The main themes of this book are the plight of the English unemployed, poor and working class after the Great War, how the class system should be overthrown, and how embracing socialism would improve the English way of life. Orwell divided his book into two distinct sections. The first being an expose of what it was like to live among the working class. The second being an argument for the disbandment of the class system and an argument for the reasons socialism is the answer to England’s economical and social problems.
Orwell spends his time living among people who are suffering. His experiences living with and working beside the miners in the north of England are detailed and vivid. One of the first accounts he gives is what it is like in a dwelling for single miners. The house is described as overcrowded and dirty. One scene that sticks out is that the owner of the house never washes his hands and always butters the bread his borders eat. In the bread he passes out is always a large black thumbprint. Revolting!
Orwell emphasizes that the people living in these conditions are living this way because they cannot afford better accommodations. They are working hard everyday just to have a place to sleep, and not a solitary place to sleep, but a chance to share a bed with sometimes several other men, and to eat a scrappy meal. The squalor of this place echoes the way most of England was suffering.
Historically, England was going through a time of great economic recession and depression. The poor were living a meager existence and their lives as painted by Orwell show how the depression was affecting them. For example, during this time commodities were at an all time low and necessities were at an all time high.
Orwell tells of how the working people were able to afford luxuries like good clothes through trade shops, or radios, but they were not able to afford the things that made life bearable, such as coal for heat, or good bedding. One family is said to not have had a mattress but they were using old jackets and things like that to make their metal bed frames more comfortable.
The poor people of England were suffering and the snobbery of the upper classes in some ways allowed the poor people of England to suffer even more. The poor, in their eyes, were a lesser people. They were people that were deserving of their lot. They smelled, were uneducated, and were dirty.
Orwell discusses in the second half of his book that the class system is one born from snobbery. It is instilled during childhood. It is a natural way of life, and it is also one that he had to work at very hard to overcome. He said that the prejudice of the lower class was so great that he believed that the lower class even smelled inferior.
Orwell wanted to influence the English to abandon their ideas of the superiority of the upper class. But, I believe that it is evident that Orwell knows this won’t happen in the society which he lives. This is also one of the driving factors of why he wants a socialist society.
Orwell’s time among the lower class and working class influenced him to want to make a Utopian society. He was touched by the hardworking class and the poor, especially by the way they worked so hard without reaping the benefits of their hard work. He believed that the only way for England to recover from their economic strain was to embrace socialism. He urges people to embrace socialism by comparing it to fascism and trying to show how people are more likely to be socialist because of their dependency on machinery.
Orwell’s writing has merit and strength by showing the true life of the poor and working class in Northern England. His words give an insight to the lives of colliers, borders, and the families of those who were of the working class. His writing provides the reader with another side of history that couldn’t be understood just by reading basic facts and statistics.
Orwell also broadens the readers understanding of what socialism was during the years after the Great War. With that said, his ideas almost border on lunacy when considering the way his beliefs of mans dependency on machinery was equated with being socialist. From the standpoint of a person looking back through history at his time period, his ideas seem fanciful and unrealistic. His beliefs that because man depends on machinery to simplify his life should lead everyone to adopt the socialist views are confusing.
Overall, The Road to Wigan Pier is a good piece of literature that portrays the life of the poor, and working class. But, Orwell’s vision of socialism leaves the reader, at least me, confused at what his ultimate goal of socialism was, or at least his means of socialist reform. I do understand that he wanted life better for those who were suffering and he felt that the only way to accomplish this was through the adoption of socialism. I have found it hard to understand, however, his view point of how a life built around the dependency of machinery is one of socialism. In fact, the more he explores the machinery concept the more the last pages of the book seem to be a jumping point for his work 1984. With that said, his description of the poor truly brought to life the horror of the lives of the working class and poor.