Coming Up for Air review

Yes, Orwell wrote books other than 1984 and Animal Farm

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Lidija Crnkic, Editor in Chief

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Although most of my web stories are rather satirical, the last one I wrote was, for the most part, serious- a mini biography about George Orwell. I actually miss AP Lit because we would really delve into books and learn so much more about them than just what’s on the surface, and I was longing to do that again, so I decided to do a real critique and analysis of an Orwell novel I recently read in an attempt to understand it better.

In his lesser-known work Coming Up for Air, the main character George Bowling reflects Orwell’s own discontent with England’s government and society at the time through a clash of the past, present, and future.

Chapter one introduces George Bowling and the gives the basics about him. This chapter focuses on the present and implies it’s very bleak and artificial, with an emphasizing motif of loss. Bowling is a 45-years-old, unhappy insurance salesman. He is becoming disgruntled with the world, with himself, and with his life. He carefully observes and describes the increasingly manufactured and synthetic state of society. His very own residence, Ellesmere Road, is a “a line of semidetached torture-chambers,” and every house is identical, nothing special or personal about any. Out in the town, Bowling decides to get a frankfurter only to discover it’s disgusting, with a vivid description of, “Rotten fish in a rubber skin. Bombs of filth bursting inside your mouth.”

Chapter two is all about sentimentality. Bowling grew up in Lower Binfield, a rather rural town, before WWI, during what was known as the Edwardian era. During the 1920s, after the dark times of the Great War, people such as Orwell looked back nostalgically to their childhoods during the Edwardian era, romanticizing the period as a golden age of simpler times, which is obviously showcased in Bowling’s flashbacks. Bowling fondly remembers growing up during those years and conjures a rich exploration of pastoral life. He admits that things were harder and harsher back then, but at the same time, it was better because people had “a feeling of security, even when they weren’t secure.”

Chapter three is simple, but this is where Orwell manages to insert his political opinions and convey his concerns for England’s future through Bowling. His critique of the leaders of England for appropriating totalitarianism shines through. “They think that England will never change and that England’s the whole world. Can’t grasp that it’s just a left-over, a tiny corner that the bombs happen to have missed. But what about the new kind of men from eastern Europe, the streamlined men who think in slogans and talk in bullets? They’re on our track. Not long before they catch up with us.” Orwell is specifically pointing out that there is still dangerous totalitarianism out there, that it’s not just in Germany and it’s not safe to punish one and accept the other.

Chapter four concludes the story with Bowling deciding to take a vacation to his childhood home of Binfield. Orwell manages to depressingly convey what is happening to England with the complete artificial and commercial standardization of Bowling’s beloved rural town. Most of the people Bowling knew are dead, the population has grown, there are factories and new standardized houses everywhere, and all of the businesses he once knew and loved as a child are gone. Bowling’s time in Binfield before he returns home ends with the RAF accidentally dropping a bomb in town and killing three people, which is Orwell’s method of depicting of what could be coming for the future of England.

All in all, I think Orwell did a magnificent job of getting his message across. Through George Bowling’s story, Orwell really managed to show what was happening to English society: uniformity was growing and individuality decreasing, commercialism and consumerism were taking over, and everything was becoming more artificial and standardized. He also successfully warned his audience of the possibilities that lay ahead: war and totalitarianism.

There were two things I felt Orwell could have improved upon: his depiction of women and keeping this story more engaging. For women, all he really presented them as were hags, naggers, and/or housewives. His mother, his wife, and Elsie (an old flame) were all described to be like this. During the Edwardian Era, there was actually a lot happening with women that would have been nice to see, such as the rising status of women and women’s suffrage. Instead, the depiction of them was very simplistic. As for keeping the story more engaging, although there were satirical moments and sentimentalism and vivid descriptions, there was a lot of unnecessary details too- a lot of digression and lack of plot. There wasn’t as much build up or intrigue and excitement as in Orwell’s other novels, such Animal Farm and 1984, and Coming Up for Air was hard to read at times because of this.

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