Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Coming Up for Air was George Orwell’s last conventional novel before he went off to write the two antiutopian fictions, Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), for which he is most famous, and the only novel he ever wrote in the first person. It is a book with little plot in the usual sense, more a memory play and prophetic fantasy. Yet it is an important novel of ideas focusing on the radical changes experienced in England in the first four decades of the twentieth century—and the frightening changes still to come, in a decade of world war, mass death, and unprecedented destruction.
The novel is divided into four books, and the structure helps the reader to separate past from present. In book 1, George Bowling awakens (on “the day I got my new false teeth”) to a solution for spending the seventeen pounds he has secretly won on the horses. It is January of 1938, and George feels trapped, “never free,” not only because of his own family, or the bland and plastic world England is quickly becoming, but also because of the threat of war that looms overhead in the bombers George is always hearing. George is in “a kind of prophetic mood” this day; “I felt as if I was the only person awake in a city of sleep-walkers.” George will escape the “prison” of his middle-class existence by returning, after a break of more than twenty years, to the Oxfordshire village some fifty miles north of London where he...
(The entire section is 1092 words.)
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