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George Orwell wrote "Homage to Catalonia" about his time spent as a soldier for POUM, the Worker's Party of Marxist Unity, during the Spanish Civil War. His vision of war was certainly different going in than it ended up being after he had spent several months on the front line. Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of the war (besides the cold) for him was the political conflicts that were undermining the overall efforts of those who were against Franco. Suppose Orwell wrote about his experiences without bringing in the very confusing different political agendas - would the message of "Homage to Catalonia" still be the same? Hardly - even Orwell himself said that it would "be impossible to write about the Spanish war from a purely military angle. It was above all things a political war." (46) Yet in spite of Orwell's disgust at the conflict among those who were supposedly fighting for the same things, Orwell found it necessary to write his memoirs of his time in Spain. Clearly the war meant so many different things to him, and it is through "Homage to Catalonia" that he tries to convey these meanings - his profound feelings for the Spanish people, and the political agenda that counteracted any real progress made against Franco. To Orwell, his interactions with the P.O.U.M. Catalans, as well as those from other socialist "groups" fighting on the same side were the people who affected him most profoundly. It was these relationships that shaped his experience, which is the sole purpose of his "Homage to Catalonia"
George Orwell, an Englishman who carried around a Spanish dictionary for much of the war, outwardly speaks of his affection for the people of Spain a multitude of times in the book. He learned very quickly just how sincere the Spanish people were that he was around. He describes how no one could be around the Spaniards he was with and not be "struck by their decency; above all their straightforwardness and generosity." (12) He goes on to declare that their generosity is "at times almost embarrassing" in that if you asked to have a cigarette, the Spaniard would more than likely "force the whole packet upon you." (12) Orwell refutes the descriptions of other journalists of "bitterly jealous" Spaniards, saying how he was never encountered with anyone fitting that sort of image. (12) For Orwell, the humility and honesty of the Spaniards was something he wasn't used to, and was quite humbled by. When one Spaniard gave credit to the French by declaring them "Braver than we are," Orwell muses on the idea that an Englishman would rather "cut his hand off" than admit anyone was better. (12) As his time in the militia endured, Orwell was transferred several times to other units (posts) and became acquainted with many different types of people, but mostly stayed among the Catalans he had met. This relationship that Orwell had with the men he was sometimes even put in charge of is so significant to the novel - he had only intended upon reporting on the war, yet the enthusiasm and feeling of revolution that had embraced him in Spain caused him to voluntarily join a war for which he would gain no advantage. This was certainly not his country, his war, or his people. Yet Orwell joined the militia, learned the language and became part of a brotherhood that could have killed him (and nearly did). To me, the kinship Orwell must have had, the affection he speaks about for these people, must have been something that transcended all race, language and political barriers. It is doubtful that anyone today would put themselves where Orwell did, for people he hardly even knew, which speaks volumes not only about Orwell, but also about the people of Catalonia.
George Orwell saw only minimal amounts of fighting in Spain, which can make you wonder what it is that affected him in such a way that he barely waited until he had returned safely to England before he wrote about his experience. As stated before, it was in part because of how he was so profoundly affected and influenced by the people he came into contact with. Politically speaking, he may have used his writings as a sounding board for "inner-party feud" which was "annoying and disgusting." (66) From a journalist's point-of-view, many of the accounts of the war were propaganda as opposed to factual reporting, and Orwell makes note of the gradual shift of attacking the enemy, to attacking the "other socialists." This war was unique in that "as time went on, the Communists and the P.O.U.M. came to write more bitterly about one another than about the Fascists." (66) This inner conflict distressed Orwell a lot, and he writes about it in spurts throughout.
To begin, he alluded to political undercurrents, but doesn't dedicate any page space to it until Chapter V. He said "At the beginning I had ignored the political side of the war," and how he was "unaware of it" for some time. (46-47) It exasperated him at how two (or more) groups of people wanted the same end result - for Fascism to be stopped - yet the two groups could not agree on anything else outside of that. He admittedly "did not realize that there were serious difference between the political parties." (47) His most matter-of-fact statement was "Why can't we drop all this political nonsense and get on with the war?'" which he concluded must have been what the English media wanted people to think, to "prevent people from grasping the real nature of the struggle." (47) As a soldier for the war, Orwell felt that each person was not only fighting against Fascism, but also playing a role in "an enormous struggle that was being fought out between two political theories." (47) Overall, it was this internal struggle that prevented a unified front from presenting itself against the Fascist forces. The ultimate defeat (suppression) of the Anti-Fascist side was clearly because of minute political differences Orwell spent great amounts of time explaining, in passages that are not only lengthy, but also often hard to understand.
It seems that Orwell, like most of the Europeans of the time, had this idealized view of what war was and should be like, and once Orwell was confronted with the political aspect of the war, he became much more cynical about the fighting and the "cause" in general. As the war came to a close, and the P.O.U.M. forces were suppressed after being declared "illegal," many of the P.O.U.M. members were being arrested. In fact, when Orwell was released from the hospital and given discharge papers, he and his wife became fugitives in hiding until they were safely removed from Spain.
Many of the men Orwell served with and cared for were arrested and Orwell found it all "profoundly dismaying." (206) He couldn't figure out why the forces were being arrested, and what they had done that was so wrong. Orwell finally did find out the nature of the charges being brought against the members of P.O.U.M., which seemed to be dealing with supposed, "Fascist ties." Rumors were spread about P.O.U.M. members being secretly shot in jail, which caused the fugitive Orwell to try to get out Kopp, who was one of his dearest comrades during the war. Orwell talked angrily of how Kopp was "his personal friend, I had served under him for months, I had been under fire with him, and I knew his history." (209) According to Orwell, he "was a man who had sacrificed everything - his family, nationality, livelihood - simply to come to Spain and fight against Fascism." (209) This man affected Orwell as many of his comrades did - in what can only…[continue]
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