George Orwell (English 246: Fall 2011)

Entries tagged as ‘Lion and the Unicorn’

Orwell and England Presentation Reflection — Connections to “The Lion and the Unicorn” and “Inside the Whale”

November 15, 2011 · Leave a Comment

Through our presentation today, my fellow group members and I attempted to delineate certain significant historical, political, and cultural factors that influenced Orwell’s writing of Coming Up for Air. Specifically, my individual research centered around “The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius.” (I had mentioned in class today that “England Your England” is included in Facing the Unpleasant Facts, and I used the following website to read the second and third parts of the essay: From my reading and my own understanding of the piece, I argue that Orwell’s main focus of the essay is the utility of synthesizing Socialist and nationalist ideals – a message that he most evidently purports in the third section, “The English Revolution.” I believe that “Shopkeepers at War” is useful because it allows him to expressly state what he means when talking about various ideologies, and I think that “England Your England” is important because it seeks to capitalize on precisely what makes Britain “British” and how these factors accrue a sense of patriotic pride.

There is much to be discussed in this essay, and I am looking forward to covering it in more depth when we study it as a class next week. However, for the time being, I am interested in how Orwell’s understanding of the situation in Britain (i.e. country’s fast-approaching involvement in World War II) leads him to advocate for Socialist change and only Socialist change. Indeed, he writes: “Now however, the circumstances have changed, the drowsy years have ended. Being a Socialist no longer means kicking theoretically against a system which in practice you are fairly well satisfied with. This time our predicament is real” – thus alluding to the changing times in his country, and how the situation at hand merits Socialist reform. In our discussion last week concerning “Inside the Whale,” the presenting group mentioned how Orwell’s Socialist ideals likewise manifest themselves clearly in “Why I Write,” and, indeed, the other works we have studied throughout the course of the semester provide evidence for the fact that Orwell was wholly concerned with “urgent problems of the moment.”

I think one issue that demands greater exploration and that we touched on a bit in our subsequent discussion this afternoon is the relationship between Coming Up for Air and “Inside the Whale.” While we ultimately did not cover this relationship in our finalized version of the presentation, some of my research led me to The Cambridge Companion to George Orwell by John Rodden (there is a preview of some pages online through GoogleBooks, but the complete work can also be found in Lauinger Library under the call number PR6029.R8 26145 2007), and this source directly addresses the issue at hand. In one section of this book, author Michael Levenson points out: “George Bowling is Orwell’s Jonah… Hemmed in on every side – by job, home, history – Bowling neither comprehends the political world nor tries to change it. He merely wants to rediscover the ground of happiness” (72). Bowling’s life is thus ensconced in a cloak of nostalgia and longing for the past. While it can sometimes be a temporary solution to distance oneself from the problems of reality, we spoke about how his attempts to return home and reclaim his childhood merely force him to come face-to-face with the horrors of the present warfare – thus obliterating his sheltered preconception that there is a set time and place in the past that he can return to at leisure.

I am interested to grapple with these issues more next week, especially in light of last week’s challenging question: why does Orwell “accept” one’s living “inside the whale” but produce such markedly political and propagandist works? I definitely think this question is one worth considering and revisiting as we finish up the semester, and I will definitely be thinking about it as I formulate my final paper topic. I feel that my reading of “The Lion and the Unicorn” pushes this question even further, as it is a clear example of Orwell’s preoccupation and direct involvement with politics and ideologies – an involvement that obviously does not reflect a lifestyle of one who lives “inside the whale.” What is the best way to reconcile these views? And what are we supposed to think of them based on the events that happen in his novels? Such questions demand further consideration…


Categories: Inside the Whale · Orwell · Orwell and England