George Orwell (English 246: Fall 2011)

Inside the Whale

November 10, 2011 · 1 Comment

1) The 1920s: History, Culture, and Literature:

The following links serve as context for Orwell’s Inside the Whale, particularly for the portion of the essay involving literature before the 1930s.


1)   For some fascinating images of American culture in the ‘twenties, follow this link to the Library of Congress’ photography archive.

2)   To An Athlete Dying Young in its full form.

3)   Here are some other iconic Housman poems from A Shropshire Lad: “When I Was One-and-Twenty”, “Is My Team Ploughing”, “The Immortal Part

a.     Notice the bleak outlook, passive narration and simple prose.

b.     What else do you notice about Housman’s language that contributed to his overall pessimistic and passive tone?

4)   Read a little about DH Lawrence’s Lady Chaterlee’s Lover here.

a.     Think about how scandalous a portrayal of an unfulfilled woman having an affair with a man of a lower class would be after the buttoned-up era of the early 1900s.

5)   Explore the Great Depression, and how the rift between the Roaring ‘Twenties and the Depression era could contribute to the rift in literature Orwell discusses. Make sure to look at the “International Depression” section.



2) The 1930s: “A significant break”:


“With this and similar questions whispering at the back of my mind, I visited Spain during the Civil War. On arriving at Barcelona, I found as I walked through the city that all the Churches were closed and there was not a priest to be seen…The feeling was far too intense to be the result of a mere liberal dislike of intolerance, the notion that it is wrong to stop people from doing what they like, even if it is something silly like going to the Church. I could not escape acknowledging that , however I had consciously ignored and rejected the Church for sixteen years, the existence of Churches and what went on in them had all the time been very important to me. If that was the case, what then?”


This passage comes from an untitled essay in which Auden expresses his feelings concerning his involvement in the Spanish Civil War.


What elements within Auden’s style and word selection suggest the “intersection” between personal and political that characterized Auden and others of the 1930s movement of Oxford poets?


Is the intersection an equilibrium of forces? What would be Orwell’s claim?


3) Inside the Whale and Orwell’s other works:

We resolved the apparent discrepancy between the content of Orwell’s actual writing (political and concerned with the urgent problems of the day) and his opinion that Henry Miller’s accepting, apolitical, and passive attitude is justified by pointing to Orwell’s demoralizing experiences in Spain. Are there perhaps other ways to explain this discrepancy?


We also emphasized the difference between what people ought to feel and what people actually do feel. Orwell seems to understand that people will actually feel a sense of passivity and acceptance (as Miller does) because of the demoralizing political experiences of the day, which he experienced first-hand in Spain. He, however, seems to follow the “ought” track and continue writing politically, drawing attention to conditions he found unacceptable. Do you think he has a passive and accepting attitude? Or a political and challenging attitude? If so, how can you make sense of the fact that Orwell both deems a passive attitude justified and yet lacks such a passive attitude in his own writing?


4) Outside the Whale: Beyond Orwell:

Jonah and the Whale:


The word of the LORD came to Jonah,a son of Amittai:

Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it; for their wickedness has come before me.

But Jonah made ready to flee to Tarshish, away from the LORD. He went down to Joppa, found a ship going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went down in it to go with them to Tarshish, away from the LORD.

The LORD, however, hurled a great wind upon the sea, and the storm was so great that the ship was about to break up.

Then the sailors were afraid and each one cried to his god. To lighten the ship for themselves, they threw its cargo into the sea. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down into the hold of the ship, and lay there fast asleep.

The captain approached him and said, “What are you doing asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps this god will be mindful of us so that we will not perish.”

Then they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots to discover on whose account this evil has come to us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.d

They said to him, “Tell us why this evil has come to us! What is your business? Where do you come from? What is your country, and to what people do you belong?”

“I am a Hebrew,” he replied; “I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

Now the men were seized with great fear and said to him, “How could you do such a thing!”—They knew that he was fleeing from the LORD, because he had told them.

They asked, “What shall we do with you, that the sea may calm down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more stormy.

Jonah responded, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea and then the sea will calm down for you. For I know that this great storm has come upon you because of me.”

Still the men rowed hard to return to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy.

Then they cried to the LORD: “Please, O LORD, do not let us perish for taking this man’s life; do not charge us with shedding innocent blood, for you, LORD, have accomplished what you desired.”

Then they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea stopped raging.

Seized with great fear of the LORD, the men offered sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.

But the LORD sent a great fish to swallow Jonah, and he remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Jonah prayed to the LORD, his God, from the belly of the fish:

Out of my distress I called to the LORD,

and he answered me;

From the womb of Sheol I cried for help,

and you heard my voice


You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the sea,

and the flood enveloped me;

All your breakers and your billows

passed over me.


Then I said, “I am banished from your sight!

How will I again look upon your holy temple?”


The waters surged around me up to my neck;

the deep enveloped me;

seaweed wrapped around my head.


I went down to the roots of the mountains;

to the land whose bars closed behind me forever,

But you brought my life up from the pit,

O LORD, my God.


When I became faint,

I remembered the LORD;

My prayer came to you

in your holy temple.


Those who worship worthless idols

abandon their hope for mercy.


But I, with thankful voice,

will sacrifice to you;

What I have vowed I will pay:

deliverance is from the LORD.i


Then the LORD commanded the fish to vomit Jonah upon dry land.



Jonah 1:1 to Jonah 2:11

Categories: Inside the Whale

1 response so far ↓

  • Robert Anderson // November 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm |

    During the presentation in class on Wednesday, the group proposed a question about why Orwell believed Miller’s attitude towards writing, being passive, apolitical and unconcerned with the happenings of society, was justifiable. I believe Orwell thinks Miller’s attitude is justifiable because Miller is not trying to be something he is not. He is not trying to write on socialism or communism when he knows very little about it. Writers like Auden however write about things they have little experience with, such as the killing in the Spanish Civil war. This is obvious when Orwell describes Auden as “the kind of person who is always somewhere else when the trigger is pulled” (126). More evidence for this stance comes from when Orwell is talking about the books from the Spanish civil war in general. He notes that they are all rather dull and written from a political angle whereas the great books from World War I were written by the infantry men, were written “not by propagandists but by victims” (105). Miller is able to write about the facts and details of the life of an American business man because he is one. Miller is not writing propaganda to get people to think like him, he is writing from experience. I think that is why Orwell believes his Miller’s attitude is justifiable compared to Auden’s.

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