George Orwell’s ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ is a satirical novel that explores the theme of money and its impact on human relationships. The story follows the life of Gordon Comstock, a struggling poet who is determined to live a life free from the constraints of money and material possessions. In this article, we will provide a summary of the novel and delve into its key themes and motifs.
Background and Context
George Orwell’s ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ is a novel that was published in 1936. It is a satirical work that explores the themes of money, class, and the pursuit of happiness. The novel is set in London during the 1930s, a time when the city was still recovering from the economic depression that had hit the world in the previous decade. The protagonist of the novel is Gordon Comstock, a struggling poet who is determined to live a life free from the constraints of money and material possessions. However, his idealistic views are challenged when he realizes that he cannot survive without money. The novel is a commentary on the society of the time, where money was seen as the key to happiness and success. Orwell’s work is a reminder that the pursuit of happiness is not always straightforward and that there are often obstacles that must be overcome.
The Plot and Characters
The plot of George Orwell’s ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ revolves around the life of Gordon Comstock, a struggling poet who is disillusioned with the capitalist society he lives in. He quits his job at an advertising agency and takes up a low-paying job at a bookstore, hoping to pursue his passion for writing. However, his financial struggles and his relationship with his girlfriend, Rosemary, become increasingly strained as he becomes more obsessed with his anti-capitalist beliefs.
The characters in the novel are complex and well-developed. Gordon is a flawed protagonist who is both sympathetic and frustrating. His girlfriend, Rosemary, is a practical and ambitious woman who struggles to understand Gordon’s ideals. Other characters, such as Gordon’s friend Ravelston and his boss at the bookstore, provide insight into different aspects of society and the human condition.
Overall, the plot and characters in ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ provide a thought-provoking commentary on the struggles of the working class and the pursuit of artistic passion in a capitalist society.
The Theme of Money
In George Orwell’s novel, “Keep the Aspidistra Flying,” the theme of money is prevalent throughout the story. The protagonist, Gordon Comstock, is a struggling poet who despises the idea of working a conventional job to make a living. He believes that money is the root of all evil and that it corrupts people’s values and morals. However, as he continues to struggle financially, he realizes that money is necessary to survive in society. This realization leads him to take a job at an advertising agency, which he despises but needs to pay his bills. The novel explores the complex relationship between money and personal values, and how the pursuit of money can lead to a loss of one’s identity and principles.
The Theme of Freedom
The theme of freedom is a prevalent one in George Orwell’s novel, “Keep the Aspidistra Flying.” The protagonist, Gordon Comstock, is a struggling poet who despises the capitalist society he lives in and the constraints it places on his artistic expression. He dreams of living a life free from the pressures of money and material possessions, but finds himself trapped in a cycle of poverty and desperation.
Throughout the novel, Orwell explores the idea of freedom in various forms. Gordon’s desire for artistic freedom clashes with his need for financial stability, and he must constantly choose between the two. He also grapples with the concept of personal freedom, as he struggles to maintain his independence while also relying on the support of his friends and family.
Ultimately, “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” is a commentary on the limitations of freedom in a capitalist society. Despite Gordon’s best efforts, he is unable to escape the constraints of money and class, and is forced to compromise his ideals in order to survive. The novel serves as a reminder that true freedom is often elusive, and that the pursuit of it can come at a great cost.
The Theme of Love
The theme of love is a prominent one in George Orwell’s novel, “Keep the Aspidistra Flying.” The protagonist, Gordon Comstock, is a struggling poet who is deeply in love with his girlfriend, Rosemary. However, his obsession with money and his disdain for the middle-class lifestyle that he believes comes with it, causes him to push Rosemary away and sabotage their relationship.
Throughout the novel, Orwell explores the complexities of love and how it can be both a source of joy and pain. Gordon’s love for Rosemary is genuine, but his fear of becoming like the people he despises causes him to act in ways that ultimately hurt her.
Additionally, Orwell also touches on the idea of love as a means of escape. Gordon sees his relationship with Rosemary as a way to escape his mundane life and the pressures of society. However, he soon realizes that love cannot solve all of his problems and that he must confront his own issues in order to find true happiness.
Overall, the theme of love in “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” adds depth and complexity to the novel, highlighting the ways in which love can both uplift and hinder individuals in their pursuit of happiness.
The Theme of Class
The theme of class is a prominent one in George Orwell’s ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’. The novel explores the struggles of Gordon Comstock, a young man who rejects the materialistic values of his middle-class upbringing and instead chooses to live a life of poverty as a struggling writer. Throughout the novel, Gordon is constantly reminded of his lower social status and the limitations it places on his life. He is unable to afford basic necessities such as food and rent, and is forced to rely on the generosity of others. The novel also highlights the stark contrast between the lives of the wealthy and the poor, with Gordon’s friend Ravelston representing the former and Gordon himself representing the latter. Overall, ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ offers a poignant commentary on the class divide in society and the impact it can have on individuals.
