if it were dead already” (233). Isn’t this baby inevitably doomed to be a member of “[Rosemary’s] people” (226) – a people that Comstock characterizes as “a cursed incubus” (226)? I feel that the only reason he could be so opposed to aborting this child is because he is significantly influenced (albeit perhaps subconsciously so) by the very people and culture that he so adamantly rejects.

    Second, Rosemary herself is explicitly clear in her insistence that Comstock has the choice not to marry her, and she makes comments such as: “You’ve got your own life to live” (228) and “[y]ou’re free – quite free” (229). Comstock even considers this hypothetical scenario when he says: “‘Supposing I decided to leave you and the baby in the lurch?” (229). Why, then, does he not simply follow through with this proposition? Once again, the “decency” excuse is irrelevant. In reflecting on this quandary, he very nearly convinces himself to honor his “moral commitment” to oppose the “money-god”: “He had made war on money – he ought to stick it out. After all, hitherto he had stuck it out, after a fashion. He looked back over his life. No use deceiving himself. It had been a dreadful life – lonely, squalid, futile. He had lived thirty years and achieved nothing except misery. But that was what he had chosen. It was what he wanted, even now. He wanted to sink down, down into the muck where money does not rule” (231). While he notes that “this baby-business had upset everything” (231), I still maintain that this is only true when he is subscribing to the very standards that he claims to oppose with vehemence.

    Thus, Comstock’s decision is indeed a betrayal of his criticism. It would have been possible for him to adhere to his continued lifestyle of rejecting the “money-god” and those who worship this entity, since he has no obligation to conform to the standards of “decency” that are valued in society in the first place.

  • Stephanie Franco Gutierrez // September 28, 2011 at 12:42 am |

    Gordon’s decision to return to a normal social life is a partial betrayal to his criticism. He constantly claims that he hates the money-god and that money does not allow him to live properly, does not allow him to love, and basically turns him into a “corpse”, but at one point, in one of his numerous conversations with Ravelston he says that all this conversation is caused because he has only 2 quid a week and that he would not be against the system if he had more money. So I think that Gordon’s actions are a betrayal to what he outwardly speaks, and wants to be, but is not a betrayal to who he actually is. I think his rejection of middle class society is not based upon a middle class viewpoint. I think that if Gordon had only lived in the middle-low class and only associated with people of that class he would not have such a view on life. I think that he would find it normal to be preoccupied with money, but since the author sort of decided to be poor he is not used to dealing with constraints on money, and clearly shows his exasperations. This also shows very clearly when Gordon states that the only way to be free of the money god is to have a lot of it.

  • Alexandra Elkin // September 28, 2011 at 2:46 am |

    Gordon Comstock is unhealthily obsessed with money and the misery it has brought him. As a youth dragged through a cycle of third-rate education, Gordon developed a sickening, “crawling reverence for money” and vowed to despise poverty as a mark of inferiority and weakness (Orwell 42). The significant pressure of this money-culture soon led Gordon to revolt against the very lifeblood of the society itself—money—and to develop a wildly polarized, almost satirical view of morality. For Gordon, “good and evil [had] no meaning any longer except failure and success,” so rather than succumb to the fatal allure of money, he decided to “refuse the whole business of ‘succeeding’ [altogether]; he would make it his especial purpose not to ‘succeed.’ Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven…” (45). Yet after nearly two decades, despite meager success at his deluded life goal, Gordon remains completely trapped in his self-constructed hell of money-morality, wedged between the impossible extremes of living a decent life in servitude to the money-god or transcending the constraints of human society altogether.
    Despite much self-inflicted guilt, shame, anger, and frustration, Gordon eventually does relieve himself of the psychological burden of transcendence that had weighed on him so heavily during the past thirty years of his life, choosing to use his skills as a writer to create facetious advertisements in order to earn a decent living for his newly-married wife Rosemary and their upcoming child. Upon viewing the spectrum of Gordon’s experiences revealed in the novel, it becomes blatantly clear how blindly foolish Gordon has acted throughout the course of his lifetime. In comparing Gordon’s feelings at the end of the novel to the wildly unrealistic convictions he holds for the majority of his life, his critique of and revolt against the world of money prove to be futile; his ultimate abandonment of his deluded ideals reveals not a viable critique of a capitalist society but a journey of personal growth from naivety to comprehension.
    The futility and idiocy of Gordon’s life goal to deny servitude to the money-god frequently arise as insurmountable obstacles in Gordon’s various relationships. Gordon’s lethal elevation of money to his own personal antichrist plays out most vividly in his relationship with Rosemary, his future lover and wife. In a scene in which Rosemary is about to yield her virginity to Gordon, she suddenly stops for fear of becoming pregnant. When Rosemary admonishes Gordon for his thoughtlessness about birth control, a furious Gordon attacks Rosemary and blames his irresponsible, rash behavior on his financial woes. He declares that “even in the most secret action of [his] life [he] doesn’t escape it; [he’s] still got to spoil everything with filthy cold-blooded precautions for money’s sake. Money, money, always money” (142). Rather than owning up to his honest mistake, Gordon relies on his money problems to relieve him of his social responsibility of apologizing to the woman he loves in order to foster a healthier relationship with Rosemary. He uses this stale excuse as a substitute for strengthening his own personal integrity. Whether removed from the outside world or enmeshed in its complex society, Gordon fails to uphold a sense of common human decency and manhood, revealing his lack of serious moral standing within any contexts of social existence.
    It is not until the end of the novel that Gordon finally decides to assume responsibility for his actions and accept a realistic view of life that offers potential joys despite a binding contract to a “successful” job. After Rosemary becomes pregnant with their child, Gordon finally decides to abandon his foolish and futile goals and take a job that will allow him to support himself and his growing family. Immediately upon his relinquishing this vow, Gordon feels an overpoweringly refreshing sense of relief at the new possibilities open to him. Looking back at his life, Gordon recalls how much he “had blasphemed against money, rebelled against money…and it had brought him not only misery, but also a frightening emptiness, an inescapable sense of futility” (237, emphasis added). Now, at long last, Gordon “could get back to decent, fully human life…” (237).
    In this instant, Gordon glimpses himself as a reborn man, a real man with the ability to construct a morally-sound lifestyle and affect the lives of others in a positive way. A retrospective look at his old self reveals his misunderstanding of himself as a dedicated revolutionary; his old lifestyle had simply been a futile, misguided stand against serious participants in human social existence. With his new sense of enlightenment, Gordon can rejoin society as a viable contributor and not as a leeching pariah weighed down by the shame produced by his own money-antichrist.

    Works Cited:
    Orwell, George. Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Harcourt, Inc.: Orlando, Florida, 1956. Print.

  • Robert Anderson // September 28, 2011 at 3:10 am |

    Gordon Comstock’s resistance to the ‘money-god’ is an apparent useless endeavor. He has trouble being a “decent” man while fighting against the corrupting allure of money. After less than a year’s time fighting the money gods, Gordon returned to his routine social life. This relapse is a betrayal of his criticism of the money gods because it forces him to live a life he already deemed as a failure, a life in which one worships money and fails to get it. It is important though to note that his rejection of middle-class society is based on his middle-class view point.

    Gordon Comstock’s major criticism of money is how it used as the basis for judgments. Orwell mentions that Gordon believes “Money is what God used to be. Good and Evil have no meaning any longer except failure and success” (43) and that the money-world is “the world in which money is virtue and poverty is crime” (44). For Gordon, the world he despises is one in which everything is judged by money because it has led to moral laxity if not backwardation. Consequently, Gordon quits his job because he wants to get out of the money-world (49).

