George Orwell (English 246: Fall 2011)

Inside the Whale Presentation

November 10, 2011 · 1 Comment

The group presentation and the discussion that stemmed from it were very insightful in how Orwell and his political views fit into the larger context of the era in which he was writing. The group began with a historical background of the 1920s and 1930s, highlighting the changing trends and technological advances, as well as social developments and political movements that particularly changed the landscape of writing as writers began to expand their perspectives. Kate in particular pointed out in her segment of the presentation that the writers of the 1930s were overwhelmingly communist, were largely pessimistic, and tried not to focus too much on the issues of the time. What set Orwell apart from that group (although he also held the same pessimism) was that the political events of the 20s and 30s had pushed him to become a Socialist instead, focusing the bulk of his writing in addressing the societal and political problems of his time. All four books that we have covered in class so far (Down and Out in Paris and London, Burmese Days, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, and Road to Wigan Pier) focus in great length on one issue or another, whether it be the flawed system of imperialism or the evil of poverty.

The part of the presentation that I found most fascinating was the discussion of Henry Miller’s view of passivity as a means of living in relation to Orwell’s view of living outside the whale. What perhaps was most intriguing is the fact that Orwell is quoted saying that Miller’s approach to life is justified, when the primary message of his writings is just the opposite. The question was posed to the class of how these juxtaposing views of Orwell could be rectified. One answer that seemed valid was that Orwell made a distinction between what people ought to do and what they actually do; although they should strive to live outside the whale and be active in trying to find solutions to societal and political problems, Orwell recognizes that most people simply choose not to do so, ignoring the problems facing society because that is the easier way to live, and so he sees it as justified even if he does not agree with it.

Because there was no class on Monday, the majority of the class assumed that the readings would be pushed back a day, so very few people were ready to discuss Coming Up for Air. However, the presentation and the discussion that followed it took up almost all of the class period. It will be interesting to see in what ways Coming Up for Air follows Orwell’s style of political writing and how the essays that we read by Thompson and Rushdie will apply.


Categories: Inside the Whale

1 response so far ↓

  • Stephanie Franco Gutierrez // November 10, 2011 at 5:05 am |

    The readings of Inside the Whale really made me think of the political aspect of literature and how it can affect/change the way people view the world. Orwell talks about the modern man being passive and how this is the way to be, yet by writing about it he is not being passive, so we talked in class about how he is being hypocritical. But I think that Orwell realizes that when you write and when you talk about these issues, you understand them, and you may not like them at all, but the end, you can not really change the way the world works, and I think that is what he means. I think that his Inside the Whale is a psychological mindset as opposed to a physical place. I understood him to mean that even if you know the there are horrible events happening in the world, you can’t change them at all, so you might as well be inside the whale (that is why he says, you are inside the whale, of course) because you are powerless individual against the system that rules the world. I think that maybe his apathy happened because of his participation in the Spanish Civil War and he became disillusioned of the way society works.

You must be logged in to post a comment.