April 29, 2022

The Road To Wigan Pier

I made 119 highlights while reading The Road To Wigan Pier by George Orwell. The book will give you insights into working class life in England.
  • Like so many unemployed men, he spent too much time reading newspapers. If you did not head him off, he would discourse for hours about such things as the Yellow Peril, trunk murders, astrology, and the conflict between religion and science.

  • I suppose it is the complete lack of responsibility that makes so many of these men look younger than their ages.

  • Their chief pleasure was talking about their grievances to anyone who would listen.

  • I have noticed that people who let lodgings nearly always hate their lodgers.

  • You cannot disregard them if you accept the civilisation that produced them.

  • People bred in the slums can imagine nothing but the slums.

  • In a crowded, dirty little country like ours, one takes defilement almost for granted.

  • It is only when you see miners down the mine and naked that you realise what splendid men they are.

  • Nearly all the miners chew tobacco, which is said to be good against thirst.

  • I am handicapped by being exceptionally tall, but it is a tough job for anybody except a dwarf or a child when the roof falls to four feet or less.

  • When you think of the coal mine, you think of depth, heat, darkness, blackened figures hacking at walls of coal; you don't think, necessarily, of those miles of creeping to and fro.

  • A miner's working shift of seven and a half hours does not sound very long, but one has to add to it at least an hour a day for 'travelling', more often two hours and sometimes three. Of course, the 'travelling' is not technically work, and the miner is not paid for it.

  • Watching coal-miners at work, you realise momentarily what different universes people inhabit.

  • Practically everything we do, from eating an ice to crossing the Atlantic, and from baking a loaf to writing a novel, involves the use of coal, directly or indirectly.

  • In a way, it is even humiliating to watch coal miners working. It raises in you a momentary doubt about your status as an' intellectual' and a superior person generally. It is brought home to you that it is only because miners sweat their guts out that superior persons can remain superior.

  • For the year 1934, the average gross earnings of all miners throughout Great Britain was only £115 11s. 6d.

  • Probably it is safe to say that stoppages of one kind and another cut four shillings or thereabouts from every adult miner's weekly wage. So that the £115 11s. 6d., the mine-workers average earning throughout Great Britain in 1934, should be something nearer £105.

  • In 1914, every mine-worker produced, on average, 253 tons of coal; in 1934, he produced 280 tons.

  • If I live to be sixty, I shall probably have produced thirty novels or enough to fill two medium-sized library shelves. In the same period, the average miner produces 8400 tons of coal, enough coal to pave Trafalgar Square nearly two feet deep or to supply seven large families with fuel for over a hundred years.

  • Every year, one miner in about nine hundred is killed. And, one in about six is injured; most of these injuries, of course, are petty ones, but a fair number amount to total disablement.

  • I do not earn much more than a miner earns, but I do at least get it paid into my bank in a gentlemanly manner and can draw it out when I choose. And even when my account is exhausted, the bank people are passably polite.

  • This business of petty inconvenience and indignity, of being kept waiting about, of having to do everything at other people's convenience, is inherent in working-class life.

  • You might visit quite many houses, even among the poorest of the unemployed, and bring away a wrong impression. These people, you might reflect, cannot be so badly off if they still have a fair amount of furniture and crockery. But it is in the rooms upstairs that the gauntness of poverty discloses itself.

  • If people live in large towns, they must learn to live on top of one another.

  • Give people a decent house, and they will soon learn to keep it decent. Moreover, with a smart-looking house to live up to, they improve in self-respect and cleanliness, and their children start life with better chances.

  • The trouble is that in destroying the slum, you destroy other things as well.

  • It will be seen that a family's income on the dole normally averages around thirty shillings a week. One can write at least a quarter of this off as rent, which is to say that the average person, child or adult, has got to be fed, clothed, warmed, and otherwise cared-for for six or seven shillings a week.

  • Nevertheless, in spite of the frightful extent of unemployment, it is a fact that poverty - extreme poverty - is less in evidence in the industrial North than it is in London.

  • London is a sort of whirlpool that draws derelict people towards it. It is so vast that life there is solitary and anonymous. Until you break the law, nobody will take any notice of you, and you can go to pieces as you could not possibly do in a place where you had neighbours who knew you.