    His return to a routine social life ends up being a betrayal of his criticism because it is impossible for him to be in this life without seeing the importance of money as money, like all things of sustenance, is most important when it is lacking. When he returns to this routine life, the totality of his wrongdoings is caused by money. “Money, money, all is money…Social failure, artistic failure, sexual failure – they are all the same. And lack of money is at the bottom of it all” (Orwell 76-77). He betrays his criticism because he hated the money-world for judging everything on the basis of money but as the previous quotation suggests he judges all of his failures using money. By using a medium he deems unacceptable, he undermines his broader social commentary,

    Finally, Gordon’s rejection of middle-class society is primarily rooted in his middle-class view point. This is evident in the passage where Orwell discusses Gordon’s view of his own family. “It was not poverty but the down-dragging of respectable poverty that had done for them. They had accepted the money-code and by that code they were failures. They had never had the sense to lash out and just live, money or no money, as the lower classes do” (44). From his view point looking down on the lower class, he believes they have it made because they can live without money and without trying to be respectable. The lower class does not have to try to be as respectable as the upper middle class because they are not expected to be while as a lower middle class person he and his family suffer from those expectations. Once he lives as the poor do he realizes poverty is not what it seems and that money affects their lives also with the lack of funds constraining their activities and aspirations. He still hates money and middle class society though because, in his opinion, “you are a hopeless slave to money until you have enough of it to live on – a ‘competence’” (50). When Gordon looks below his class he sees people that do not have to worry about being ‘decent’ while his class must fret about appearance without the means to act acceptably, and when he looks above his class he sees people that do not have to worry about money. He has to worry about both. This constant worry is the underpinning for his rejection of the middle class.

  • Helene Vincent // September 28, 2011 at 3:44 am |

    I do not think one can say Gordon’s decision to return to a routine social life is NOT a betrayal of his criticisms. Throughout the entirety of the novel we have seen Gordon make poor decision after poor decision, all based on his obsessive hatred of the money-god and his determination to find a means of functioning within society without having to adhere to its common social standards. However, were Gordon not such a despicable character to begin with, I don’t believe I would see his return to a routine social life as a betrayal. It is his absolute disregard for anybody other than himself throughout the majority of the novel that pushes me to see his abandonment of his philosophy as much more of a betrayal. Gordon chooses common ‘decency’ over his commitment to his ideas, but why did it take so long for that common ‘decency’ to kick in? Gordon’s behavior toward his sister Julia is absolutely indecent throughout the majority of his adult life, yet he never felt the slightest nudge to do anything ‘decent’ for her. He even spends the five pound note that he was saving for her on one evening of debauchery among friends. Perhaps his soft spot for Rosemary coupled with his feeling of unity with the baby caused a kind of change in Gordon that a suffering sister could not inspire. Gordon’s willingness to suddenly give everything up and adhere to a standard he claimed to loathe in addition to his secret love and yearning for money leads me to believe that perhaps he was never even fully on board with his philosophy from the very start. But nevertheless, Gordon wound up with his own aspidistra in an apartment that was finally his. Either Gordon is one of the most stubborn hypocrites I have ever come across or he eventually gave in, in other words, betrayed his own rhetoric.

    I do believe that Gordon’s rejection of middle-class society is based upon his middle-class viewpoint. In respect to his issue I found the chapters outlining Gordon’s schoolboy life particularly revealing. His parents did not have much money, but whatever money they had they put towards educating their son (at the expense of their daughter). Gordon was, therefore, the least financially privileged person in school. This lack of money burdened and embarrassed him. He hated being surrounded by wealthy people because he knew his family would never be that successful, as he says repeatedly, “nothing ever happened in the Comstock family.” Once Gordon left school he created a kind of irrational ultimatum for himself: enter the middle class and continue living as his family does and continue being embarrassed about not being wealthy enough, or simply do not try and live as the poor do with no daunting possibility of failure. Gordon absolutely did not want to continue the trajectory his family had been on for generations where “nothing ever happened,” but ironically, by choosing to a pursue a path he felt contradicted his family’s ways, he wound up perpetuating that “nothingness” to the ultimate extent. Gordon had no money, no home, no real friends, and no real relationship. Absolutely nothing happened to Gordon Comstock until he decided to serve the money-god like everybody else.

  • Brittney Szempruch // September 28, 2011 at 3:46 am |

    “You set your face against success, you swear never to Make Good–you honestly believe that you couldn’t Make Good even if you wanted to; and then something happens along, some mere chance, and you find yourself Making Good almost automatically…He had got to get out of it–out of the money-world, irrevocably, before he was too far involved” (Orwell 54).

    Gordon Comstock is caught in a perpetually fluctuating existence; try as he might to spurn the money-god, Comstock’s basic desires (acceptance, love, living upon at least the threshold of average) are inherently opposed to what he claims to want– a simple life that doesn’t fall into the “normal trap” of “Making Good almost automatically”. The notion that Gordon decides to return to a “normal social life” is almost ludicrous; in no way can Gordon be consistently normal. For Gordon, the reality of life and its monetary value are inextricably intertwined, and all social relationships take on pecuniary weight. Being out among people, walking down the street, dry leaves are “crinkly and golden, like the rustling flakes of some American breakfast cereal… [as though a] packet of Truweet Breakfast Crisps [going] down the hillside” (Orwell 62). This mingling of commercial with natural imagery gets to the heart of the problem; the boundaries are blurred between the social, monetary, and “normal”, so when Gordon returns to his “normal” social life (which is complicated by the fact that we cannot ascribe it with a fixed definition– normal to Gordon? normal to the narrator? normal to us?) it seems that another part of his life is constantly pulling him in a different direction, be it his desires (his relationship with Rosemary) or political ideology. No matter where he turns, Gordon’s criticism will always be betrayed because it is not consistent and its parameters are naturally at odds with each other; he wants it both ways, to have his cake and eat it too.

    This is tied into the second question of whether Gordon’s rejection is based upon the fact that he himself is middle-class. As we have discussed in class, the lower middle class is simultaneously radical and conservative, and the “inability to escape becomes a kind of virtue” (9/26/11). Gordon’s rejection is, therefore, directly linked to his class status. As we saw, Gordon’s ideas, wants, and needs are all over the place and embody the radical/conservative contradiction. As Hermione says, “You can be a socialist and have a good time” (Orwell 98), but Gordon seems unwilling to accept such fluidity– you’re rich or you’re poor, a winner or a loser. Gordon’s attempt to remove himself from the very thing (his status) that inspires such revulsion is entirely characteristic of the paradox his class faces.

