Homage to Catalonia | Study Guide

Orwell

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Homage to Catalonia | Chapter 10 | Summary

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Summary

Just days after the street fighting in Barcelona, Orwell and his company return to the front at Huesca. Orwell is disillusioned by what he has seen in Barcelona. As soon as Orwell reaches the front he hears that his friend Bob Smillie, another Englishman, has been imprisoned in Valencia. Smillie was arrested on a trumped-up charge of carrying weapons. He had been due to return to England; Orwell believes Smillie was arrested so he could not tell anyone what he'd seen in Barcelona in May.

Now Orwell is an acting second lieutenant, in charge of 30 men. But once again not much is happening at the front. The battle for the Jaca road, a key roadway near Huesca, has stalled. The main danger is from fascist snipers.

After about 10 days at the front, several militiamen—Orwell among them—set up a concealed rifle nest and fire on the fascists. Orwell fires some shots but is not confident he has hit anyone. Suddenly he is hit by a sniper's bullet. Orwell says the experience was "very interesting," and he declares he will describe it in detail. He does not know at first where he is hit; he only has the sensation of "being at the center of an explosion."

When Orwell finds out "the bullet [has] gone clean through [his] neck," he assumes he is going to die. His first thought is of his wife. His next thought is a "violent resentment at having to leave this world which ... suits [him] so well." He ruminates on the "the stupid mischance ... the meaninglessness" of his impending death. He thinks about the man who shot him, and he imagines telling him, sportsmanlike, that it was a good shot. Orwell spends nine days in ambulances and at various hospitals, his wound untreated all the while.

Finally Orwell learns he will be sent to Barcelona, but instead he is sent to a hospital at Tarragona. On the way he sees a glorious troop train full of Italian militiamen, flush with a recent victory. "Most of them, I'm afraid, were killed at Huesca only a few weeks later," Orwell remarks. At the hospital in Tarragona, about 10 days after being shot, Orwell finally has his wound examined. "You'll never get your voice back," the doctor tells Orwell—inaccurately, it later turns out.

Analysis

It is partly a relief to Orwell to be back at the front after the "miserable internecine [internal] scrap" in Barcelona, as Orwell called it in Chapter 9. At the front Orwell is at least fighting the proper enemy. And yet things are no longer so clear: "It was difficult to think about this war in quite the same naively idealistic manner as before." Additionally, returning to the front means returning to the frustrations and boredom of stationary warfare.

At the start of Homage to Catalonia, Orwell expresses admiration for an Italian militiaman who seems ready to "throw away his life for a friend." The expression "throw away" indicates waste, or a sacrifice far beyond what was asked of the militiaman. But when he is hit, Orwell is enraged by the pointlessness of what seems to be his imminent death. He wasn't really even in a pitched battle, just picked off by a distant sniper. His first thought, of course, is for his wife, and his second is for his anger at "having to leave this world." But his next thoughts are of the pointlessness of his sacrifice: "the stupid mischance ... the meaninglessness" of being picked off by a sniper's bullet.

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