Homage to Catalonia | Study Guide

Orwell

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Homage to Catalonia | Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

Spring arrives at last. The days are warmer, cherry trees blossom, and bathing in the river "cease[s] to be an agony and [becomes] almost a pleasure." There is a company of Andalusians, from southern Spain, next to Orwell's company at the front. They seem rustic and unsophisticated; they don't even know "the one thing that everybody knows in Spain—which political party they belonged to."

The attacks on Huesca are slowing down. After serving 115 days, Orwell is granted leave. Looking back, Orwell sees at the time he regarded his service in Spain as "one of the most futile [periods] of my whole life." But now—writing just seven months later—he sees it as a very special period of his life, different from anything before and probably different from anything yet to come. Orwell "had dropped more or less by chance" into the only place in Western Europe "where political consciousness and disbelief in capitalism were more normal than their opposites." In a sense it was "a foretaste of Socialism." At the same Orwell thinks the Spanish Civil War just one phase in a vast geopolitical game "being played over the whole surface of the earth." Orwell is aware some people think socialism is just a thin disguise for the same exploitation and domination as occur under capitalism. But Orwell knows the Spanish militias were a "microcosm of a classless society."

On April 25, 1937, Orwell's company is called back to Monflorite, and from there by train to Barbastro. The next day, April 26, their train pulls in to Barcelona. "And after that the trouble began," Orwell remarks ominously.

Analysis

The Andalusians seem like unsophisticated peasants, at least in the eyes of the Catalonian militiamen. However, Orwell may be using their unworldliness to comment on a blindness of those fighting on the Republican side. Orwell says, with apparent scorn, the Andalusians don't even know "the one thing that everybody knows in Spain—which political party they belonged to." Thus they think they are anarchists, "but [they are] not quite certain; perhaps they were Communists." But this is exactly Orwell's position; he has came to Spain to fight against fascism, and at first he saw no great importance in which party he aligned himself with, so long as it was for the Republic. Orwell reveals this in Appendix 1, when he says his first impression on coming to Spain was that it suffered "a plague of initials." He thinks of communists and anarchists as constituting the same side, although later events will reveal the huge rift between them. In Chapter 9 Orwell plans to join one of the communist-organized International Brigades; he sees the switch from the PM to the Brigades as no big deal, just another way to serve the Republic of Spain. In Chapter 10 he is shocked and embittered by the communist propaganda slandering the POUM as fascist collaborators. Thus the rustic Andalusians perhaps grasp a truth that eludes the other militiamen: they realize the fight is about freedom and equality, not political labels.

Chapter 7 is a kind of hinge between Orwell's early war experiences—chiefly of boredom and misery—and his later war experiences of treachery and bitterness. He warns readers of what is coming, by saying "and after that the trouble began" as the train pulls in to Barcelona. But before describing the trouble, in this chapter Orwell pauses to reflect on all that he valued in his time in the Spanish Civil War. He recalls the "foretaste of Socialism" and the "microcosm of a classless society" he found in the militias. On the one hand this paean to the harmony of socialism makes the infighting in Barcelona all the more shocking to readers, coming on the heels of Orwell's positive memories. But on the other hand this strategy gives readers some perspective; despite the bitter lessons of Barcelona, Orwell still believes in the ideals he fought for.

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