  • Edward Pagliarulo // September 28, 2011 at 5:05 am |

    Gordon’s philosophy against the “money-god” is centered on resistance to the middle-class valuation of “good jobs” and making good for oneself in a consumer-based society. His childhood experience in English schools has given him a hatred for the idea of living in reverence of the upper middle class (and the wealthy as well). According to Gordon, the awe for the financial power the upper class exudes creates a world of “a thousand million slaves toiling and groveling about the throne of money”, obeying the “money-priesthood” (150). The supreme commandment of this world is the principle that success or failure is based on whether one makes money or not. As Gordon exasperatedly explains to Rosemary, “Don’t you understand that one isn’t a full human being – that one doesn’t feel a human being – unless one’s got money is one’s pocket?” (146).
    It was in order to escape this system that Gordon turned to writing, ostensibly an aesthetic practice where value is based on the quality of one’s thought and expression. Ironically, however, Gordon finds even writing to be caught in a similar determinism. Firstly, he finds that the quality of his writing is limited by the oppressiveness of living without money. His rejection of the money-god and his attempts to find an alternative escape are undermined by that very same rejection. On another level, Gordon’s failure to consistently get published is characterized as such by the same money-based rubric. Without being published, Gordon cannot make the money he needs to free his mind enough to finish “London Pleasures”. There is no trace in the book of Gordon being able to write for its own sake, as a personal repudiation of the money system and a foundation for a wider philosophical stand against the money world. He is envious of those authors in the bookshop who can produce books like “the kind of thing that those moneyed young beasts from Cambridge write almost in their asleep – and that Gordon himself might have written if he had had a little more money” (9). This envy reveals the hold that the money world still has on him and how it has infiltrated how he measures his success at writing.
    A further irony lies in the fact that his sense of decency is predicated on money based concepts. He refuses to allow Rosemary to ever pay her share or even chip in for dinners. When he goes out with Ravelston he makes a point of buying the first round. Ravelston’s charity cannot be accepted, and when it is, Gordon attempts to construe it as a “loan” until he finds a job. If their friendship is to be maintained, Gordon considers it vital to establish a sense of equality in financial matters. All these examples of Gordon’s scruples in social relationships are rooted in a sense of financial obligation and propriety — attributes of the money system that he hasn’t been able to leave behind.
    This pull which the money system still exerts on Gordon makes his return to society unsurprising. It is indicative of the futility of his attempt to transcend lower middle class values given the strength of his earlier experiences with the “money-god”. His return to society is not so much a betrayal but rather a recognition that he doesn’t have the strength to carry out the rejection of money which he set out to accomplish. It is a failure and a testament to his weakness, yes, but not a betrayal of his ideas.
    In regard to his lower middle class viewpoint, Gordon does seem to believe that it is because of his position that he is able to make a rejection of the middle class. He sees his family members as “depressing” because they still “lived mentally in the money-world” (44). He almost longs to be truly poor and simply live: “Hats off to the factory lad who with four pence in the world puts his girl in the family way” (44). The middle class he experienced has just enough standing to realize that success is based on a material lifestyle but it lacks the resources to ever fully attain that lifestyle. This creates the disillusionment that Gordon feels and that he believes that the lower classes are blissfully free of. His rejection of middle class society is symptomatic of the larger consumer culture. He cannot accept the system and judge his life by its money based hierarchy any more than he can truly escape from it. His position in the lower middle class has given him a model of societal success while simultaneously forcing him to see how he is unable to partake in that success.

  • Leigh Finnegan // September 28, 2011 at 5:54 am |

    Comstock’s return to a routine, middle-class social life at the end of Keep the Aspidistra Flying on the surface seems not like a betrayal of his vehement anti-capitalist views, but rather a reluctant relenting where no other viable option seemed to exist. However, in his reaction following the decision, especially when viewed in the context of other, seemingly staunch opinions he exhibits earlier in the novel regarding the middle class and the “money-god”, it becomes obvious that Comstock has, in fact, almost entirely betrayed his criticisms of the middle class society, and is happy and complacent in becoming a part of it.
    When Comstock is in the process of making his decision about whether or not to give up his impoverished, so-called “free” (Orwell 229) lifestyle for that of a “good” job, financial stability, and marriage, he appears not to be ideologically betraying his critical ideas, but instead coming to the conclusion that he has no real choice in the matter. Because of his moral qualms with abortion, he is inextricably linked to Rosemary, who is carrying his child, and is faced with the choice to either go on with his poor, single, critical life, or to take back his former job at New Albion, which he left years ago, and support his new family. Although initially Comstock insists that he “’wouldn’t touch [the job] with a stick,’” he knows as soon as Rosemary tells him that she is pregnant that to fulfill his duty he would need to support her financially: “’If I marry you I shall have to turn respectable…I shall have to get a proper job, go back to New Albion” (227). And although Rosemary presents the option of getting support from her parents, and maintains the assertion that Comstock is “quite free,” (229), it is obvious that he is not: Throughout the novel, he repeatedly demonstrates that, in an albeit turbulent manner, he cares about Rosemary, and this factors into the inevitability of his choice to become a member of middle-class society. However, he does not seem to see his decision as quite so unavoidable, as he grapples with his options for pages before finally coming to a conclusion—a conclusion which Orwell gives a fated, concrete character when he writes that “so the die was cast” (235).
    However, Comstock’s attitude once he has told Rosemary that he is going to take the “good” job and become part of the society that he so criticizes betrays his true happiness in taking up the “decent” life. This reaction comes from the problem that his disdain for the middle class actually stems from his own middle-class viewpoint. Although Comstock had experienced the middle class, “decent” life only to deliberately abandon it out of contempt for the “money-god” (151), there is evidence throughout the novel that he does not necessarily hate the middle class as much as he says, but rather that he wishes there were a way for him to happily be a part of it. While he expresses contempt for the way money controls everything in society and even actively seeks out an impoverished lifestyle, he receives financial compensation for his poetry towards the novel’s middle, and is immediately convinced that the sum will solve all of his life’s problems—he will pay back his debts to his sister, he will get happily, gluttonously drunk, and take his girlfriend and wealthy friend out for a lavish dinner. By believing that these things will make him happy, Comstock is wholly worshipping the “money-god” in the same way that the class that he criticizes does. Therefore, Comstock is less a real critic of the capitalism and the middle class—in a conversation with his socialist friend, he admits that he has no viable alternative to propose, saying that “all we know is what we don’t want” (89)—and instead just a frustrated wannabe member of the bourgeois who firmly believes that money can purchase his happiness.
    Comstock’s thoughts immediately preceding and following his telling Rosemary that he will take back his old job and marry her demonstrate that he does not actually feel as hateful and critical of money and society as the way he has otherwise stated in the novel. He admits during his thought process that “everyone rebels against the money code, and everyone sooner or later surrenders” (238). In grouping himself with this “everyone,” Comstock admits that he is nothing more than a member of the money-worshipping middle class. Further, despite his insistence that he wanted to sink “under ground” (219) to escape the society that surrounds him, after he tells Rosemary of his decision he feels “nothing but relief” (237) at his entry into the middle class. In feeling this way, he, whether consciously or subconsciously, forsakes all of his criticisms of the financially comfortable classes, as he admits that the happy, easy, moneyed life is one that he desires. In this way, Comstock’s decision to give up his previous, squalid life for “decency” marks a clear dismissal from his previous value system.

  • Anthony Mastroianni // September 28, 2011 at 6:22 am |

    Gordon’s rejection of the “middle-class society” and the difficulties he imposes upon his life through his opposition to the “money-god” is surely not founded in the middle-class mentality. I would argue that Gordon’s resolution to avoid the responsibilities and social and economic norms are outside of what is capable of a normal middle-class mentality. The values with the action of avoiding comfort, stability and station for the sake of “principle”do not fall in line with the expectation of London’s middling ranks, but regardless Gordon’s conscious motivation in the act is still deeply routed in that which he rejects. Middle class mentality may not agree with what Gordon does about his money, but the way he continues to regard money is not far off from the typical bourgeois sentiment and is a clear indicator of Gordon’s continued imprisonment within the middle class.

    Gordon does not suffer in silence; nor does he ever truly escape the moneyed world. While he does indeed reject money and the expectations given for a normal, productive life Gordon never is at peace. While saying he rejects money and even following through with his lifestyle choices, Gordon really does not shut up about money as a necessity which he lacks. Quite contradictory. He constantly uses his lack of money as an excuse for his miseries, and approaches his new life like a defeatist despite his self-important sacrifice of himself to his own twisted morals.

    My question is…If he walked away from money, then what is he at such a loss for?

    For this Gordon should not be characterized as a man who has gone down in class, or even a man who has renounced class itself. Rather Gordon is a man of the same class who has surrendered his means to achieve fulfillment within that station, whether it be with his work, friends, or even sexual relations. His attitude to the supposed “rejection” of money (that being helplessness and despair) indicates Gordon still is very much held at the mercy of his class and the money-driven world since he never quite understands how to live contently free of money or the expectations imposed on him by society.

