George Orwell (English 246: Fall 2011)

Orwell: Inside the Whale

November 14, 2011 · 1 Comment

Rushdie’s claim is that we are all a part of the dialectic of history and to attempt to escape it is to escape reality. It seems as if he’s suggesting that it’s irresponsible and even foolish at best to try to extricate oneself from the political world. Thus, he supports the attitude of being ‘outside the whale’. It’s interesting that Orwell, a very political being by the nature of his writings, seems to be supporting the attitude by which you’re ‘inside the whale’. This was not something that happened all of a sudden, though, and this was not an attitude that he had started out having – he had initially been very determined to make a change in the world with his writing. He had mentioned how politics acts on a writer and forces his pen to write the way it does. His earlier works criticized various issues of his time, but as the years go by, disillusionment with the process of political writing seems to capture him. It is particularly his experience with the Spanish Civil War that does this to him. He sees how the structures of power control the sources of knowledge and how language is abused for political reasons, all at the expense of human lives. He personally witnessed how the POUM was vilified by the media and how its members were hunted down – all based on falsified facts and assertions. This experience left Orwell with little hope for change in the world for the better, and thus, his attitude towards political action changes. What is the point in trying to fight established institutions that are significantly more powerful than a solitary voice? How this attitude develops can only be determined by what his works post-Spanish Civil War are like. Coming Up For Air is colored by the disillusionment that Orwell feels.

George Bowling in Coming Up For Air seems to constantly be preoccupied with the potential onset of war. He’s always thinking about what the world will be like when bombs start raining from the sky and society is forced to change. He expresses much distaste towards the way society and the world has changed thus far – he feels that people have become disassociated from each other and disconnected, and that the world has become commercialized. He does not, however, seem to have much opinion or knowledge for the political atmosphere – this is not due to him being uneducated, however, but rather that he just does not care. Even his one stint with political involvement when he joined the military forces was spent distanced from actual fighting and the actual ideologies/reasons for there even being a war in the first place. All Bowling seems to be concerned with is a kind of blissful ignorance that one feels when they are young. This is a time when one feels like they cannot be touched by the world and one’s reality is as far as your home, your school, and where you play. It is a naïve attitude to take and Bowling comes to realize this when he goes back to his hometown to find that it too has changed. His hometown does not exist in a vacuum in time and also has been touched by historical processes of change. It has become modernized and developed. It is not immune to the touch of war and political tension, as noted by the fact that a bomb fell in its midst. This novel depicts the conflict with wanting to be inside the whale when we are all in fact outside the whale. As Rushdie put it, ours is a “whaleless world… without quiet corners, [and] there can be no easy escapes from history, from hullabaloo, from terrible, unquiet fuss.” (Rushdie 101) As much as Orwell himself might want to escape the political reality, he cannot, and that is why we see him continue to write.


Categories: Inside the Whale

1 response so far ↓

  • William Miller // November 14, 2011 at 9:54 pm |

    I agree with Mahduri:
    In class we discussed responses to “Inside the Whale” and whether Coming up for Air represents an extension of the philosophy espoused by Orwell in his essay. Largely, Coming up for Air is a piece written with the intent of staying “Inside the Whale”. Bowling, like most of Orwell’s characters, is a passive observer. He simply waits for the war to hit Britain while he pursues his youth. Orwell seems to think that engaging in politics entails overt political sentiments in the mold of Auden and Spender. I, however, side with Rushdie in the sense that I don’t think there is a “whale.” There’s no way for Orwell’s writing to stay out of politics, especially as he attempts to depict a society that is inextricably linked to politics. I think Rushdie is arguing that there is a certain politics inherent in every description. For Orwell to represent the ‘normal man’ is in itself a political act. Orwell’s politics is simply buried within his style, whereas the writers Orwell criticizes have a more overt political bent.

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