Orwell's "Such, Such Were the Joys....": Alienation and Other Such Joys
George Orwell expresses a feeling of alienation throughout "Such, Such Were the Joys...." He casts himself as a misfit, unable to understand his peers, the authorities placed over him, and the laws that govern his existence. Orwell writes, "The good and the possible never seemed to coincide" (37). Though he shows his ability to enumerate what is "good," he resigns himself to a predestined state; uncertain of where exactly he fits in society, his attitude is irreconcilable with what he knows society expects of him. Orwell's childhood understanding of society forces him into only one possible direction, failure. This essay is the maturing Orwell's response to childhood subjugation, a subtle exposure to the evolution of Orwell's thought.
Orwell's life as a boarding school student at Crossgates occupies his memory of childhood and serves as the platform for his views on life. Repeatedly Orwell describes the society of the school from which he is outcast:
That bump on the hard mattress, on the first night of term, used to give me a feeling of abrupt awakening, a feeling of: This is reality, this is what you are up against.' Your home might be far from perfect, but at least it was a place ruled by love rather than by fear, where you did not have to be perpetually taken out of this warm nest and flung into a world of force and fraud and secrecy, like a goldfish into a tank full of pike. (23)
Young Orwell, impacted by this, "hard," disorienting situation, realizes he is alone in a hostile, harsh environment. Orwell uses the image of the "warm nest," a womb, from which the child is thrown, then innocently forced into a destructive reality. This reality is Crossgates, an educational institution but also a primary residence, the "home" Orwell lives in on a daily basis for a number of years. Far from the "love" of his familial home, Orwell finds that Crossgates does not nurture nor raise a boy to manhood, but rather destroys all that he loves and trusts. Hopelessly dominated in this environment, he is compelled to accept a mentality of insecurity and inferiority and becomes the fodder of others--the winners of society.
Sim and Bingo, the spiritual and emotional guides of Crossgates, feed off of this pitiful mentality and their carefully constructed school environment.
By the social standards that prevailed about me, I was no good, and could not be any good. But all the different kinds of virtue seemed to be mysteriously interconnected and to belong to much the same people. It was not only money that mattered: there were also strength, beauty, charm, athleticism, and something called guts' or character,' which in reality meant the power to impose your will on others. (36-37)
Sim and Bingo manipulate their young students by connecting virtue to superficial qualities they can judge subjectively. Orwell possesses none of these qualities, and actually exemplifies all that would be considered bad. At the same time, however, the master and mistress of school impress upon their young subject that he is a "scholarship boy," one who is to be a boon to the school and attract all those prospective students who exemplify their virtues. The irony of this situation characterizes young Orwell's difficulties. By design, he must serve the interests of his oppressors and be thankful for the opportunity to do so while they destine him to be a hopeless failure and social pariah. Orwell is instructed to tie goodness to "power" and tyranny. He is deemed virtueless and therefore the natural subject of those who are virtuous.
The introductory, poignant tale of bedwetting epitomizes Orwell's alienating education. As the author describes his childhood situation, "I knew that bed-wetting was a)wicked and b)outside my control" (5). Faced by an embarrassing problem he cannot understand or help, the eight-year old Orwell condemns himself as a...
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