    In this sense Gordon proves himself throughout his struggles to be and always have been a middle-class man. He is out of his element in poverty, yet does never strives to flourish in that environment in the ways which he could manage. Gordon does many non-middle-class things, but ultimately never once leaves his station in his mentality; which in it’s own access to overtly lofted and “high-brow” ideas through education and exposure lead Gordon down the path of money-rejection in the first place.

    Thus Gordon’s return to “society” due to the news of his coming child may not be so much a betrayal of his criticism as it is a reaffirmation of the middle-class values which Gordon had held so dear the entire time, despite whatever chosen depravity of the creature comforts of stable living he underwent.

  • Scott Ruesterholz // September 28, 2011 at 2:12 pm |

    Gordon Comstock despises his contemporary society because it uses money as its barometer for success, and he feels that money has warped people and their moral standing. As monetary wealth has become the ultimate barometer of success, society focuses on money in what can be described as “worship of the money-God.” This so-called money-God has replaced other Gods so to speak; in other words, instead of focusing on other structures of success like moral goodness or happiness, focus is directed at money and associated decency.
    Facing this society, Comstock attempts to depart from the status quo; however, he eventually departs from this goal, deeming it virtually impossible, returning to his routine social life. While it appears he gives in to the money god by returning to this life, I don’t think his return is a betrayal of his social criticism, rather it is a validation of it. The underlying aspect of his criticism is the prevailing power of the money-god because it is the one god to be universally worshipped. This reality makes it impossible to live without regard to the money god. Any attempt to live a different life is inevitably going to be a futile effort, but the futility of Gordon’s attempt does not undermine his argument. The fact that a man who so despises the money God cannot live without regard to “Him” shows that the predominance of his impact. As the money-God is now prevalent and powerful, one is forced to abide by the current social structure, despite the negative social ramifications.
    At the same time, it is clear that his rejection of the money-God is rooted in his middle-class perspective. As a member of the middle class, he is expected to act and appear a certain way, showing “decency.” While this appearance is crucial, one in middle class does face monetary constraints, unlike those in the upper class, which makes this appearance and even daily life somewhat difficult. Money is most enticing when it is lacking. A millionaire would not kill a man for $100, but a starving, impoverished man would find that offer far more interesting, and the temptation for money, and the food he could purchase with it, could undermine his entire moral structure. Gordon feels himself being pulled in two opposite directions, which exacerbates his problem with the Money-god. On the one hand, he needs to show the appearance of relative wealth, but in reality, his means are quite limited. This difference between needed perception and fact exemplifies his need for money. As his need is so large, he has a firsthand view of the evils rooted in worship of the money-God. Someone at the top of the social hierarchy has a different view of money and consequently may be less critical of the money-God.
    On the whole then, Gordon clearly despises the money-God because of its corrupting power as well as its universality. The fact that he cannot escape it shows that its power is indeed universal, but part of his hatred is clearly rooted in the fact that he is a member of the middle class where material items are extremely important, even in comparison to other classes.

  • Marcie King // September 28, 2011 at 5:10 pm |

    According to Gordon Comstock, money is the determining factor in society and in every human relationship. As he views it, “everything costs money. Cleanliness, decency, energy, self-respect—everything. It’s all money” (Orwell 109). Although Gordon claims to “despise” money, he gives it a godlike position in society and, consequently, defines both himself and the world in which he lives in terms of wealth (Orwell 44).
    Gordon’s deep-seated resentment toward money stems from his upbringing in a “middle-middle class” family (Orwell 37). Reacting to his family’s experience, Gordon describes the middle-middle class as the “most dismal of all classes” and declares war on money and on “money-worship” (Orwell 45). Unlike his family who made serious sacrifices to uphold a certain level of respectability, Gordon vows to “refuse the whole business of succeeding; he would make it his especial purpose not to succeed” (Orwell 45). Gordon believes that his family “accepted the money-code, and by that code they were failures”; therefore, to avoid such failure Gordon condemns money (Orwell 44).
    Gordon criticizes his family and society at large for yielding to “money worship” and refuses, in an almost self-righteous way, to succumb to the money god (Orwell 43). Throughout the novel, Gordon is constantly talking about his “favourite subject…that life under decaying capitalism is deathly and meaningless” (Orwell 83). Placing money at the root of all his problems, Gordon attributes his failed personal and professional endeavors to the way in which society is driven by money. Given that society is governed by money and that he is poor, Gordon views his failures as inescapable and unavoidable.
    However, Gordon’s criticism of society is weakened by his unwillingness to accept an alternative to capitalism. As Mr. Ravelston points out to Gordon, “…your attitude is unreasonable. You’re always tirading against capitalism, and yet you won’t accept the only possible alternative…” (Orwell 87). Although Gordon claims that without money a person is constantly humiliated and cannot possibly feel human, he never poses any ways in which someone can escape the burdens of poverty without submitting to the money god. Thus, his “tirades” against capitalism seem to serve more as a platform for Gordon to talk about his life and his situation than as a genuine overarching comment on society. Arguably, it is a love of talking about himself and about his life rather than a hatred for money that drives Gordon’s opinions and fuels his arguments against society.
    Throughout the novel, Gordon proves “damnably selfish” (Orwell 45). Constantly talking about the experience of poverty and of living off of two quid a week, he repeatedly disrespects and objectifies the people around him. Gordon is always preoccupied with the amount of money he has in his pocket and allows that amount to dictate his relationships. There is a constant dialogue in his head about the sum of money he has to his name and that sum determines his mood and behavior. For example, when Gordon and Rosemary go out to the country Gordon finds his desire to be with Rosemary tainted by how little money he has at the time. He ponders, “How can you make love when you have only eightpence in your pocket and are thinking about it all the time?” (Orwell 139). Gordon rarely considers how Rosemary feels, only focusing on how money makes him feel in relation to her. At times, Gordon groups Rosemary in the category “woman” and, as such, projects that she has “a sort of mystical feeling toward money…that deep-down mystical feeling that somehow a man without money isn’t worthy of you” (Orwell 114). Although Rosemary blatantly says that she does not mind paying for herself, Gordon refuses to believe this and instead of working to enjoy his time with her, spoils many of their interactions by focusing on his own humiliation.
    Only considering himself in matters of money, Gordon also unfairly uses his sister Julia. Gordon borrows money from Julia but when the opportunity for him to pay her back arises he spends it. Interestingly, in order to spend the money carelessly he consumes large quantities of alcohol and makes sure to keep himself drunk. In his moments of sobriety, Gordon realizes his indecency and foolishness; however, his selfishness drives him to spend the “fiver” anyway. Gordon’s actions are not a reflection of the position society has put him in; he is not acting like a person from the lower class—a person who “lash[es] out and just live[es], money or no money” (Orwell 44). He knows “all about himself and the awful folly he was committing,” however, he still behaves only according to his own whims and desires rather than according to what he knows is decent (Orwell 163).
    Gordon blames society for his impoverished position but it is in fact his selfishness that shapes his situation. Gordon believes that people are out to get him and want to “stamp” on him because he is poor (Orwell 99). However, perhaps it is not society shoving Gordon to the bottom, but Gordon separating himself from society. Rather than searching for a way to resolve the predicament in which he finds himself, he “clung with a sort of painful joy to the notion that because he was poor everyone must want to insult him” (Orwell 91).

