George Orwell (English 246: Fall 2011)

Entries categorized as ‘Inside the Whale’

Inside the Whale/Outside the Whale

November 10, 2011 · Leave a Comment

During today’s class we primarily discussed the presentation on “Inside the Whale” and both Thompson and Rushdie’s rebuttals in their respective essays entitled “Outside the Whale.” After hearing their presentation, the subsequent comments from the class had to do with the convolution of Orwell’s message: that being inside the whale is “justified,” while his own works (as mentioned in “Why I Write”) clearly have not only political themes but motivations for political change.


At root, I find this discussion troubling because I do not think it is entirely possible to write in a way that is completely separated by politics. If politics is taken to refer to affairs involving institutions of authority (i.e., the government), then it seems impossible to escape the influence of politics in life, let alone in writing. The actions of nations and their leaders – especially in the period between the 1920s and 1940s that Orwell was writing about – permeated one’s thoughts about the future and even the language with which one expressed those thoughts. Thus, I agree with Rushdie’s retort that there “is no whale.” There is nowhere for a writer to go that is untouched by the politics of the day, thus there is no way for a writer to express himself apart from politics, no matter how hard he tries.


With that said, I think it is important to note that being “inside the whale” is not separating oneself from politics entirely, but rather refusing to fight against the political issues happening around you. Quietism, as Rushdie called it, is just that: recognizing the current trends and remaining silent about them. Orwell’s conflicted claims, then, seem to exemplify the fact that while the writer may have a desire to ignore political debates and write for the aesthetics of it, its not entirely possible because of the way that politics influences everything else. Any image, any story, any character one puts on paper inevitably is influenced by the current state of affairs, because this state of affairs always influences the reality of the writer. The ideas of any writer are shaped and colored by what is happening around him, whether or not he intends to ignore these events.

Categories: Inside the Whale

Inside the Whale

November 10, 2011 · 1 Comment

Much of today’s discussion had a focus on the volatile historical times that George Orwell and many of his fellow authors like Hemmingway and Fitzgerald faced, from the roaring 20’s that led to a real separation of artists from society, to the rise of fascism and stalinism in the 30’s. Probably in part due to the rise of these radical if not evil movements, Orwell is rather defeatist about the role of the artist in moving the direction of society. He also was on the losing effort of the Spanish Civil War, which will not engender optimism.

At the same time, many of his compatriots do call him out for taking this defeatist stance, in fact suggesting the artist should remove himself from society. I personally agree with these criticisms. If anything, Orwell’s stance comes across as a cop-out to avoid taking a stance in society. He determines the artist cannot do anything, and as a consequence, one should not try. To me, it almost seems as if he is rationalizing his own failures to create change–just look at how Imperialism survived despite his attacks in Shooting an Elephant and Burmese Days. Rather than working harder to alter the course of society, Orwell gives himself an excuse–artists should stay inside the whale and avoid directly confronting the issues of society to better the state of one’s fellow man. 

I utterly reject Orwell’s stance; even if his conclusions are true. He could be correct that an artist does not have the ability to alter society. By definition literature or any other form of art does not appeal to the masses, it is not intended to, rather a small segment of society. Rarely if ever, does change spring from a small minority, especially when that minority resides in the upper echelon of society. Still if one is destined to fail, that does not mean one should not try. Imagine if fire-fighters did not try to save lives in burning buildings because likely they would not get there in time, or doctors did not treat cancer patients because survival was a wrong shoot. In life, often the effort is significantly more important. than the end-result. Orwell is rationalizing laziness because he has determined he does not want to try to better society himself.

Categories: Inside the Whale

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

Inside the Whale

November 10, 2011 · Leave a Comment

In my section of the presentation today, I talked about Orwell’s politics and about how (or how not) he fits in to the categories of writers that he outlines in his essay “Inside the Whale.” Albert discussed the writers of the 1920s, whom Orwell characterizes as pessimistic and unconcerned with either the “urgent problems of the moment” (115) or with politics. Like the writers of the 1920s, Orwell is often pessimistic in his writing, but unlike them, his work is largely concerned with politics and contemporary problems. In order to elucidate his pessimistic, political, and concerned style, I briefly discussed his books Down and Out in Paris and London, Burmese Days, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, and The Road to Wigan Pier.

Anthony discussed the writers of the 1930s, who, according to Orwell, have a more serious purpose, left-leaning tendencies, and most especially a fascination with Communism. Orwell, like the writers of the 1930s, was not politically indifferent, but he favored Socialism rather than Communism. Orwell’s Socialism is explicated in both the second half of The Road to Wigan Pier as well as in his essay “Why I Write,” both of which we looked at in class today.

Finally, Orwell identifies a “new school” (129) of literature in the work of Henry Miller, specifically one defined by passivity and acceptance. Despite the fact that his own work is largely political and often focuses on urgent problems (i.e. money-worship, Imperialism, etc.), Orwell claims that Miller’s passive attitude is “justified” (137). Within the essay, Orwell himself even identifies the problems with this attitude: “To say ‘I accept’ in an age like our own is to say that you accept concentration camps, rubber truncheons, Hitler, Stalin, bombs…” (103-104), yet he nonetheless views an accepting attitude as justified. In order to attempt to rectify this discrepancy, I pointed both to Orwell’s demoralizing experiences in Spain as well as to the difference between what people ought to feel versus what they actually do feel. Perhaps passivity is what people actually feel due to the demoralizing political climate of the time (which Orwell experienced firsthand in Spain), while remaining politically involved and concerned is more of an “ought” or a “should.”

As a class, we continued to wrestle with this question of how to make sense of Orwell’s seemingly disparate viewpoints, taking into account the arguments of both Thompson and Rushdie, whom Brittney presented on.


Categories: Inside the Whale