  • The life of a single unemployed man is dreadful.

  • To write books, you need not only comfort and solitude - and solitude is never easy to attain in a working-class home - you also need peace of mind. You can't settle to anything, and you can't command the spirit of hope in which anything has got to be created, with that dull evil cloud of unemployment hanging over you.

  • The English working class does not show much leadership capacity, but they have a wonderful talent for organisation.

  • One thing that probably could be done and certainly ought to be done; is to give every unemployed man a patch of ground and free tools if he chose to apply for them.

  • To study unemployment and its effects, you have got to go to the industrial areas.

  • No human being finds it easy to regard himself as a statistical unit.

  • When people live on the dole for years at a time, they grow used to it, and drawing the dole, though it remains unpleasant, ceases to be shameful.

  • They realise that losing your job does not mean that you cease to be a human being.

  • With the result that a luxury is nowadays almost always cheaper than a necessity.

  • Whole sections of the working class who have been plundered of all they really need are being compensated, in part, by cheap luxuries which mitigate the surface of life.

  • We are sometimes told that the whole thing is an astute manoeuvre by the governing class - a sort of 'bread and circuses' business - to hold the unemployed down. What I have seen of our governing class does not convince me that they have that much intelligence.

  • A human being is primarily a bag for putting food into; the other functions and faculties may be more godlike, but in point of time, they come afterwards.

  • I think it could be plausibly argued that diet changes are more important than changes of dynasty or even of religion.

  • The Great War, for instance, could never have happened if tinned food had not been invented.

  • Yet it is curious how seldom the all-importance of food is recognised. You see statues everywhere to politicians, poets, bishops, but none to cooks or bacon-curers or market-gardeners.

  • The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel about spending it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn't.

  • Unemployment is an endless misery that has got to be constantly palliated, and especially with tea, the Englishman's opium.

  • If the English physique has declined, this is no doubt partly because of the Great War. They carefully selected the million best men in England and slaughtered them, largely before they had had time to breed.

  • We may find that tinned food is a deadlier weapon than the machine gun in the long run.

  • I have pointed out elsewhere how civilised is a French navvy's idea of a meal compared with an Englishman's. I cannot believe that you would ever see such wastage in a French house as you habitually see in English one.

  • Our unemployment allowances, miserable though they are, are framed to suit a population with very high standards and not much notion of economy. If the unemployed learned to be better managers, they would be visibly better off. And, I fancy it would not be long before the dole was docked correspondingly.

  • In Coventry, you might as well be in Finsbury Park. The Bull Ring in Birmingham is not unlike Norwich Market. Between all the Midlands towns, there stretches a villa civilisation indistinguishable from that of the South.

  • At night, when you cannot see the hideous shapes of the houses and the blackness of everything, a town like Sheffield assumes a kind of sinister magnificence.

  • A factory or even a gasworks is not obliged of its own nature to be ugly, any more than a palace or a dog kennel or a cathedral. It all depends on the architectural tradition of the period.

  • The industrial towns of the North are ugly because they happen to have been built at a time when modem methods of steel construction and smoke abatement were unknown. Everyone was too busy making money to think about anything else.

  • The histories I was given when I was a little boy generally started by explaining in the most naive way that a cold climate made people energetic. In contrast, a hot one made them lazy, and hence the defeat of the Spanish Armada. This nonsense about the superior energy of the English (actually the laziest people in Europe) has been current for at least a hundred years.

  • It is relatively easy to live in a miner's house and be accepted as a family member. With, say, a farm labourer in the Southern counties, it probably would be impossible.

  • A working-class family hangs together as a middle-class one does, but the relationship is far less tyrannical.

  • I have pointed out earlier that a middle-class person goes utterly to pieces under the influence of poverty. That is generally due to his family's behaviour - to the fact that he has scores of relations nagging and badgering him night and day for failing to' get on'.

  • You cannot have an effective trade union of middle-class workers. In times of strikes, almost every middle-class wife would be egging her husband on to blackleg and get the other fellow's job.

  • Before you can be sure whether you are genuinely in favour of Socialism, you have got to decide whether things at present are tolerable or not tolerable. You have got to take up a definite attitude on the difficult issue of class.