  • Phoebe // September 28, 2011 at 5:41 pm |

    Gordon Comstock’s character indulges in his reaction to the “insecurity of the middle class”. Throughout the beginning of Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Comstock abhors and criticizes with much disdain the “money-god” and the seeming need for only money to invoke “comfort” and happiness. In his identification of the procurement of money as “Making Good”, Comstock determined that in order to rebel against those in the middle class around him, he would all in all reject decency and money-worship. Yet it is precisely this that defines him as a metaphor for the middle class, in his suspicion of the urbane mannerisms allowed of the upper class who are “comfortable” in their wealth, and his sheer disgust with the lower class members he encounters. He embodies the characteristic of the middle class that sees their life as demeaning and trivial, and attempts to apply value to their basic existence. For the miserable Comstock, this manifests itself in his attempt to set himself apart from any other class, in his attempt to “escape” from the society of capitalistic money worship. The character of Comstock embodies this tension of identity in the middle class. He begins steadfastly rejecting the masses and their obsession with money, for it is that thing which has plagued him and defined him (by his lack of it) his entire life. Thus he is obsessed with it the way one becomes obsessed with a socially rejected flaw, such as a large and imposing birthmark (as seen in Burmese Days’ protagonist Flory), and despises its overwhelming presence in life. While Flory sought to hide his metaphorical flaw, Comstock outright criticizes and attempts to belittle the opinion of those who “Make Good” because in doing so, he need not apply the mirror of criticism upon his own monetary fetish. By manically rejecting it, he is indeed succumbing to the obsession. In my mind, the ideal of the “Pukka Sahib” and that “Making Good” which Comstock begins the novel loathing, represent the same ideal. So rises the mentality of“go with the flow”, comport as your class indicates you must comport. As their unique, norm-rejecting mentalities are met with the impossibility of their cause, they both cease to attempt their rejection and ultimately acquiesce to their fate, be it as one who can never change what has been with him his whole life, or be it as one who is only fighting against the current to indulge himself in his own otherness.
    Comstock’s eventual rejection of his moral decision and return to “decency” was inevitable, and, though seemingly betraying his criticism, is actually what he had to do. Comstock’s so called betrayal was entirely pivotal on the fact that he is in the middle class – because, as Professor Rubin stated, the inability to escape from the class that loathes the lowerclass beneath them and fears the upper middle class above them becomes the virtue of the middle class. In that sense then, his return to “normalcy”, his reneging on his rejection of the commons is not necessarily a betrayal of his criticism, in my opinion. Indeed, because his criticisms are but a veil beneath he protects himself, as a member of the middle class, from the realization that it is not a “choice” to be a money-god worshiper, he is not betraying them by “giving in”. Instead, he is acquiescing to the acceptance of his social place, whose only reigning virtue is that they are not the upper, nor are they the lower class. His fate was inevitable, as he metaphorized the existential crisis of the middle class in his utter loathing for the two other classes around which the middle class is thereby defined. They do not define themselves, and thus have no choice but to “serve the money-god or go under: there is no other rule.”

  • John Romano // September 28, 2011 at 6:02 pm |

    Gordon Comstock’s actions, his thoughts, his psychological and emotional responses to certain social interactions are all at one point or another contradictory. The starting point for this contradiction may very well come over his constant struggle and frustration to find an answer for the ‘money-god’. He despises the upper middle class and their entitlement and relative extravagance, yet finds himself appalled with certain aspects of real poverty, the class below him, especially when he himself experiences them. So there is a constant engagement in which decency and a moral stance against money seem to be fully entwined with each other and Gordon cannot unravel it. He believes the more money one has, and the resulting conformity with the social norms the money-code entails, the more decency one can attain, but having money, for Gordon, is strictly abominable. It means cutting oneself off form the chance of having real, meaningful experiences, “to lash out, and just live…just like the lower classes do” (56). Money is a corrupting influence that provides an artificial barrier against a more ‘natural’ existence. Gordon faces the contradictions when he examines his own life. We see him continually aware of the exact amount of money he has at all times and the restrictions (or freedoms) that necessarily follow. When he no longer has money, he plunges into despair and curses his lack of ability to be decent. The “glow of renunciation” of the money-god “never lasts. Life on two quid a week ceases to be a heroic gesture and becomes a dingy habit. Failure is as great a swindle as success” (57). His previous reasons for rejecting money, a good job, etc. are no longer existent while in this state, yet he never once thinks about going back to a normal life with a well-paying job. Not only does the lack of money prevent decency, all his creative capabilities are sapped and a strong wave of apathy comes over him; “mental deadness, spiritual squalor” (57). When in this state, he only manages to retain any sort of vitality by cursing the money-god, wishing for war, or a moneyless, classless society. And almost the opposite is true when he does have money: “It was queer how different you felt with all that money in your pocket. Not opulent, merely, but reassured, revivified, reborn” (154). In this way Gordon sees himself as a respectable human, decent, and a rising poet, ready to turn out his magnum opus.

    I think his rejection of the middle-class does stem from the fact that he is a part of this class himself. It seems that if had been in a class above, like Ravelston, there would be some sense of guilt, but yet with a comfortableness of the situation. If Gordon were completely destitute and no chance of finding a good job, he might have cursed all of society, rather than just the middle-class. But in between the rich and absolutely poor, Gordon struggles to balance his want to achieve decency, and his tendency to be disgusted of how he thinks people are trapped by money and cannot live freely.

    So whether or not he has money constitutes these contradictions. His return to a normal social life does betray his previous criticisms of the money-god and societal norms and class divisions. Yet this does not trouble me for Gordon to do so. Facing contradictions within one’s self is an unavoidable fact of life. And in the same way, Gordon realizes there exist unavoidable facts of life which he cannot simply ignore and denounce with his own personal brand of ideology (raising a child, marrying Rosemary, etc.). One’s life cannot be lived in complete isolation, outside of society or personal relationships. Sometimes one has to accept the necessity, or the inevitability, for an aspidistra in one’s life, for being decent at the expense of a personal moral loss against an abstract idea such as money or capitalism. The only place where Gordon could truly live without contradictions is “under ground. Down in the safe soft womb of earth, where there is no getting of jobs or losing of jobs, no relatives of friends to plague you, no hope, no fear, ambition, honour, duty” (203).

  • Jozef Schmidt // September 28, 2011 at 7:12 pm |

    As with most of Orwell’s characters, Gordon Comstock is stuck near the end of the book with a moral quandary – should he continue following his own moral standards or conform to societal expectations expressed through common “decency.” As Gordon states in chapter 11 “it is when he [money-god] gets you through your sense of decency that he finds you helpless” (Orwell 445). Mr. Comstock feels pressured on two different fronts; the first is his own social position while the second is his own feelings about a decent and good life indirectly expressed through his wishes for Rosemary and his child. Throughout the novel it seems that Gordon wishes that he were wealthy more-so than believing that it is necessary to destroy the “money-god.” As the narrator describes Gordon’s thoughts, it is clear how often he is thinking about money, the lack there-of, or how he looks because he has no money. When Ravelston visits Gordon’s apartment, all Gordon is trying to figure out is what exactly Ravelston is thinking about Gordon’s situation both where he lived as well as social situation. All of Gordon’s criticisms are framed in the context of wealth, decency, and middle class values. Despite his obsession about destroying the “money-god,” Mr. Comstock involuntarily perpetuates the importance of wealth by consistently noticing and arguing about money. When Gordon thinks about buying a cigarette, he decides not to because “you look such a fool when you take it [threepenny-bit] out of your pocket, unless it’s in among a whole handful of other coins” (Orwell 253). This revelation occurs before the reader is even exposed to the “money-god.”
    The second front on which Gordon feels pressured is once he knows that he will have a child. Through these decisions, he shows what he truly believes to be a better life. Gordon states that he needs a ‘good’ job because he wouldn’t want to “leave Rosemary in the lurch” (Orwell 454). If he truly believed that his way of life, as opposed to the money-god’s way of life, was the better and more virtuous, he would have wanted his wife and child to lead that life. However, he is caught within the middle-class viewpoint and by thinking what he wants for his wife and child betrays that he needs a ‘good’ job, needs to support Rosemary, and conform to societal norms.
    Explicitly, Gordon’s decision to return to middle-class society was an inevitable choice, as he himself was not convinced of the validity of his criticism of this society. Due to the fact that he never truly was convinced, he continued to live with middle-class ideals he expressed as “decency” while always still lusting after money. He seemed to have a jealous relationship with money; it was something he wanted, but could not admit to himself that he wanted. Only once he could express his desires vicariously through his wife and child can he truly realize that he never fully left nor was able to fully criticize middle-class society.