The Setting and Atmosphere
The setting of George Orwell’s ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ is a post-World War I London, where the protagonist, Gordon Comstock, struggles to make ends meet as a bookstore assistant. The atmosphere is one of despair and disillusionment, as Comstock grapples with his desire to be a poet and his disdain for the capitalist society he finds himself in. The novel is set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, which adds to the overall sense of hopelessness and desperation. The city is described as dirty and crowded, with the constant noise of traffic and the smell of smoke and pollution. The setting and atmosphere of the novel serve to highlight the themes of poverty, class struggle, and the search for meaning in a world that seems to have lost its way.
The Writing Style
George Orwell’s writing style in “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” is characterized by its simplicity and clarity. He uses straightforward language and avoids flowery prose, which makes the novel easy to read and understand. Orwell’s writing is also marked by his attention to detail and his ability to create vivid descriptions of people and places. He uses these descriptions to paint a picture of the world in which his characters live, and to convey their emotions and experiences. Overall, Orwell’s writing style is effective in conveying the themes and messages of the novel, and it is one of the reasons why “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” remains a classic of modern literature.
The Reception and Criticism
The reception of George Orwell’s “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” was mixed. Some critics praised the novel for its portrayal of the struggles of the working class and the importance of money in society. Others criticized it for its bleak and depressing tone, as well as its portrayal of the protagonist, Gordon Comstock, as a self-absorbed and unlikable character.
Despite the mixed reception, “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” remains a significant work in Orwell’s oeuvre, showcasing his ability to capture the complexities of human nature and the societal pressures that shape our lives. The novel’s themes of class, money, and the pursuit of happiness continue to resonate with readers today, making it a timeless classic of modern literature.
The Significance and Legacy
The significance of George Orwell’s ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ lies in its portrayal of the struggles of the working class in early 20th century London. The novel highlights the societal pressures and expectations placed on individuals to conform to a certain lifestyle and career path, and the consequences of rejecting these norms.
Orwell’s legacy as a writer and social commentator is evident in his ability to capture the essence of the human experience and expose the flaws in societal structures. ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ is just one example of his literary prowess and his commitment to shedding light on the injustices of the world.
Through the character of Gordon Comstock, Orwell challenges the notion that success and happiness are synonymous with financial stability and material possessions. Instead, he advocates for the pursuit of personal fulfillment and creative expression, even if it means rejecting societal expectations and living in poverty.
Overall, ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ serves as a reminder of the importance of individuality and the dangers of conformity. Orwell’s legacy continues to inspire readers to question the status quo and strive for a more just and equitable society.
Orwell’s Life and Influences
George Orwell’s life and experiences greatly influenced his writing, including his novel “Keep the Aspidistra Flying.” Born Eric Arthur Blair in India in 1903, Orwell grew up in England and attended Eton College. He later worked as a police officer in Burma, an experience that would inspire his novel “Burmese Days.” Orwell also fought in the Spanish Civil War and wrote about his experiences in “Homage to Catalonia.” His political beliefs, including his opposition to totalitarianism and his support for democratic socialism, are evident in his writing. Orwell’s life and influences can be seen throughout “Keep the Aspidistra Flying,” which explores themes of class, money, and the struggle to maintain one’s integrity in a capitalist society.
The Political and Social Context
George Orwell’s ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ is set in the early 1930s, a time of great political and social upheaval in Britain. The country was still reeling from the effects of the First World War, and the Great Depression had hit hard. Unemployment was high, and poverty was widespread. The Labour Party had just come to power, promising to bring about social and economic change, but their efforts were hampered by the global economic crisis. Against this backdrop, Orwell’s novel explores the struggles of the working class and the middle class, and the tensions between them. It also delves into the political and social issues of the time, such as the rise of fascism in Europe, the role of the media in shaping public opinion, and the impact of consumerism on society. Through the character of Gordon Comstock, a struggling writer who rejects the materialistic values of his society, Orwell offers a critique of capitalism and the pursuit of wealth at the expense of human values. Overall, ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ provides a fascinating insight into the political and social context of early 20th century Britain, and the challenges faced by its people.
