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Homage to Catalonia

Homage to Catalonia is George Orwell's personal account of the Spanish Civil War, written in the first person. The first edition was first published in 1938. Orwell was in Spain from December 1936 to June 1937.

Summary of chapters

It should be noted that the following summary is based on a later edition of the book which contains some amendments that Orwell requested: two chapters (formerly chapters five and ten) describing the politics of the time were moved to appendices. Orwell felt that these chapters should be moved so that readers could ignore them if they wished; the chapters, which became appendices, were journalistic accounts of the political situation in Spain, and Orwell felt these were out of place in the midst of the narrative.

Chapter one

In chapter one, Orwell describes the camaraderie of the atmosphere in revolutionary Spain, and asserts that Barcelona appeared to been "a town where the working class were in the saddle": a large number of businesses had been collectivised, "the Anarchists" (referring to the Spanish CNT and FAI) were "in control", tipping was prohibited by workers themselves, and servile forms of speech, such as "Señor" or "Don", were abandoned. He goes on to talk about his time at the Lenin Barracks there, where militiamen were given "what was comically called 'instruction'" in preparation for the front.

Most of the rest of this chapter is spent describing the faults of the POUM workers' militia, as he saw them, half-complaining about the sometimes frustrating tendency of Spaniards to put things off until "mañana" (tomorrow; literally, "the morning"), noting his struggles with Spanish (aggravated by the local use of Catalan) and praising the friendliness and generosity of the majority Spaniards he met. Orwell leads us on to the next chapter by describing the "conquering-hero stuff" -- parades through the streets and cheering crowds -- that the militiamen experienced at the time he was sent to the Aragón front.

Chapter two

In chapter two, Orwell arrives in Alcubierre (in January 1937) to witness the squalid conditions that had been aggravated by the village's proximity to the front line. He then mentions the arrival of various "Fascist deserters" and the poor weaponry that the militiamen in that area of the front received. The chapter ends on his centuria's arrival at trenches near Saragossa and his first near miss with a bullet.

Chapter three

Chapter three begins as a description of the -- perhaps unique -- mundanity of trench warfare, the sneaking about in the mist and on night patrols. Here he praises the Spanish militias: for their relative social equality, for their holding of the front while the army was trained in the rear, and for the "democratic 'revolutionary' type of discipline" which he says is "more reliable than might be expected." This democratic and egalitarian approach remained intact on the front, he said, even while it was being almost systematically destroyed behind the lines by the Communist-controlled government, police and press during that year. Throughout the rest of the chapter, Orwell describes the various shortages and problems at the front -- firewood, tobacco and poor firearms -- as well as the danger of accidents inherent in a badly trained and poorly armed group of soldiers.

Chapter four

In chapter four, Orwell is sent to join a contingent of his fellow Englishmen sent out by the ILP to a position at Monte Trazo, closer to Sargossa. At this position, he witnesses the sometimes propagandistic shouting between the Fascist and Socialist trenches and hears of the fall of Málaga. In February, he is sent with the other POUM militiamen 50 miles to Huesca; he mentions the running joke phrase "Tomorrow we'll have a coffee in Huesca," which was first said, Orwell tells us, by the Government's general who made one of many failed assaults on the town.

Chapter five

Orwell complains, in chapter five, that on the eastern side of Huesca, where he was stationed, nothing ever seemed to happen -- except the onslaught of spring, and, with it, lice. He was in (a "so-called") hospital at Monflorite for ten days at the end of March with "a poisoned hand." He describes rats that "really were as big as cats, or nearly" (in his famous Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell's character Winston Smith has a phobia of rats that Orwell himself shared to some degree). He makes a reference here to the lack of orthodox "religious feeling," telling us that the Catholic Church was to the Spanish "a racket, pure and simple." He muses that Christianity may have, to some extent, been replaced by Anarchism. The rest of the chapter briefly details various operations which Orwell took part in: silently advancing the Loyalist line by night, for example.

Chapter six

One of these operations, which in chapter five had been postponed, was a "holding attack" on Huesca, designed to draw the Fascist troops away from an Anarchist attack on "the Jaca road." It is described in chapter six. Orwell tells us of the offensive of that night, where his group of fifteen captured a Fascist position, but then retreated to their lines with captured rifles and ammunition, the diversion having been successful in drawing troops from the Anarchist attack.

Chapter seven

Chapter seven reads like an interlude; Orwell gives us some of his memories of the 115 days he spent on the front and recognises that his political thoughts were changing slowly at the time, contributing to him becoming a "convinced democratic socialist" by the time he left Spain.

Chapter eight

Chapter eight details the change in the social and political atmosphere that he notices when he returns to Barcelona after more than three months at the front. He describes a lack of revolutionary atmosphere and the class division that he had thought abolished reasserting itself, with visible division between rich and poor and the return of servile language. Orwell had been determined to leave the POUM, and confesses here that he "would have liked to join the Anarchists," but instead sought a recommendation to join the Communist International Column, so that he could go to the Madrid front. The second half of this chapter is spent describing the conflict between the Anarchist CNT and the Socialist UGT and the resulting cancellation of the May Day demonstration and the build up to the street fighting of the Barcelona May Days.

Chapter nine

In chapter nine, Orwell tells us about his involvement in the Barcelona street fighting that began on 3rd of May when Government Assault Guards tried to take the Telephone Exchange from the CNT workers who controlled it. For his part, Orwell acted as part of the POUM, guarding a POUM-controlled building. Although he realises that he is fighting on the side of the working class, Orwell describes to us his dismay at coming back to Barcelona on leave from the front only to get mixed up in street fighting. In his second appendix to the book (formerly "Chapter XI" of the book's first edition, moved at Orwell's request), Orwell discusses the political issues at stake in the May 1937 Barcelona fighting, as he saw them at the time and later on, looking back.

Chapter ten

Chapter ten begins with musings on how the war might turn out, and Orwell predicts that the "tendency of the post-war Government... is bound to be Fascistic." He returns the front, where he is shot through the throat by a sniper, an injury that finally takes him out of the war. After spending some time in a hospital in Lleida, he was moved to Tarragona where his wound was finally examined over a week after he'd left the front.

Chapter eleven

In chapter eleven, Orwell tells us of his various movements between hospitals in Siétamo, Barbastro and Monzón while getting his discharge papers stamped, after being declared medically unfit. He returns to Barcelona only to find that the POUM had been "suppressed": it had been declared illegal the very day he had left to obtain discharge papers and POUM members were being arrested without charge. He spends the night in the ruins of a church; he cannot go back to his hotel because of the danger of arrest.

Chapter twelve

Chapter twelve explores the political persecution and the fear of it further with Orwell and his wife's visit to George Kopp, who was in a Spanish makeshift jail. Having done all he can -- very little, but at great personal risk -- to get Kopp freed, Orwell leaves Spain (and, "thanks to the inefficiency of the police," they crossed the frontier to France "without incident").


There are also two appendices, which -- in the first edition -- were chapters five and ten. However, they were removed to appendices in later editions on Orwell's own instructions. The first covers the wider political situation in Spain and particularly the revolutionary situation in Barcelona at the time. It disscusses the main differences between the PSUC (the Catalan Communists), the anarchists and the POUM. The second is an attempt to dispel some of the myths in the foreign press at the time (mostly the pro-USSR press) about the street fighting that took place in Catalonia in early May 1937. This was between anarchists and POUM members aginst Communist/government forces which sparked off when local police forces occupied the telephone exchange, which had until then been under the control of CNT workers.

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