George Orwell wrote much of his work with the ills of society in mind. Among these is his disdain for the general bourgeois mentality that he observed in the England of his time. Thus two major issues that he addresses in A Clergyman's Daughter (1935) are religious hypocrisy and the education system. Both of these result in society churning out more of the bourgeois, dull and prejudiced people that they themselves have become.
Dorothy is the main character of the novel by Orwell. When the novel begins, she is completely sincere in her piety. She honestly tries to be as good a Christian as she can be and chides herself constantly for "sins" that she feels are not becoming of a clergyman's daughter or indeed of a Christian. She also attempts to eradicate her father's hypocrisy in failing to pay his bills to the tradesmen in town, upon which he responds (p.31):
Nonsense, my dear child! These people expect to be kept waiting for their money. They like it. It brings them more in the end."
The most obvious theme here is hypocrisy. The Rector attempts to justify his failures and his debt by asserting that it is actually good to owe money. This kind of hypocrisy, according to Orwell, is typical of the bourgeoisie who is plagued by poverty. Unable to accept any financial shortage, the bourgeoisie continues to pretend that things are good, and thus the clergyman attempts to pretend that not paying his bills is part of the characteristics of a "good" person.
Dorothy however refuses to accept this and finds it "terrible" that her father could behave in such a way. She is thus in opposition to societal and bourgeois hypocrisy in the beginning of the novel. Her faith and her life are genuine. She genuinely strives to be a good person and shows this with the various things she does to pass the time. On her "to do" list she writes everything that has to be done during every day. She for example wants to visit a woman who had just had a baby in order to encourage her to visit the church. These actions are the consequence of her genuine Christian sentiments.
Dorothy's loss of memory in Chapter II then also marks the turning point in her life. Knowing only that "I am I!" (p. 97), she wanders away to adventures hitherto unknown to her in her bourgeois capacity. First she becomes a beggar, after which she arrives at a job in the Kentish hopfields.
Kent, when she hears that her new friends are going there, gives her some sort of comfort. This represents to her the life she had known so far, and on a subconscious level she feels that it is right to go there. Kent represents civilization and refinement. Although the hopfields are not exactly civilization and refinement, Dorothy does recover her memory to some degree.
This recovery results in a further "refined" job in a snobbish private school. This is where Orwell criticizes the education system for its rigidity and its failure to adhere to the needs of its users, the students.
Dorothy is again the representative of sincerity here. She attempts to be honest and forthright in her lessons, as well as to teach the students things in an interesting manner. The parents however would not have this:
The fact was that the parents were growing perturbed by the tales their children brought home about Dorothy's methods. They saw no sense whatever in these new-fangled ideas of making plasticine maps and reading poetry, and the old mechanical routine which has so horrified Dorothy struck them as iminently sensible." (p. 247)
Thus the parents are sketched in the same way that Orwell saw the society of his time. They are dull and hardly alive at all, and thus attempt to make of their children the same dull, deadly people as they are.
Loss of Faith
When Dorothy finally reaches home, she has lost her faith. Her sincerity makes this a problem for her and she agonizes over it. However, the mentality of her time soon overcomes this, and it is by identifying with others that she becomes like them. When thinking about the world in general, Dorothy realizes that she is not alone in her loss of faith, and that many, while not actually having faith, still have the need of it. Thus, finding it impossible to do anything but conform to her world, Dorothy herself becomes a hypocrite.
Orwell here criticizes a world in which it is impossible to be anything apart from what the world dictates. Dorothy has attempted to change her father from his non-bill paying ways. She has attempted to change the school system. Neither of these has met with any success. At the end of the novel, as she wonders what to do next, she realizes that she is not alone in her fate, and the acceptance of this is her downfall.
Soon after her realization, Dorothy again begins her lists and her good works. The piousness in her mind is still sincere, but this time the works are all that is left. There is none of the underlying Christian sincerity. Dorothy has now learned to find satisfaction in the things that she does instead of the faith that at first inspired them. The grim finality of it is that she also has become a hypocrite like the rest of the world, and that she was not even aware of it.
The Day of the Triffids
The Day of the Triffids (1951) by John Wyndham has been called a "middle-class catastrophe." Thus this author also addresses issues of bourgeoisie and values that are unquestioned and unchanged. Furthermore, political hypocrisy and the search for self-sufficiency above all else are addressed in the novel. The politics in the novel, like the politics of Wyndham's time, are unstable. War and hunger are imminent and constant dangers, and the world leaders are doing what they can to prevent these. This is ironically what leads to the disaster that leaves most people on earth blind.
The Comfort Zone
Throughout the novel, Wyndham comments upon the bourgeois tendency to become overly comfortable with the established order of the world. The narrator reflects:
there was so much routine, things were so interlinked. Each one of us so steadily did his little part in the right place that it was easy to mistake habit and custom for the natural law - and all the more disturbing, therefore, when the routine was in any way upset." (1951:17)
The order of things as the middle classes were used to it, was a daily routine. It was therefore very difficult to adjust to the new order of things, when almost everyone lost the sense of sight, which they had taken for granted throughout their lives. Thus, when Bill Masen finds that his breakfast had not arrived on its due time in hospital, he is extremely nervous. And things just become worse as the novel progresses.
Other elements of the "comfort zone" that Wyndham touches upon are the politics involved with the triffids. Politicians initially deny their existence. And people are happy to believe their politicians. This reflects upon the tendency in society to turn a blind eye towards things that people find uncomfortable. Thus politicians are allowed atrocious crimes against humanity, because society prefers not to see. The wide-scale blindness of the people in the novel may also be seen as a reflection of this.
Another matter that the middle classes, represented by Masen, find it difficult to adjust to after the disaster is the new law of survival. Masen steals food because he has no choice, and leaves money behind because his conscience tells him to. However,…