  • Probably there are countries where you can predict a man's opinions from his income. But, it is never relatively safe to do so in England; you have always got to consider his traditions as well.

  • It was this that explained the attraction of India (more recently Kenya, Nigeria, etc.) for the lower-upper middle class. The people who went there as soldiers and officials did not go there to make money. A soldier or an official does not want money. They went there because in India, with cheap horses, free shooting, and hordes of black servants, it was easy to play at being a gentleman.

  • It may not greatly matter if the average middle-class person is brought up to believe that the working classes are ignorant, lazy, drunken, boorish, and dishonest. But, when he is brought up to think they are dirty, harm is done.

  • Among Mongolians among all Asiatics, for all I know - there is a sort of natural equality, an easy intimacy between man and man, which is simply unthinkable in the West.

  • To get rid of class distinctions, you have got to start by understanding how one class appears when seen through the eyes of another.

  • It is useless to say that the middle classes are' snobbish' and leave it at that.

  • There is no place in the world where snobbery is quite so present or where it is cultivated in such refined and subtle forms as in an English public school.

  • The public schoolboys I meet nowadays, even the intelligent ones, are much more right-wing in their opinions than I and my contemporaries were.

  • The truth is that no modem man, in his heart of hearts, believes that it is right to invade a foreign country and hold the population down by force.

  • Foreign oppression is a much more apparent, understandable evil than economic oppression.

  • There is an appreciable difference between doing dirty work and merely profiting from it. Most people approve of capital punishment, but most people wouldn't do the hangman's job.

  • I see now, as I did not see then, that it is always necessary to protect peaceful people from violence.

  • In any state of society where crime can be profitable, you have got to have a harsh criminal law and administer it ruthlessly; the alternative is Al Capone.

  • The Burmese themselves never really recognised our jurisdiction. The thief whom we put in prison did not think of himself as a criminal justly punished. He thought of himself as the victim of a foreign conqueror.

  • Snobbishness is one of those vices which we can discern in everyone else, but never in ourselves.

  • The speech of' educated' people is now so lifeless and characterless that a novelist can do nothing with it.

  • Under the capitalist system, so that England may live in comparative comfort, a hundred million Indians must live on the verge of starvation. It's an evil state of affairs, but you acquiesce in it every time you step into a taxi or eat a plate of strawberries and cream. The alternative is to throw the Empire overboard and reduce England to an unimportant little island. We'll all have to work very hard and live mainly on herrings and potatoes. That is the very last thing that any left-winger wants. Yet, the left-winger continues to feel that he has no moral responsibility for imperialism. He is perfectly ready to accept the products of Empire and to save his soul by sneering at the people who hold the Empire together.

  • To get outside the class racket, I have got to suppress not merely my private snobbishness but most of my other tastes and prejudices as well. I have got to alter myself so completely that, in the end, I should hardly be recognisable as the same person.

  • The modem English literary world, at any rate, the highbrow section of it, is a sort of poisonous jungle where only weeds can flourish.

  • It is only when you meet someone of a different culture from yourself that you begin to realise what your own beliefs really are.

  • We live in a world in which nobody is free, in which hardly anybody is secure, in which it is almost impossible to be honest and remain alive.

  • From one perspective, Socialism is such elementary common sense that I am sometimes amazed that it has not established itself already.

  • The idea that we must all cooperate; see to it that everyone does his fair share of the work; gets his fair share of the provisions seems so blatantly obvious. One would say that no one could fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system.

  • For every empty belly is an argument for Socialism.

  • If you want to remove that distaste, you have got to understand it.

  • To defend Socialism, it is necessary to start by attacking it.

  • As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents.

  • Not merely while but by fighting the bourgeoisie, he becomes a bourgeois himself.

  • One of the analogies between Communism and Roman Catholicism is that only the 'educated' are entirely orthodox.

  • It is only the' educated' man, especially the literary man, who knows how to be a bigot.

  • The underlying motive of many Socialists, I believe, is simply a hypertrophied sense of order.

  • I know the whole dreary argument very thoroughly because I know it from both sides.

