Homage to Catalonia | Study Guide

Orwell

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Homage to Catalonia | Quotes

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1.

[He looked like] a man who would commit murder and throw away his life for a friend.


George Orwell, Chapter 1

Orwell is describing the face of an Italian militiaman he encounters at the Lenin Barracks on the day before he joins up with the POUM. Orwell takes "an immediate liking" to this man, and he means this comment about his willingness to commit murder for a friend as high praise. Orwell speculates on the man's political affiliations; he looks like an anarchist, according to Orwell, but he's probably a communist. The important thing to Orwell, the praiseworthy thing he sees in this man's face, is the willingness to "throw away his life for a friend." Orwell is not much of an ideologue; instead he values friendship and human decency. He would probably be far less impressed upon meeting someone who was willing to throw away his life for a party line.

2.

It struck me that they were indistinguishable from ourselves, except that they wore khaki overalls.


George Orwell, Chapter 2

Orwell is speaking of the fascist deserters he sometimes encounters on the front at Alcubierre. Orwell sees their humanity; they are "indistinguishable" from himself and his fellow PM militiamen. Orwell shows compassion rather than politicized enmity toward the deserters. However, his sympathy may be easier to give because of the deserters' tenuous connection to fascism. First of all, Orwell encounters them after they've deserted, not in the throes of ideological commitment to fascism. Second, the average foot soldier on the fascist side, according to Orwell, was not a fascist at all but only an unwilling draftee.

3.

This is not a war ... it is a comic opera with an occasional death.


Georges Kopp, Chapter 3

Georges Kopp is a commander in the POUM militia at the front in Alcubierre. The war there is what Orwell calls "stationary warfare," with each side dug in to a mountainside and facing each other across vast distances, often out of range of rifle fire. The main danger is from stray bullets fired by other PM militiamen, causing "an occasional death." Thus nothing much happens in the first months Orwell is at war, and he and Kopp find the situation absurd. Later, in the Appendixes, Orwell speculates on the reasons the militias were so ill equipped. It served the Republican government's purposes to keep guns out of the hands of anarchists, Orwell remarks.

4.

We're just sitting down to buttered toast over here! Lovely slices of buttered toast!


The PSUC propagandist at Monte Trazo, Chapter 4

Orwell can't see the PSUC propagandist; he is a militiaman on the Republican side, at the nearby PSUC position. But Orwell can hear the propagandist's shouted attempts to get the fascists to desert and come over to the Republican side. Sometimes he argues politically, asking why the fascists are fighting against members of their own class. Sometimes the propagandist gets more fanciful, as here when he claims their side is enjoying excellent food.

As silly as the lie sounds, it is the essence of political propaganda: "We have the good life; just look at our buttered toast." This is perhaps Orwell's first encounter with propaganda in wartime Spain, and it seems benign, even amusing. Later he will see a much darker side of propaganda, when the PSUC and the government turn against other groups on the Republican side, declaring them fascists and traitors.

5.

Hitherto, the rights and wrongs [in this war] had seemed so beautifully simple.


George Orwell, Chapter 4

The fascists have told Orwell and his company that the town of Malaga has fallen to the fascists. At first Orwell and the other militiamen don't believe it, but later "the whole disgraceful story leaked out." Orwell doesn't tell the story in full, but it involved a surrender without any shots fired, and it was caused by "treachery" on the Republican side. This is Orwell's first inkling of treachery and divided aims in the war. In May, during the street fighting in Barcelona, he will see a great deal more treachery, and eventually he comes to understand the divided aims of the communists and the PM are perhaps irreconcilable. But in the first weeks of war, the fall of Malaga is a chilling harbinger of future catastrophes.

6.

It was queer to creep about in those empty, fertile fields.


George Orwell, Chapter 5

On the front outside the town of Huesca, Orwell and his fellow militiamen have to take turns doing patrol duty. They creep toward the fascist lines and listen for sounds of activity; for example, the fascists are said to attend Mass just before battle, so Orwell and his comrades listen for sounds of church bells.

Orwell creeps through empty, fertile fields that have been abruptly abandoned by the peasants who fled the advancing war. "Everything had been arrested just at the harvest-moment," says Orwell. He imagines the peasants cursing both armies in the war.

7.

Political consciousness and disbelief in capitalism were more normal than their opposites.


George Orwell, Chapter 7

Midway through Homage to Catalonia Orwell stops narrating events, temporarily, and instead looks back over his whole experience in Spain. He reflects on how much he values what he experienced there. In the coming chapters he will tell stories of treachery and disillusionment; as if to inoculate readers, he pauses in Chapter 7 to reflect on what he fought for. Here he remarks he "had dropped more or less by chance" into the only place in Europe where socialist and communist beliefs were the norm. The memory of this "foretaste of Socialism" remains heartening to Orwell, even after he leaves the war behind.

8.

You would have ... [thought] that there was something disgraceful in having gone to the front voluntarily.