  • Catherine Herrmann // September 28, 2011 at 7:53 pm |

    Gordon Comstock’s basic philosophy in the novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying is a flawed, vicious circle of rationalization that merely serves the purposes of an ambitionless man seeking solace in his mediocrity. However, regardless of all the logical snags that are inherent to his rejection of the ‘money-god’ and his desire to “go down, deep down, into some world where decency no longer mattered,” Gordon fails to act in a coarse manner, despite his best attempts, and never really escapes the hold of many because it occupies such a large chunk of his thoughts (203). The question of his reintegration into routine social life as a betrayal of his larger criticism is not entirely valid based on the fact that he cannot truly enact this philosophy, nor does it seem that he himself is entirely convinced by it, therefore it is not a betrayal since it was never something he held to be true.
    Even in his attempts to sink to the dregs of society, Comstock is unable to fully reject his middle-class values. After receiving the check for $50 and growing very drunk at dinner, he describes the sensation of half of him being drunk and the other half being quite sober. The reader sees the base actions of Comstock’s drunken half, and the horrified reaction of his sober side which leads him to drink even more (163). The purposeful drowning of his rational mind indicates that his middle-class value system has a significant effect on his psychology, causing him to feel guilt. He is unable to eradicate the sense of accountability and to simply exist on the level he believes that the members of the working class do, emphasizes the theme of determinism that is Comstock is battling against. This middle-class decency unconsciously appears in his actions in the scene with the tart. Though it is unclear from the text if Comstock engages in sexual relations with the prostitute, though it seems unlikely, the fact that the whole event is more or less removed from the reader’s view is an act of decency in itself; the middle class value of privacy and sexual shyness manifesting itself in the very form of the novel (176). The fact that during this series of events neither Ravelston, the Socialist, nor Comstock, the man with the vendetta against moneyed society, is able to take this step into the proletarian lifestyle demonstrates the insurmountable barrier between classes that no amount of philosophy can chip at. In addition, Gordon’s inability to abandon Rosemary when she becomes pregnant, even when he is at the deepest in his poverty and possibly at the point where he could truly separate from his society of money, definitively shows that he cannot separate from his middle-class values because of the fact that these values are based on basic human feelings such as love and sympathy. The assumption that Comstock is operating under, that the lower class is a mass of low-brow, beastly characters who do not have a care in the world for money or family, is ultimately fallacious in nature. Gordon Comstock’s attempt to reject the world of the ‘money-god’ fails because of his humanity.
    Another deficiency in the practice of the theory of escaping the world of money is that Comstock is unable to arrest his thought concerning the subject of finance. Throughout the novel there is a continual reference to the earnings of each character to the point where everyone is as commoditized as the purchases they make. The Gordon’s lamentations and his ‘two quid a week’ are pervasive in his conversations with his friends. The general sense of melancholy that is seen in the beginning of the text seems directly connected with how much money that is in Comstock’s pocket. Conversely, this all changes the moment that he receives the check from the Californian magazine. With the money, all of his criticisms of the world they live in turn into a big joke (160). It is simply the fact that he does not feel a part of the moneyed world that he criticizes it.

  • William Miller // September 28, 2011 at 8:07 pm |

    In Burmese Days, Flory manages to position himself socially and philosophically between native society and the Colonial Project in a way which guarantees that he is never fully a part of either. In much the same manner, Gordon Comstock lives in a perpetual state of vacillation between the despicable “money world” and the anxiety-inducing possibility of an “anchorite” existence outside the influence of money entirely (49).

    Gordon’s refusal to commit fully to either extreme establishes him as a marginalized person. Indeed, he seems to take conscious steps to ensure that he remains outside either the normal “middle class” existence or an existence fully opposed to capitalism. By giving up his ‘good’ job Gordon guarantees that he will never have enough money to truly live a ‘decent’ life. By taking one that leaves him on the “fringe of poverty” instead, he nevertheless guarantees that much of his life will devoted to the (very capitalist) goal of ensuring that he has enough money to live (91). “It was what he had chosen when he declared war on money,” he says, as if his hardship is a cross he bears for a noble cause (150).

    On an external level, the rationale for Gordon’s ‘crusade’ seems to come from a coherent critique of the commercialized status quo. Money, he says, has become the basis for a new form of religion with wealth a socially accepted proxy for the Good. Gordon, however, nullifies his critique by the position from which he delivers it. In what seems to be a common theme of Orwell, Gordon’s critique doesn’t emerge from an altruistic concern for the victims of capitalism. He is no noble warrior who fights for those whose voices are not heard. Instead, Gordon’s critique of the system seems to have its roots in a sense of loneliness that originates from his very nature. Just like Flory, Gordon’s end goal is not a complete collapse of the system that he claims to despise but rather a sense of communion with someone, anyone, who understands his situation. He is desperate for acceptance by the establishment, as is apparent in his ubiquitous references to the sole positive review of his book by the Times Lit. Supp. As a result of this, Gordon has an acute sensitivity to slights from the money world: as soon as there is any threat of rejection he disengages. This dynamic is clear in his interaction with Mr. Doring. Gordon, it seems, is rejecting society as a way to explain in advance the possibility that he doesn’t fit into it. By willingly rejecting ‘middle class’ society, he is preemptively creating a “sour grapes” excuse. Criticism, then, becomes a deviant act. A pathetic recourse for those who are not fit for the normal. The way that Gordon’s criticism is presented guarantees that it will always be viewed as just as much a side effect of his “emotional rejection” as it will a legitimate critique of the capitalist system (Rubin).

  • Madeleine Collins // September 28, 2011 at 8:26 pm |

    Middle Class or Bust

    Throughout Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying Gordon Comstock is devastatingly aware of his own poverty. He is unable to imagine an existence in which money is not the determining factor of all social relations. He perceives the emptiness and sterility of the “decent” lives led by the middle class who neither suffer the hardship of the working class nor enjoy the idleness and leisure of the upper class. The middle class struggles to define themselves as distinct from the lower classes, though theirs is also an impoverished existence. However, it is in this way that they re-inscribe the conventions of established society, which privileges money, and preserve a social hierarchy based on income and the appearance of respectability. The middle class occupies a sort of social purgatory: they can neither escape into another part of society nor can they transcend their condition. It is this plight that is at the core of Gordon Comstock’s social experience.

    From a young age Gordon is painfully aware of his social condition. Attending a school that was beyond his means, he was branded an outsider among his wealthy schoolmates. In such an environment he is immediately marked as the “other” and as such he naturally begins to hate that which isolates him: money. However, he is unable to transcend his own social experience and so his attempts to escape this reality prove futile. He is able to identify the sterility and perversity of the money-god he rallies against, yet he is utterly unable to formulate a viable moral position because of his limited perspective. He was insulted and cajoled by his schoolfellows for being poor and so he cannot imagine an alternative existence. As such, when his friend Dorings forgets to tell him of a change in plans Gordon refuses to believe it was an accident, for in his experience “If you are poor people will insult you. It was his creed. Stick to it!” (88).

