Homage To Catalonia Summary

George Orwell

Homage To Catalonia

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Homage To Catalonia Summary

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Homage to Catalonia is George Orwell’s personal account of the Spanish Civil War, which ran from July 1936 to April 1939. A military coup against Spain’s elected government, carried out by the Nationalists, launched the conflict. The Second Spanish Republic—run by the Republicans—was in control before the war; after the war, that republic was replaced. George Orwell served in the infantry, fighting for the Republicans. As he was fighting primarily near Catalonia, Homage to Catalonia includes his own observations.

The Republicans comprised several groups that banded together to fight for the government against the Nationalists. Communists, anarchists, and people living in urban areas, as well as those in industrial areas like Catalonia and the Basque region, were all included under the umbrella term “Republicans,” more because they fought to preserve the republic than because of unifying social views.

Homage to Catalonia does not span the entirety of the Spanish Civil War. Orwell served for seven months of the almost-three-year struggle, from December 1936 through June 1937. While the book was published in 1938, the war did not end until the year after, so at the time of writing Homage to Catalonia, Orwell did not know what the war’s outcome would be, that the Republicans would lose, and that General Francisco Franco—leader of the Nationalists—would install himself as a pro-fascist dictator and rule until his death in 1975.

The book begins with Orwell’s arrival in Barcelona in 1936. He is there as a journalist, but,energized by the spirit of the revolution, joins the militia. As a member of the POUM unit, PartidoObrero de UnificacionMarxista (The Worker’s Party of Marxist Unification, in English), Orwell first goes through basic training and then is sent to the front. There, he spends three months, mostly bored, in the trenches.

After those three months, Orwell goes on leave to be with his wife, who has traveled to Barcelona. Unfortunately, the war follows. Orwell engages in fighting in the streets on behalf of the Republicans for several days before the violence ebbs away. He is wounded, his wounds serious enough that the militia evacuates him to a hospital to recuperate as best he can.

Meanwhile, POUM is suppressed not by the Nationalists, but by other groups of the Republican government. Members are arrested and, in some cases, executed. Orwell manages to escape with his wife and some others. They flee Spain and make their way to France. From there, Orwell and his wife continue across the British Channel to England, where he writes Homage to Catalonia.

In addition to recounting Orwell’s experiences fighting in the war, the book explains the Spanish Civil War,giving a broader scope while correcting and debunking information he finds less than accurate in contemporary news reports about the war.

Themes that emerge from Homage to Catalonia include the difference between war and revolution, the impact of infighting, and the experience and plight of the common soldier.

The Spanish Civil War was fought after World War I, but before the start of World War II. While armies possessed the technology used in WWII, they were fighting with the tactics of the first. Trench warfare—and all the pitfalls that accompany it, including living in filth and among vermin infestations—was the main tactic in use. A unique aspect of the Spanish Civil War was that it did not start in the same ways the World Wars began. Its fuse was revolution. It represented an opportunity for the oppressed to stand against their oppressors, and to potentially win. In other words, Orwell and his comrades were attracted by the ideals of freedom that spurred resisting the Nationalists. They considered themselves fighting for revolution, not simply for war.

Conflict within the Republican forces ultimately paved the way for the Nationalists’ victory. Had they fought as a united front, the Spanish Civil War might have enjoyed a different outcome. The Republicans started out in an advantageous position—with control of Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia, as well as manufacturing, gold, and army resources. They had the backing of the international community and the common people. The Republicans’ quibbling left the door open for the Nationalists to come with their own government, ties with the Axis nations of Germany and Italy, and defeated the Republicans.

Homage to Catalonia tells real stories of the experiences of common soldiers. Almost all the characters are, like Orwell, infantry soldiers. They are severed from the rest of society. Orwell has difficulty taking leave of the life he knows in the trenches, even after just three months.