George Orwell, Chapter 8

Orwell is discussing the government propaganda that denigrates the militias and praises the Popular Army. In 1936, in the initial chaos of General Franco's uprising against the newly elected government, the army of Spain was unable to defend the Republic. Significant parts of the officer class were on Franco's side, and the new government seemed also to lack the nerve to go to war. Instead the trade unions, many of them anarchist or far left, raised militias on their own and set about defending the Republic. But as the government sought to consolidate their control of the situation, it wanted to take guns out of anarchists' hands and instead hand them to a more traditionally organized, hierarchical army, the Popular Army. Orwell notes the black humor of the situation. The people who went to the front first are denigrated, while the people who "wait[ed] to be conscripted" are praised.

9.

When ... [a] worker [is] in conflict with ... [a] policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on.


George Orwell, Chapter 9

It is May 3, 1937, and Orwell is in Barcelona, where he initially was sent on leave from the front. Word comes out that the Assault Guards—a militarized, urban police force—have attacked the Telephone Exchange. This is a building where mainly CNT (National Confederation of Labor; Spanish: Confederación Nacional del Trabajo) work—that is, members of an anarcho-syndicalist federation of unions. The anarchists, the POUM, and others fear this is the start of a government crackdown, the start of infighting on the Republican side. Orwell is describing his decision to join the fray, which costs him no deliberation at all. Sounding like an anarchist himself, he declares himself for the workers and against the police.

10.

Few experiences could be more sickening, ... disillusioning, or ... more nerve-racking than those evil days of street warfare.


George Orwell, Chapter 9

Orwell has endured boredom, fear, and vermin in this war, and at Huesca he is shot through the throat. But in many ways the very worst days of the war, for Orwell, are the days of street fighting in Barcelona. When he is wounded at Huesca, it is at least a fascist who shoots him. But in Barcelona Orwell sees the extent of the infighting and treachery on the Republican side.

11.

"It"—the fighting—was now thought of as some kind of natural calamity.


George Orwell, Chapter 9

It is May 6, 1937, in Barcelona, after several days of street fighting between government forces and the POUM. The fighting has stopped, but people all over the city are asking, "Do you think it's stopped?" and "Do you think it's going to start again?" In their fear, people no longer understand war as an activity undertaken by humans for human ends. Instead the war becomes a vague "it," something visited upon people without their will, "like a hurricane or an earthquake."

12.

When you are ... making history ... you ought ... to feel like an historical character. But you never do.


George Orwell, Chapter 9

Orwell has been standing watch on the rooftop of the Poliorama movie theater, keeping an eye on the Assault Guards, who have taken over a nearby building. Orwell's task is vital, because it is feared the Assault Guards will attack the Local Committee building, a POUM stronghold. So he is "making history"; he is in the thick of a historically significant war that pitted fascists against communists, and also communists against anarchists and other leftist groups.

Because Orwell is on the rooftop, he is symbolically above the fray. But he does not feel any distance from the war, and while he fights he "never made the correct 'analysis' of the situation," something that was easy for "journalists hundreds of miles away." When one is in the war, Orwell finds, the present moment is all that counts, and so one's concerns narrow to "discomfort ... boredom ... and ... hunger."

13.

Girls in black mantillas ... cathedrals, cardinals, bullfights, gypsies, serenades—in short, Spain.


George Orwell, Chapter 11

It is June 1937 and Orwell has just gotten his discharge papers from the POUM militia, in preparation for leaving Spain. No longer a soldier, he suddenly feels "like a human being again, and also a little like a tourist." Now that he is freed from the concerns of war, he can appreciate Spain's beauty. The list of Spanish sights is evocative, though mainly it evokes clichés: "the Spain that dwells in everyone's imagination." In looking at Spain like a tourist, Orwell now seems more distant from it than when he was fighting.

14.

In reality it was the Communists above all others who prevented revolution in Spain.


George Orwell, Appendix 1

The international reputation of communists is that they favor worldwide revolution: a classless society in every nation on the globe, and even the end of separate nations in favor an international communism. After all, the anthem of communists is called "The International." So it is surprising, as Orwell knows, to realize that communists suppressed revolution in Spain, and even turned against revolutionaries, imprisoning and torturing them. The Communist Party in Spain, in Orwell's analysis, wanted above all to win the war and maintain a stable representative democracy. The anarchists, the POUM, and other leftist parties wanted to defeat Franco by creating a new social order, a revolutionary communist one in which workers had direct control. To the official Communist Party of Spain, the PSUC, these aims spelled extremism, alienation of the middle class, and defeat. Therefore the communists in Spain were in the unusual position of fighting on the counter-revolutionary side.

15.

War-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.


George Orwell, Appendix 1

An important theme of Homage to Catalonia is the decency of soldiers at the front and the disloyalty of politicians and journalists at the rear. The decency of fighting men—Orwell seldom encountered women in the war—even extends across enemy lines. When the fascist draftees desert, Orwell sees they are just like the militiamen, tired and hungry. The Assault Guards who fight against the POUM in Barcelona are friendly to Orwell when he encounters them at the front. The rear and the city are the realm of politicking and lies.

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