    Gordon associates the “decency” of the middle classes and their ambition to “make good” with the tyranny of the money-god that dictates human worth in capitalist society. Therefore, in his attempt to escape the trappings of the money-code, he flouts that middle class decency, that is their very desire to transcend their own poverty. However, Gordon’s tirade against money ultimately ends in his re-integration into the middle class and a return to decency since it is his only viable option. Indeed, “he was aware that he was only fulfilling his destiny. In some corner of his mind he had always known that this would happen” (200). His rejection of middle class society was indeed a product of his middle class perspective. The money-code dictated his family’s social experience and they subscribed to it whole-heartedly: “It was not merely the lack of money but rather that, having no money, they still lived mentally in the money-world…It was not poverty but the down-dragging of respectable poverty that had done them. They had accepted the money-code, and by that code they were failures” (40). As such, Gordon is unable to transcend his social condition because as a member of the middle class he cannot envision a life of monetary success. Indeed, “He took it for granted that he himself would never be able to make money. It hardly occurred to him that he might have talents which could be turned to account” (40). And so in an attempt to escape the disappointment of failure and a life feigned respectability, he “would make it his especial purpose not to ‘succeed’” (40).

    However, it becomes clear that Gordon remains entrenched in the middle class mentality for he makes a point to maintain at least the appearance of respectability. Though he is unapologetic about his lack of income he nevertheless maintains strict rules of decorum in his rebellion against the money-god. “I’ve made war on money, and I’ve got to keep the rules. The first rule is never to take charity” (104), he declares to Rosemary; “Always pay for the first round of drinks! It was his point of honour” when he and Ravelston went to the pub (77). Furthermore, he carefully describes his routine of making his clothes look presentable when he attends Dorings’ literary parties (56) and the way one “can’t, of course, go to other people’s houses with no cigarettes” (56) for fear of betraying one’s financial shortcomings. As such, though Gordon claims he distains the decent life led by the middle classes he does not wholly depart from it until he is landed in jail after a night of drunken debauchery. It is only then that he makes his final effort to escape his social condition and somehow out-do his family’s failures. Thus he proclaims: “Serve the money-god or go under; there is no other rule” (128).

    Gordon is ultimately unable to transcend his middle class mentality and so he cannot imagine any way to escape a life of impoverished decency except to relinquish life itself. After he has decided to return to the social condition he so abhors he realizes that though the middle class lived by the money-code and “kept the aspidistra flying…they were alive. They were bound up in the bundle of life. They begot children, which is what the saints and the soul-savers never by any chance do” (203). As such, Gordon’s only viable social reality is that of the middle class because he is utterly unable to see outside himself and his social condition in order to transcend it.

  • Jonathon Munoz // September 28, 2011 at 8:28 pm |

    In his critique of the ‘money-god,’ Gordon is in the oscillating predicament of a lack of commitment (I should say, rather, that he lacks the right commitment). This is because his disdain with the prevalent social relations is mediated by a critique of commodities that is ideologically infected, and as such this short-circuits the proper criticism of capital. For example, if we agree with Marx’s critique of capital and endorse the distinction between base (the relations of production) and superstructure (the social power structures which are a result of the base relations),* then Gordon’s critique of society is ill-fated from the start. Even the form of his criticism is infected by the dominant social relations, so that any critical relation to the base will not be to the base per se, but a projection of the base built from the ideological precepts of the superstructure. In other words, Gordon does not have the critical space for an adequate critique, which would take a form like this: (PC) Pure-critical-view-point (Base->Superstructure). Instead we have a reversal: (IC) Ideological-critical-view-point (Superstructure->Base), as if the relations of production were a mere periphery issue in comparison to the power struggles of capitalist exchange. His view of commodities is always fetishistic, even in is negation. He negates the mystical fetishistic appeal of commodities, but this negation leaves the ideological substrate intact. IC as a critical stance is not in itself self-defeating, but when it is not supplemented by PC then the criticism of the base relations will never be complete. Without the illumination of the totality as such, it would seem impossible for any emancipatory action to have any real force besides that of surface configurations, e.g. a few liberties here and there when the system needs to respond to some inequality engendered by the incongruence of the productive relations.
    However, to say that Gordon is unable to articulate an adequate criticism does not imply that his failure does not bring the base relations into focus. It is his inertia and lack of options that frustrate the reader into the realization that there is more at work than Gordon’s criticism would have us believe. For example, in chapter 1 he does not want to purchase something with his limited amount of money: “You look such a fool when you take it out of your pocket, unless it’s in among a whole handful of other coins. ‘How much?’ you say. ‘Threepence,’ the shop-girl says. And then you feel all round your pocket and fish out that absurd little thing, all by itself, sticking on the end of your finger like a tiddley-wink.” This coin is an absurd little thing because it is all by itself. It cannot be made sense of without reference to the entire monetary contexture, and so it is indeed an absurd little thing. Moreover, this absurdity at the material (base) level transfers to the superstructural level in Gordon’s very comportment to this absurdity. He is ashamed to buy something with this single coin, and at the same time this shame is unquestioned and taken for granted; it is almost an unconscious response whose intelligibility only makes sense with respect to the relations of production. Instead of an absurdity leading to a radial break with the system (a sort of leap of faith that implies radical freedom), Gordon’s response is simply to live with these absurdities and try to rationalize them in the form of that which is to be criticized (In other words, he simply tries to re-imagine the contexts which surround the absurdity, and this never gets to the content of the absurdity).
    His marriage to Rosemary is the final symbol of his resignation to the base relations of production. He cannot find any other way to reconcile his shame with his anti-money principles. However, this entire bipolarity is a symptom of the base relations, and his options are exhausted only by an ideological interpretation, e.g. (i) respectability or (ii) shame. I think Gordon is unable to be an adequate critic of the system because his subjective position is (from the start) infected by ideology [This is why his poetic meandering are so calculated, even they cannot escape narrativity, which always implies a certain subjective position as opposed to a transcendent or objective position]. However, his very frustration with the polarities engendered by the money system make it readily apparent that there is more depth to the influence of the system than meets the eye, and which are not at all criticized by Gordon. It is this absence, this systemic excess which can yield the critical space for a social criticism. However, it is evident that this critique is not performed by Gordon in this novel.
    * A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy from Kamenka, The Portable Karl Marx, pp. 158-61:
    In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.

