Homage to Catalonia Critical Essays

George Orwell


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Homage to Catalonia, although in many ways a controversial book, has generally been praised for its description of the common soldier’s experience of war. Orwell makes clear his belief that some ideals are worth fighting, dying, and even killing for. At the same time, the common soldier’s ambivalence about killing other human beings is reflected in his writing. Frequent expressions of his remembered impatience to get on with the job of killing Fascists are thus balanced by repeated assurances to the reader that his marksmanship was poor. The author never tries to glorify war. With his sharp reporter’s eye for the telling detail, Orwell gives the reader a feel not only for the inspiring sense of camaraderie among the soldiers but also for the dirt, cold, stench, lice, physical discomfort, and sheer fright that afflict even those soldiers who fight for a worthy cause.

In his description of his battle experiences in the winter of 1936-1937, of his wounding by a sniper, and of his harrowing life on the run from the police following the suppression of the POUM, Orwell often discusses in a cold, almost clinical, way events that must have been extremely painful and frightening. This deliberate refusal to indulge in melodrama is often effective in letting the reader imagine for himself just how bad things really were.

Homage to Catalonia is not merely a memoir of one man’s experience of war; it espouses a definite political point of view, one difficult for most of his contemporaries either to understand or to accept. Orwell’s political stance, as reflected in this book, was simultaneously anti-Franco and sharply critical of the Loyalist side and was both enthusiastically and even radically Socialist and strongly anti-Communist. Anticipating that the book would meet with disbelief and opposition from a wide section of its readership, Orwell adopted an unusual device to win over the skeptics: admitting his fallibility. Twice the author admits that his own view of events was limited, that he could not entirely avoid bias, and that he undoubtedly made some mistakes. Such a frank admission of the...

(The entire section is 875 words.)