Homage to Catalonia
Book written by George Orwell
For a few years there, it seemed as though the entire world was captivated by George Orwell. He wrote two long parables that essentially captured the horrors that hung over our lives. Boiled down, 1984 and Animal Farm laid bare the terror of totalitarianism in a world all too familiar with the possibilities inherent in government gone mad. Between the two works, no one was let off the hook. Reading them in high schools across the nation, I wonder if students can ever quite wrap their head around the fact that both books are by the same person. Within a five year period, Orwell contributed both to the global canon. Then, he died.
Both tales carry so many powerful images that I don’t remember teachers discussing the author’s life much past the brief paragraphs contained on the last page. Like all the other “ancient” authors, he had written other stuff, but no one ever expanded on his life story. How could they when Big Brother and the pigs took up so much space?
Orwell was born in India in 1903 and died in 1950. The famous works were all written at the end of his life, which has to make you wonder how he got there. He served in the Indian Imperial Police, starting at the age of 19 in Burma. Later, he wrote Burmese Days, which is one hell of a read about asinine behavior in the jungle. Shooting an Elephant, one of the great English language essays, also came out of those days.
Orwell’s first book was Down and Out in Paris and London, chronicling his poverty in the named cities (though rather Paris and around London). I want to go on like this, but here’s the thing- everything Orwell wrote is readable- just as wonderfully phrased, thoughtful and dare-I-say jaunty as the big books. Even that’s a misnomer. Everything he wrote is considered a classic by people. It’s like stumbling on Dickens and asking what you can skip. That’s a tough question to answer. I mean, how do you talk about someone who wrote reams of critical essays and made it interesting enough that two thick volumes seems too brief? You don’t have to agree with him all the time, but he certainly seemed right about an awful lot.
He had seen a lot. George Orwell, action hero, is not too far afield. If you want to know what that lifestyle might actually entail, then you’re not alone. You get the sense that Orwell himself wondered and he, at least, had some experience as a young man. So, deciding to go off with other young men to Spain to help the Socialists, only to find that most of those were younger men. Homage to Catalonia chronicles that experience. Reading it may lead to a deeper exploration of the Spanish Civil War, which can only make you ask questions of which side of history you want to be on. Anyone willing to make the journey with Orwell can go from the parables that should start the questions to a deep soul searching about patriotism and truth and war and how we treat the rest of the world.
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