Homage to Catalonia | Study Guide

Orwell

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Homage to Catalonia | Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

After spending three weeks at the front, Orwell and the company's other Englishman, Williams, leave the company for another assignment. A British organization, the ILP (Independent Labour Party), has sent 30 men from England to join the fight on the Republican side. Orwell and Williams meet them at Alcubierre, and from there they head to their new position at Monte Trazo, a few miles from Saragossa. They occupy a steep limestone cliff dotted with horizontal foxholes "like sand-martins' nests."

Once again, nothing much happens. Signs of spring—crocuses and irises—are seen, but the weather remains cold. The ILP contingent is small, which means guard duty is shared among a small number of men. Consequently Orwell gets just 20 or 30 hours of sleep a week.

Sometimes the shifting front lines bring the opposing armies within shouting distance, where they trade insults. On Orwell's side, men are assigned "shouting-duty." They perform set pieces of revolutionary propaganda, asking the fascists why they fight against their own class. The propaganda is often successful, drawing deserters. One particularly good propagandist simply lies about imaginary, sumptuous meals the Republicans are supposedly enjoying. His shouted descriptions of buttered toast make Orwell hungry.

In February Orwell and his company hear the town of Malaga has been captured by the fascists, but they hope it's a rumor. That same night the fascists briefly attack Orwell's company, resulting in one casualty. In the ensuing days Orwell's company learns the rumors about Malaga are true: "the whole disgraceful story leaked out." Orwell doesn't recount the whole story, but it involves treachery on the Republican side. This is Orwell's first inkling of "treachery or divided aims" on the Republican side. He begins to have doubts about the war, whose "rights and wrongs had seemed [until now] so beautifully simple." In mid-February Orwell and 50 other PM militiamen are sent 50 miles away to the town of Huesca, currently held by the fascists. At this point Orwell has left the English ILP group and is back with his old company in the PM.

Analysis

Stationary warfare continues to be a miserable and frustrating affair. So Orwell makes the best of his bad situation, observing things around him with amusement. He delights in the verve of the PSUC propagandist who tries to make the fascists desert for the sumptuous meals the communists are supposedly enjoying. Obviously the PSUC man on "shouting-duty" is lying about having buttered toast and other delicacies, but Orwell sees the humor in this bluff. However, this scene foreshadows a much darker episode in Homage to Catalonia. After the street fighting in Barcelona in May (Chapter 9), the PSUC and other communist parties lie about what happened (Chapter 10), claiming the POUM and other anarchists have been collaborating with the fascists. The infighting on the Republican side, and the lying about it afterward, are the bitterest and most disillusioning experiences Orwell has in the Spanish Civil War.

The grim news about Malaga functions the same way, foreshadowing the bitter realizations Orwell will have in May and June. Not only has Malaga fallen to the fascists, but Republican treachery seems to be the cause. In calling this "the first talk I had heard of treachery or divided aims," Orwell subtly lets readers know there will be more talk of treachery and divided aims in the chapters to come.

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