Orwell Historical Overview.doc

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Political Science
POL 1201
Elizabeth Beaumont

Orwell Historical Overview The Road to Wigan Pier Coal Mines, Class Struggle, and Socialism's "PR" Problem: Orwell's attempt at a non- dogmatic Socialist Manifesto Key themes and arguments: • Coal mining as allegory • Marxist (Marx-ish?) analysis of working conditions: low wages, expendability, and unemployment Historical Context • 19th c.: Industrial Revolution leads to rising demands for coal and coal mining • 1848: "Year of (thwarted) Revolutions" and publication of the Communist Manifesto • 1914-1918: WWI, a bloody "modern" trench war, 10 mil. dead, and little gained • 1917: Communist revolution in Russia • 1920s-30s: Communist revolt begins in China • 1930s: Rise of Stalin in Russia, rise of fascism in Germany, Spain, and Germany with Hitler, Franco, and Mussolini Coal Power • 1850s: the steam engine, powered by coal, powers the Industrial Revolution • leads to steam-powered ships, railways, factories, equipment, etc 19th c. Attempts at Labor Reform and Regulation in Britain • 1842: Coal Mines Act - prohibits female labor and children under 10 • 1847: 10 Hours Act - limits women and children to 60 hrs/week • 1870: Public elementary education provided for a fee; became free in 1891 • 1901: Minimum working age raised to 12 • 1909: Trade Boards Act - minimum wages (mainly for women) • These and other reforms alleviate some problems of poverty and inhumane working conditions, but by 1930s Britain faces growing poverty and unemployment (as does much of Europe) Orwell's Early Life and Influences • 1903: Orwell (Eric Blair) born in India under British Empire, where his father was a minor official involved with opium trade • Raised in England and attended elite prep school Eton on scholarship. He hated it and teachers reportedly dislike him for his lack of respect for authority • 1922: orwell can't afford college, so he goes to "cram school" for the India Office exams in order to join the Indian Imperial Army in Burma, and experience that inspires hatred of imperialism • 1928: Orwell's "tramping" period. Moves to Paris to write, but must take menial jobs, such as dishwashing. Began publishing essays and books. Returns to England and worked as a teacher. • 1936: Researches working conditions in England's industrial north for the "left Book Club" before traveling to spain to fight on Republican side against Fascist Franco. ◦ Joins a Marxist Worker's Party, which believes Franco can
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