  • Marxists, as a rule, are not very good at reading the minds of their adversaries. If they were, the situation in Europe might be less desperate than it is at present.

  • The kind of person who most readily accepts Socialism is also the kind of person who views mechanical progress, as such, with enthusiasm.

  • All through the nineteenth century, protesting voices were raised against science and machinery (see Dickens's Hard Times, for instance). But, usually for the relatively shallow reason that industrialism in its first stages was cruel and ugly.

  • Barring wars and unforeseen disasters, the future is envisaged as an ever more rapid march of mechanical progress. Until, finally, you land up in the by now familiar Wellsian Utopia, aptly caricatured by Huxley in Brave New World, the paradise of little fat men.

  • The truth is that many of the qualities we admire in human beings can only function in opposition to some disaster, pain, or difficulty. Yet, mechanical progress tends to eliminate disaster, pain, and difficulty.

  • Mechanical progress tends to make your environment safe and soft. Yet, you are striving to keep yourself brave and hard.

  • A machine evolves by becoming more efficient, that is, more foolproof. Hence, the objective of mechanical progress is a foolproof world - which may or may not mean a world inhabited by fools.

  • In a fully mechanised world, all the dull drudgery will be done by machinery, leaving us free for more exciting pursuits. So expressed, this sounds splendid. It makes one sick to see half a dozen men sweating their guts out to dig a trench for a water pipe when some easily devised machine would scoop the earth out in a couple of minutes. Why not let the machine do the work, and the men go and do something else. But, presently, the question arises, what else are they to do? Supposedly, they are set free from 'work' to do something that is not 'work'. But what is work and what is not work?

  • The nomad who walks or rides with his baggage stowed on a camel or an oxcart may suffer every kind of discomfort, but at least he is living while he is travelling. Passengers in an express train or a luxury liner, their journey is an interregnum, a kind of temporary death. Yet, so long as the railways exist, one has to travel by train - or by car or aeroplane.

  • No human being ever wants to do anything in a more cumbrous way than is necessary.

  • Mechanical progress tends to frustrate the human need for effort and creation.

  • The logical end of mechanical progress is to reduce the human being to something resembling a brain in a bottle.

  • The machine has got to be accepted. But, it is probably better to accept it as one accepts a drug - that is, grudgingly and suspiciously.

  • Like a drug, the machine is useful, dangerous, and habit-forming. The oftener one surrenders to it, the tighter its grip becomes.

  • Give a Western man a job of work, and he immediately begins devising a machine that would do it for him. Give him a machine, and he thinks of ways of improving it.

  • The Socialists are right when they claim that the rate of mechanical progress will be much more rapid once Socialism is established.

  • Given a mechanical civilisation, the process of invention and improvement will always continue. But, capitalism tends to slow it down. Under capitalism, any invention that does not promise fairly immediate profits is neglected. Some, indeed, which threaten to reduce profits, are suppressed almost as ruthlessly as the flexible glass mentioned by Petronius.

  • I don't want hard work, you don't want hard work - nobody wants it who knows what it means. You only talk as you do because you've never done a day's work in your life, etc., etc.

  • I believe that when the pinch comes, there is a terrible danger that the main movement of the intelligentsia will be towards Fascism.

  • To combat Fascism, it is necessary to understand it, which involves admitting that it contains some good, and much evil.

  • Socialism is the only real enemy that Fascism has to face. Even though they are about to be plundered, the capitalist-imperialist governments will not fight any conviction against Fascism.

  • Everyone who knows the meaning of poverty, everyone who has a genuine hatred of tyranny and war, is on the Socialist side, potentially.

  • The machine civilisation is here, and it can only be criticised from the inside - all of us are inside it.

  • The principal fact that will have emerged, I think, is that though the English class system has outlived its usefulness, it has outlived it and shows no signs of dying.

  • As prosperity declines, social anomalies grow commoner.

  • Probably we could do with a little less talk about 'capitalist' and 'proletarian' and a little more about the robbers and the robbed.

  • Economically, I am in the same boat with the miner, the navvy, and the farm-hand; remind me of that, and I will fight at their side. But, culturally, I am different from the miner, the navvy, and the farm-hand: emphasise that, and you may arm me against them.