Aldington harshly criticizes the culture of England’s public schools. What aspects of life in these schools particularly enrage him? What connections does he perceive between public school...

  1. Aldington harshly criticizes the culture of England’s public schools. What aspects of life in these schools particularly enrage him? What connections does he perceive between public school culture and the English world view that led to the war?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Aldington operates from a premise that the conformity and reinforcement of the social system are what cause emotional disasters such as what George experiences and political disasters as World War I. Aldington believes that the culture of England's public schools play a large part in the emotional and political pain that George experiences.  Seeing that George experiences emotional deadening in his home environment with his parents, Aldington makes the case that school should have been a realm in which the spark of individuality and identity formation should have taken hold. This was not to be, and the result becomes part of Aldington's stinging indictment of England public schools:

Long before he was fifteen George was living a double life- one for school and home, another for himself...How innocent- seemingly he played the fine health barbarian schoolboy, even to the slang and the hateful games. Be ye soft as doves and cunning as serpents. He's such a real boy, you know.

Aldington's emphasis on how the English public school system forced George to live a "double life" is part of the intense criticism he holds towards formal schooling.  It emphasized a condition of conformity that reinforced a sense of the barbaric and "hateful games."  These elements helped to replicate conditions of barbarism and hatred in the personal realm with emotional relationships, such as George's parents and the ones he was to enter later on in his life, and with political entanglements such as World War I.  When Aldington suggests that George was "real," it is a direct indictment to the English public school system in not enhancing this quality of authenticity within him.

For Aldington, the replication of a structure in which conformity was praised and the "real" was negated helped to create young men who operated as willing soldiers that marched to their deaths in World War I.  Aldington emphasizes this in his description of Lieutenant Evans:

Evans was the usual English public- school boy, amazingly ignorant, amazingly inhibited, and yet "decent" and good- humoured... He accepted and obeyed every English middle- class prejudice and taboo... Evans was an "educated" pre- war Public Schoolboy, which means that he remembered half a dozen Latin tags, knew a little of the history of England, and had a "correct" accent.... He was stupid, but he was honest, he was kindly, he was conscientious... There were tens of thousands like him.

For Aldington, the English public school system constructed "thousands like" Evans who ended up finding only death and disfiguration on a battlefield that they should not have encountered.  The English public school system conditioned children to obey "every English middle- class prejudice and taboo."  The surface layer of intelligence and superficial understanding of education that prevented young men from questioning the system that surrounds them is where Aldington reserves the greatest amount of disdain for the English school system. This system forced children to embrace a world view that caused embrace of a war that should have prompted questioning and reexamination.

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