The Road to Wigan Pier Essay - Critical Context

George Orwell

Critical Context

The Road to Wigan Pier is a graphic, compelling account of George Orwell’s visit to Lancashire and Yorkshire during the depths of the Great Depression in England. In it he also attempts to sketch a solution to the misery that he both witnessed and felt. The book itself was a pivotal work for him as many of the ideas and ideals which he had been developing in earlier works such as Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) and Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936) emerged clearly and powerfully in The Road to Wigan Pier. Moreover, despite some flaws, its style is far superior to that of his earlier efforts, and the work adumbrates the classics which he was later to write.

Orwell’s political maturation is evident in The Road to Wigan Pier. From his autobiographical sketch in chapter 9 and from other biographies it is evident that Orwell, from a very early age, resented the class and caste barriers of his society. He was a deeply caring and idealistic humanitarian who viewed socialism as the only cure for a malaise-ridden industrial society. He greatly feared totalitarianism and believed that only socialism provided an alternative. The Road to Wigan Pier was clearly a watershed work for him, for it states clearly and forcefully that which he had only hinted in earlier works. Following it, he was a writer with a mission. The themes of dozens of essays, plays, and novels during the remaining years of his writing career reflect the conclusions reached in this seminal work.

While The Road to Wigan Pier is an example of political maturity which eventually resulted in modern classics such as Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four, it was also a crucial work in the development of Orwell’s writing style. Had he been content merely to cite and document his travels, the book would hardly have been memorable. His greatest ambition was to become a successful writer, and his earlier works demonstrate his efforts to discover a writing style which best suited him. With The Road to Wigan Pier he found his style. It was to be honest and straightforward, yet feeling and interpretive. His word pictures do not mask the appalling, nor do his polemics fail for lack of force. Orwell vented his passion on the printed page, and he continued to do so throughout the rest of his all too brief lifetime.