George Orwell Long Fiction Analysis
Excepting Animal Farm, most critics view George Orwell’s fictions as aesthetically flawed creations, the work of a political thinker whose artistry was subordinate to his intensely didactic, partisan passions. This reaction to Orwell’s novels was generally promoted posthumously, since his fiction in the 1930’s was often ignored by the larger reading public and panned by those reviewers who did pick up one of his books. The early academic critics—up to the late 1960’s—were often Orwell’s personal friends or acquaintances, who tended to see his early novels as conventionally realistic and strongly autobiographical. Even his masterpieces, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, were viewed as formally undistinguished, however powerful their message. It was not until the second generation of critics began looking at Orwell’s fiction that a more balanced assessment was possible.
Orwell’s first published novel, Burmese Days, concerns the life of John Flory, an English policeman in Burma during the early 1920’s. The plot is fairly straightforward. After a lengthy introduction to Flory’s personality and daily life, Orwell dramatizes him as a man blemished with a physical stigma, a birthmark, and puzzled by moral dilemma—how to deal with the increasingly rebellious natives, to whom he is secretly sympathetic but against whom he must wield the club of imperialistic authority. In the middle of this dilemma, Elizabeth arrives, a young English woman who is fresh faced but decidedly a traditional “burra memsahib.” Flory attempts to win both her heart and mind—much to the dismay of his Burmese mistress, Ma Hla May—and succeeds in doing neither, even though he manages to half succeed in proposing marriage during an earthquake. With a mind too closed to anything not properly British, and a heart only to be won by someone very English, Elizabeth forgets Flory’s attentions with the arrival of Verrall, an English military policeman, who will in turn reject her after his billet is completed. A humble Flory waits for Elizabeth, and after Verrall has left takes her to church services, confident that he has outlasted his rival. Unfortunately, Flory is humiliated by Ma Hla May, is repulsed yet again by Elizabeth, and, in a mood of despair, commits suicide, killing both his dog and himself.
In such a world, Flory is emphatically not meant to be a sympathetic character, but rather a victim of the very political order he has sworn to uphold. In effect, Orwell has laid a trap for the unwary reader. Too close an identification with Flory, too intense a desire to have him succeed in marrying Elizabeth—an unholy alliance of imperialistic Englishwoman and revolutionary, thinking pariah—will prevent the reader from recognizing the irreconcilable contradictions inherent in the British presence in Burma.
Orwell’s fourth published novel, Coming Up for Air, was written in Marrakesh, Morocco, shortly after the author had recovered from yet another bout with tubercular lesions of the lungs. Although the novel sold moderately well for the time (a first printing of two thousand copies and a second printing of one thousand), many critics were vaguely condescending toward the hero, George Bowling, a middle-class insurance salesman who longs for the golden country of the past while simultaneously dreading the horrors of a second world war, then only months away. Many of the themes more fully developed in Nineteen Eighty-Four find their initial expression in Orwell’s last conventional novel, set before the outbreak of the devastation that the next six years would bring.
Coming Up for Air is set in London during the late 1930’s; Orwell employs a first-personnarrative to describe the life of George Bowling, a middle-aged, middle-class salesman, whose first set of false teeth marks a major milestone in his life. Musing in front of a mirror while he prepares for work one morning, George’s mind wanders back to the past,...
(The entire section is 3,339 words.)