Class Identity In George Orwell

1260 Words 5 Pages
Before we can progress, by way of conclusion, from Dickens’ novel of 1861 to Orwell’s 1946 essay, we must first shift our focus to the class identity of the very writers whose works we have been discussing. When we move from novelists writing within the limits of their own class identities to the essays and memoirs and essays of adopted working class life by George Orwell, we see tobacco use cease to be a satiric trope as in Sterne or Pope, or a sign of hardiness and industriousness as in Gaskell and Dickens. It becomes instead a simple and terrible necessity for sustaining one’s existence. This uniting of writer and smoker then represents the final development of the image we have so thoroughly investigated: its transition from ideal to …show more content…
Famously, Orwell describes his family’s social standing as “lower-upper-middle class” (The Road to Wigan Pier 153). Whatever the financial problems Orwell’s family may have faced, “the English class system…is not entirely explicable in terms of money,” and though a middle class family’s money problems might imply “shabby gentility,” they do not threaten starvation or homelessness (154, 157). Thus, Orwell decidedly did not belong to the working class, and in his youth he instead chose “to cling to [his] gentility because it is the only thing [he] ha[d]…the accent and manners which mark[ed] [him] as one of the boss class (157). It is only in Orwell’s subsequent direct descent into abject poverty in the 1920s that we finally see how truly important tobacco is to the working class, because it is there that the image of the smoking workingman crosses from fiction to …show more content…
As we have seen, the implications of the establishment of tobacco culture and the reconfiguration of English class hierarchy in the seventeenth century are largely co-dependent. They are most evident when we examine the image of the man and his tobacco as it progressed from a satire of the idle socialite in the eighteenth century to the proud status-marker of the workingman in the nineteenth century. In Orwell’s descent into abject poverty in the 1920s, tobacco use ceases to be a recurring image in fiction, and instead largely informs us of the miseries faced by thousands of English tramps and workingmen. After Orwell, it is easy for us to accept the image of the smoking man as it appears from Pope to Dickens as a sort of simulacrum: it imperfectly reflects a larger truth of the relationship between smoking and class identity. What it has also shown, however, is that the concept of upper, lower, and middle classes is likewise a simulacrum. Consider the workingmen addressed in “Books vs. Cigarettes.” Though they are certainly poor, and rely on tobacco to maintain their harsh existences, they are not at risk of starving like Down and Out era Orwell and his tramps, and think “nothing of spending several pounds on a daytrip to Blackpool” (1). Thus, the writer, the labourer, and the

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