George Orwell’s Coming Up for AirGeorge Orwell’s novel, Coming Up for Air, portrays England at two different times. The story is based around George Bowling in 1939 and his life in the suburbs of London on Ellesmere Road, where all the houses are the same. He is very cynical of the world around him and dreams of his times as a child in Lower Binfield when things were not perfect, but not yet ruined by the Great War. The vision of 1900 England versus England in 1939 creates a sharp contrast in life for George Bowling. In 1939 England is on the verge of another war, and life is impersonal, harsh, and industrial. The reality of 1939 is only accentuated by George’s trip to his childhood home of Lower Binfield, where nothing is the same as he left before the Great War.
George Bowling’s first glimpse of Lower Binfield in 1939 leaves him baffled. He does not even recognize his childhood home. The small town of two thousand has turned into a city of twenty five thousand. Upon seeing his old home he exclaims, “But where was Lower Binfield? Where was the town I used to know? It might have been anywhere. All I knew it was buried somewhere in the middle of that sea of bricks.” The town is fundamentally different then when George left it. The old brewery is gone and the main manufacturing in the city was bombs for the RAF. People in the streets are preparing for impending war with Germany. They are practicing for air raids and bombers are constantly flying overhead. The marketplace where all the shops were during his childhood is now called the “Old Market”. George could not even find his way around town because of all the new streets. He recognized many of the shops but they all had different names and owners. This difference startles George but also shows an important difference between England in 1900 and 1939 England. Towns were becoming cities, the war had industrialized the entire nation very quickly, and a small town like Lower Binfield quickly became a manufacturing center. The city no longer housed the smaller family owned businesses that had once dominated Lower Binfield. These smaller shops had been bought out by national businesses that were expanding across England closing smaller shops in all the towns. Shopkeepers like George’s dad who refused to innovate and carry different merchandise were left to slowly die as stores like Sarazins, “big retail …
…o have conversations with strangers. The development of England and the industrialization brought with the war has made life even more impersonal. George’s post war euphoria of getting a great job and becoming very successful was shattered by the reality that England did not have jobs for everyone and England’s familiar face had changed.
Coming Up for Air illustrates the changes in England during the twentieth century. George Bowling is George Orwell’s tragic character trying to hold on to England’s fading past. What he ultimately realizes is that England has changed forever. The Great War has demolished the old simple way of life that Lower Binfield held for George when he was a child. The new England is one with cars, suburbs, trash dumps, assembly lines, and war. The quiet serenity George found when he was fishing is not available to him in 1939. He is stuck with his job, his false teeth, his nickname “fatty”, family, his house on Ellesmere Road, the impending war with Germany, and the post-war period. The reality that George lives in is the harsh, impersonal England of 1939.Bibliography
Orwell, George. Coming Up for Air. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1950.