The Role of Satire
Satire plays a crucial role in George Orwell’s ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying.’ Through the use of humor and irony, Orwell critiques the societal norms and values of the time. The protagonist, Gordon Comstock, is a struggling poet who rejects the materialistic and capitalist society he lives in. He sees money as the root of all evil and believes that true happiness can only be achieved through artistic expression. However, his ideals are constantly challenged as he struggles to make ends meet and maintain his relationships. Orwell uses satire to highlight the absurdity of the capitalist system and the hypocrisy of those who claim to value art and culture but prioritize money above all else. Through Comstock’s experiences, Orwell exposes the flaws and contradictions of the society he lived in, making ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ a powerful critique of the capitalist system and a call for a more meaningful and fulfilling way of life.
The Symbolism of the Aspidistra
The aspidistra plant, also known as the cast-iron plant, is a recurring symbol throughout George Orwell’s novel “Keep the Aspidistra Flying.” The plant represents the protagonist Gordon Comstock’s struggle with his own values and desires.
At the beginning of the novel, Gordon sees the aspidistra as a symbol of conformity and bourgeois values. He despises the plant and everything it represents, including his own parents’ obsession with it. However, as the novel progresses, Gordon’s relationship with the aspidistra becomes more complex.
When Gordon moves into a new flat, he decides to buy an aspidistra as a way to mock his own poverty and his inability to afford more expensive plants. However, as he cares for the plant, he begins to see it as a symbol of resilience and endurance. The aspidistra is able to survive in even the harshest conditions, just as Gordon is able to survive in his own difficult circumstances.
Ultimately, the aspidistra comes to represent Gordon’s own struggle with his values. He realizes that he cannot completely reject the values of the middle class, but he also cannot fully embrace them. The aspidistra becomes a symbol of this tension, as Gordon both loves and hates the plant.
Overall, the symbolism of the aspidistra is a powerful and complex element of “Keep the Aspidistra Flying.” It represents not only Gordon’s struggle with his own values, but also the larger societal tensions between conformity and individuality.
The Meaning of the Title
The title of George Orwell’s novel, “Keep the Aspidistra Flying,” is a reference to the aspidistra plant, which was a popular houseplant in England during the early 20th century. The plant was known for its ability to thrive in low-light conditions and its resilience, making it a symbol of middle-class values and stability. In the novel, the protagonist, Gordon Comstock, is a struggling writer who rejects these values and instead pursues a life of poverty and artistic freedom. The title can be interpreted as a metaphor for Comstock’s desire to reject the trappings of middle-class life and instead pursue his own path, even if it means sacrificing financial stability. Ultimately, the novel explores the tension between individualism and conformity, and the ways in which societal expectations can stifle creativity and personal fulfillment.
The Comparison with Orwell’s Other Works
When comparing “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” to George Orwell’s other works, it is clear that this novel stands out as a departure from his usual political and social commentary. While Orwell is known for his critiques of totalitarianism and class inequality in works such as “1984” and “Animal Farm,” “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” focuses more on the individual struggle against societal expectations and the pursuit of personal fulfillment. However, the novel still contains Orwell’s signature themes of disillusionment and the search for meaning in a world that often seems devoid of it. Overall, “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” showcases Orwell’s versatility as a writer and his ability to tackle a variety of subjects with equal skill and insight.
The Adaptations and Interpretations
One of the most notable adaptations of George Orwell’s “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” is the 1997 film adaptation directed by Robert Bierman. Starring Richard E. Grant as Gordon Comstock and Helena Bonham Carter as Rosemary, the film received mixed reviews but was praised for its faithful adaptation of the novel’s themes and characters.
Another interesting interpretation of the novel is the 2019 stage adaptation by the New Diorama Theatre in London. Titled “Aspidistra: A New Musical,” the production reimagines the story as a musical, with original songs and a modern setting. The adaptation received critical acclaim for its innovative approach to the source material and its ability to capture the novel’s themes in a new and exciting way.
Overall, the various adaptations and interpretations of “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” demonstrate the enduring relevance of Orwell’s work and its ability to inspire new creative works across different mediums.
The Relevance to Contemporary Society
George Orwell’s novel, “Keep the Aspidistra Flying,” may have been written in the 1930s, but its themes and messages are still relevant to contemporary society. The novel explores the struggles of a young man named Gordon Comstock, who is determined to reject the materialistic values of his society and pursue a life of artistic integrity. In a world where success is often measured by wealth and status, Gordon’s decision to live a simple life and prioritize his creative pursuits is a refreshing reminder of the importance of staying true to oneself. Additionally, the novel’s commentary on the dehumanizing effects of capitalism and the dangers of conforming to societal norms is particularly relevant in today’s world, where many individuals feel pressured to conform to the expectations of their peers and society at large. Overall, “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of individuality, creativity, and staying true to one’s values in a world that often values conformity and material success above all else.