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Literature / Homage to Catalonia

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Homage to Catalonia is George Orwell's account of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War. He describes fighting as a militiaman on the side of the Republicans, as well as the gradual erosion of the Anarchist revolution in Catalonia and the power struggle between various factions on the Republican side. It may well be the most famous book about the Spanish Civil War, and is widely praised for its Brutal Honesty.

The entire book can be read for free online here. Note that two chapters that were initially published as appendices have been renumbered as chapters in this version.

Homage to Catalonia provides examples of:

  • Anarchy Is Chaos: Averted. Anarchist Catalonia is portrayed largely favourably, and while the situation in Spain is hardly in a condition that an outside observer might qualify as order, Orwell makes it clear that this is due to it being in a state of civil war rather than due to it being in a state of anarchy. The POUM troops may be a Ragtag Band of Misfits but they are also quick to stand up for one another. The opening pages of the book portray what conditions are like in Catalonia away from the trenches and they are anything but chaotic.
  • A-Team Firing: Everyone in Spain is a terrible shot, according to Orwell. 'In this war, everyone always did miss everyone else, when it was humanly possible.' It saved his life on several occasions.
  • Author Tract: Orwell loved this trope; this book is no exception.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Orwell and his wife are successful in getting out of Spain though they find civilian life isn't as interesting as it was before the war.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Unsurprisingly happens to Orwell himself when he's shot in the throat by a sniper.
  • Child Soldiers: The party militias included many underage boys. Orwell notes that they were quite useless as soldiers, since they couldn't stand the sleep deprivation that was inevitable in trench warfare.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: The Communist high command. Their efforts in trying to sabotage the non-Stalinist parties ended up harming the war effort. Orwell was particularly incensed by the fact that they not only outlawed the POUM, they decided not to inform the POUM fighters at the front of this fact. This meant that any POUM members coming back from the front, whether just for rest or to recover from injuries, would unwittingly be walking right into prison, and thus they could never return to the front and continue the fight.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Benjamin, one of Orwell's commanding officers, is fairly important for the first third of the book but vanishes afterwards, bar a single line much later on about him getting a promotion.
  • Commie Land: Catalonia, although its organization was more along anarchist lines.
  • Eagle Squadron: The many international volunteers, including Orwell himself, who came to Spain to fight for The Republic.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: When Orwell and his wife's hotel room is being searched by secret police, they refuse to check the bed since the wife was laying in it during their search. Orwell notes this as a sign of the nobility of the Spanish despite the secret police's normally brutish tactics.
  • Everybody Smokes: Shortage of cigarettes is often brought up as a major hardship of war. Orwell even refers to it as a 'tobacco famine'.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Orwell and the POUM members he served with, particularly his commander Georges Kopp.
  • Graffiti of the Resistance: Orwell described doing this himself, writing "Visca P.O.U.M.!" on walls in Barcelona after the P.O.U.M.'s suppression.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The POUM were one of the smaller political groupings on the Republican side. Half the amount of emphasis they receive in history comes mostly from the fact Orwell just so happened to sign up with them rather than with the CNT militias. The other half is of course that later Trotskyists have lionized the POUM in spite of Trotsky's actual criticism of them at the time.
    Paul Preston: Orwell's Homage to Catalonia is a brilliant and painfully honest book but it is not a "true" book. That is to say, it is not true if it is taken, as it is by most readers, as an overview of the Spanish civil war, when, in reality, it is a narrow and partisan account of one relatively marginal issue within the war.
  • Home by Christmas: A general commanding the Government troops after the fall of Siétamo proclaimed that "Tomorrow we'll have coffee in Huesca." Months of brutal fighting in the city in question disproved the general's proclamation. Orwell mused that if he ever returned to Spain he would make it a point to go to Huesca and have coffee there.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Orwell's comrades weren't exactly big on Gun Safety - even after seeing this trope in effect.
  • Language Equals Thought: The leftists refused to use ceremonial forms of address, preferring to simply call each other "thou" or "comrade". In Spanish-as-spoken-in-Spain, there are two forms of the second person: the formal "usted" and the more casual "tú", and the usage of one or the other also affects how verbs are declined and other pronouns are used. The Catalonian anarchists favored usage of the latter as being less class-based.
  • Minion with an F in Evil:
    • Near the end of the book, Orwell is in a hotel room with his wife when Nationalist soldiers enter the room and start searching through his belongings. His notes are saved because the men are too polite to search a woman. They also cut the shake-down short to take a nap.
    • Orwell comments that the Nationalists weren't all that great at Fascism because the Spanish people were too friendly and easygoing to do it convincingly. He then ominously comments that the results might be very different if the ideology was tried elsewhere.
  • Mood Dissonance: Doctors casually tell Orwell he'll never speak again while smiling. Fortunately they were wrong.
  • New Meat: Many of the people in Orwell's company, included himself, have no prior war experience though that is likely because many of them are still teenagers. They don't even get any decent training before going to frontlines.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The Assault Guard might be Stalinists trying to suppress POUM, but any individuals Orwell meets are nothing but pleasant and seem to have no wish to harm him.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The various party militias on the Republican side. Orwell describes the POUM militia, in which he served, as a particularly egregious example of this trope - an untrained, scruffy-looking band, partly composed of teenage boys whose enthusiasm was decidedly greater than their common sense.
  • Red Scare: Inverted-various "Red" factions accused each other of not being Red enough. Communist propaganda even accused the POUM of plotting with Franco, a "Brown Scare" if you will (specifically mentioned is a political cartoon in which a figure representing the POUM pulls a hammer and sickle-marked mask from its face to reveal a monstrous visage adorned with a swastika).
  • The Republic: Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified:
    • Propaganda was common on all sides, something Orwell is careful to note.
    • Orwell also loved the Spanish revolution and thought its end was a bad thing.
  • Unluckily Lucky: Orwell remarks bitterly that the hospital staff consider him "lucky" for surviving a shot through the neck; he maintains it would have been luckier not to have been shot in the first place. Later it transpires it really was a stroke of luck, as it ensured he was out of Barcelona trying to get a discharge when the Communists purged POUM and likely spared him from imprisonment.
  • Uncertain Doom: Kopp ends the book in NKVD imprisonment, Orwell's brave efforts unable to save him. Fortunately, he was later released and became a spy for Britain in Vichy France.
  • Urban Warfare: Happened in Barcelona, between the Anarchists on one side and Communists on the other.

  • War Is Hell: Played with. The chapters about the trench warfare on the Aragon front don't fit this trope, but not War Is Glorious, either; rather, Orwell describes it as boring and stale. He repeatedly emphasizes that there was hardly any action, and that everyone was more concerned about food and firewood than about the enemy. What close-quarters fighting he did see he describes as harrowing.
  • Was It All a Lie?: After the betrayal by the Stalinists.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Communists, Anarchists and Socialists. None of them trusted the others (there was even rivalry between different Communist factions), but they all were against the Fascists. Orwell notes that the closer one got to the front, the better the camaraderie between the different groups.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: The Republicans, especially the international volunteers. Orwell himself averts this trope.
  • Witch Hunt: What the Soviet-backed Communists unleashed against the POUM.