  • Kalli Krumpos // September 28, 2011 at 8:32 pm |

    Gordon Comstock’s return to a routine social life does betray the social criticism he appears to support, but his relief at dropping criticism implies that his support of the criticism was merely a façade. Although Gordon Comstock may attempt to appear as though he disapproves of the routine social life of the middle-class, his critique was not convincing. His extreme views condemning the relatively rich middle-class directly contradicted his own yearning for money. Although his critique may be an accurate description of the capitalist motivations of the middle-class, his vacillations between loathing money and longing for it make it unclear if he truly believes his own critique. Instead of making money and pursuing success, he purposefully snubbed any chance of advancement and embodied a creed to denigrate money and malign anyone capable of living free of money issues. Comstock realized the power of money in society and how it paradoxically determined which social classes were decent and moral. For example, he complains to himself, “For after all, what is there behind it[righteousness], except money? Money for the right kind of education, money for influential friends, money for leisure and peace of mind, money for trips to Italy. Money writes books, money sells them. Give me not righteousness, O Lord, give me money, only money”(Orwell, 9).
    It is clear that he wants to believe the critique; his experiences in poverty have made the righteousness of the critique palpable for him, but the lack of comforts of poverty make him hate it. Comstock even goes so far as to try to repeats it to everyone who will listen, but he does not see how the way of life can be changed. Comstock also fails to promote an alternative. As Ravelston says to him, “You’re always trading against Capitalism, and yet you won’t accept the only possible alternative. One can’t put things right in a hole-and-corner way”(87). His verbal barrage against the social system is a mask for his desire to succeed (and fear that he could fail) within it.
    Yet, it seems impossible for one to overcome the money problem because, especially in a capitalist society, money is all powerful (class notes, Sept. 26). Comstock’s iconoclastic decision to avoid money only means that he is controlled by it even more! By choosing a dead alley job at the bookstore he must budget every expense. Comstock wanted to be miserable because it is an indication that he has rejected the status quo, but he also expects to be praised for his behavior. He understands his actions to be brave, noble even, but he wants others to take notice. Comstock feels that his self-inflicted poverty is a “decent” because he chose to suffer instead of coalescing with the capitalist system.
    Although Comstock rejected the system, he did not completely abandon its ideals: he still links decency and success with money. Comstock desired to be a writer, but to be successful he must sell books, thereby creating a profit. Thus by abandoning his “good” job at New Albion, Comstock did not isolate himself from money or its ideology, he just limited his own intake. He even approaches writing as a job or task in which his literature is objectified and “commodified” to be processed in the capitalist system:
    ( about his poetry)“Yet he still worked on it occasionally; cutting out a line here, altering another there, not making or even expecting to make any progress…The feeling of it there upheld him a little; after all it was a kind of achievement, demonstrable to himself though to nobody else. There it was, sole product of two years-of a thousand hours’ work, it might be. He had no feeling for it any longer as a poem. The whole concept of poetry was meaningless to him now”(218). Even though he attempted to abandon the expectations of society, he internalized them so that his own definitions of success replicated the very system he wanted to leave.
    Overall, his choice to engage in poverty is a “luxury” available to the middle class who could choose to be poor, while the truly disadvantaged do not have a choice. If he was not a member of the middle-class he would not have been able to deign to live in poverty as a righteous act. Because of his social status, he was constantly conscious of his families potential for advancement, but also of its current decline: “Comstock’s efforts to present a social critique made me think of “reaction formation”(“Defense Mechanisms”)- a psychological term describing a defense mechanism in which individuals behave opposite to what they actually believe. The idea of Comstock utilizing a defense mechanism to support his unpopular decision to reject social norms could explain his internal turmoil. Defying the norms made him vulnerable so to compensate, Comstock utilized reaction formation. The use of reaction formation could also help to explain the extent and severity of his desire for and rejection of money. Although Comstock respects the idea that pursuing money is immoral, he is drawn to the comforts, reassurance and way of life of the middle class. He is repelled by the thing that he cannot avoid. Thus, in an attempt to attend to his cognitive dissonance, in which his thoughts do not match his actions, Comstock engaged in the defense mechanism of reaction formation. After Comstock decided to return to a “good” job and the ideology that accompanies it, he was relieved that he no longer had to present a false appearance. “Somebody or other had said that the modern world is only habitable by saints and scoundrels. He, Gordon, wasn’t a saint. Better, then, to be an unpretending scoundrel along with the others. It was what he had secretly pined for; now that he had acknowledged his desire and surrendered to it, he was at peace”(238). Thus, Comstock’s view is a product of his middle-class status, and though he does go against his criticism, it was his act of denying routine social life in the first place that was a betrayal of the ideology he could not escape as a member of the middle class.

    Works Cited:
    “defense mechanism.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 27 Sep. 2011. .

    Orwell, George. Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc, 1956.

    Orwell. Georgetown University. Washington, DC. Fall Semester 2011.

  • Felicia Charles // September 28, 2011 at 10:21 pm |

    Gordan Comstock in Keep the Aspidistra flying, refuses to give into convention and into the expectations that his family has of him such as getting a “good” job. His character reminds of Charlie Chaplin’s protagonist in Modern Times, who finds it difficult to be a cog in the machine and lose his personal identity. Gordon views everyday life with a sense of hopelessness, that the money is unconquerable and the most important thing. This is further emphasized by the epigraph that’s adapted from 1 Corinthians that replaces money where love once was. The protagonist, Gordon, thinks that everything hinges on having money.
    In Gordon’s view I think motivation is more important than the fact that he returns to a routine social life. He’s afraid of having to much money in fear that he might develop and love and worshipping of it. But he quickly realizes that one does need money to survive in the real world. What’s interesting is that he suffers for his ideals and resents those who decide to “make good” with their lives. He blames his squalor life style on the money god, when really he was offered a few chances to live quite a nice lifestyle.
    I think his objection of the middle-class is influenced by his experiences with it. For instance he describes his family by saying, “the Cormstocks belonged to the most dismal of all classes, the middle-middle class, the landless gentry” (37). He continues saying, “they were one of those depressing families, so common among the middle-middle class, in which nothing ever happens” (39). In Gordon’s view his family has never done anything significant or ever really lived. He thinks that the middle class has it worst because they exist in between the rich and the poor, forever fearing absolute poverty. Because they have this fear he says they are only concerned with working to make money. What I find interesting is that his rejection of the money god does not come from his concern with the poor or the economic gap that exist between the rich and the poor. The author expresses this stating, “He never felt any pity for the genuine poor. It is the black-coated poor, the middle-middle class, who need pitying” (71). At the end of the day he doesn’t like the effects of money as it relates to him. And yet he takes no active steps to leave this situation. Instead he rebels passively by quitting certain jobs and complaining. His criticism would be more effective if he actively engaged in his life and cared about the effects of money on others. Ravelston attempts to point this out to him saying, “you’re always trading against Capitalism, and yet you won’t except the only possible alternative. One can’t put things right in a hole-and-corner way” (87). Ravelston is hinting to him that he needs to look at possible solutions to this money problem, one of which is that England could have a socialistic state where everyone has an equal amount. Gordon states that no one wants socialism and that he wouldn’t care either if he made more money than he did. Revealing to the reader that maybe Gordon is not as committed to his cause as he claims.

  • Madhuri Vairapandi // September 29, 2011 at 9:19 pm |

    Gordon Comstock lives in a black and white world. He functions on the logic that one has to either dance to the tune of capitalism or suffer. It is interesting that the sway of principle holds him so strongly that he would rather chose suffering than break to the lifestyle determined by the ‘money-god’. The reason that he stands against capitialism is due to his notion of decency – this decency is in relation to his notion that a person’s value should not intrinsically be determined by how much money is in his pocket. Gordon would rather have there be relations with other people on the basis of humanizing individuality and not by class status.
    He belongs to the lower-middle class and has upper-middle class aspirations. His frustration with money comes from love-hate relationship with that sector of society – he loves the security of money in his pocket but he hates the upper-middle class pretentions and snobbery. This is from his history of mistreatment at the hands of the upper-middle class in his school boy days. Gordon is unaware, however, that his outlook on the world is very middle class and this colors his opinions – he objectifies all of the lower classes of society to a point that he sees anything lower than his class as the fate of those who can never aspire for ‘decency’ or ‘humanity’. These two words are clearly tied into the very notion of what it means to be middle class. When one sees the lower classes as painted by Gordon, one sees a dark and fetid picture. He refers to it as an ‘underground’ where “failure and success have no meaning; a sort of kingdom of ghosts where all are equal.” (Orwell 203) To go below the middle class is to sink. He does not see hope for the humanizing individuality that he could afford to hope for when he was better off. This attitude towards these lower classes is a very middle class attitude. He can only afford to hate those better off than him, and for those that are lower than him he only has a vague, generalized lack of interest as they are insignificant in the greater works of the money-world.
    Gordon clearly has a significant preoccupation with the money-god. In the end, Gordon’s desire to be a member of ‘decent’ society overwhelms his desire to fight capitalism. A man with a middle-class attitude can only be satisfied with a middle-class environment to immerse himself in, for anything less than that would be to sink to a sluttish world devoid of ambition, honor, or duty – words that only hold meaning to a middle-class man in context of a middle class world. In the end, Gordon Comstock could only fit in one place and that place ultimately claimed him.

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