Wednesday, August 25, 2010

George Orwell was pro-life

An essay exploring George Orwell's belief and his pro-life novel, Keep the Aspidistra Flying.


In embracing the stability of middle-class married life, Orwell was also accepting middle-class values -- duty, prudence, honesty. While it didn't mean embracing religion, Orwell felt more respect for and connection with his bourgeois peers than his genteel past. His 1936 novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying was a sign of that relationship: "Keep the Red Flag Flying" was the traditional slogan of the British Labour Party. By substituting the word "red" with aspidistra, a green-leafed plant that survives in harsh climates, he was praising hardiness and thrift, two qualities of the proletarian and bourgeois traditions. It would be in this novel of bourgeois values that Orwell would lay out his humanistic case against abortion.

Gordon Comstock, the 29-year-old protagonist in Aspidistra, is much like Orwell himself at the time. Gordon comes from a shabby genteel family struggling in a money-dominated society and chooses a bohemian lifestyle early on. Chucking his well-paying advertising job, he tries to become a poet, supporting himself as a bookshop assistant. But Gordon has little success. After selling one poem to a magazine, he squanders his money through drinking and debauchery. And three-quarters through the novel, Gordon faces a much bigger problem: His girlfriend, Rosemary, announces unexpectedly that she's pregnant with their child. Both are confused. "He did not think of the baby as a living creature," a horrified Gordon reacts. "[I]t was a disaster, pure and simple."

The same dilemma has confronted other characters in literature before, but what distinguishes Gordon's decision is not simply that he chooses life -- it's the way he does it. After the shock of Rosemary's pregnancy wears off, Gordon consults science and reason to make sense of the situation -- but never religion. Once he recognizes the unborn child's humanity, he consciously identifies with working-class values.

Some people think of conservatism as an elitist ideology. I would suggest that conservatism often (though not always) reflects the views of the working class better than liberalism does.

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