, Research Paper
Throughout life people make time to do “everything except for the things worth doing” (93). George Bowling in George Orwell’s Coming Up for Air realizes he must spend more of his life doing what he enjoys, but his wife, Hilda, prevents him from ever getting enough “air.” George needs escape from the worries and responsibilities of his life to relax and enjoy himself. Hilda is always complaining about monetary concerns which causes George to work hard to be successful. He cannot find the peace he needs, even when he eventually goes on vacation seeking fresh “air.” His vacation is cut short when he becomes paranoid that Hilda may discover where he is. George exhibits his weakness by living in a capitalistic society and folding to the pressure it places on him. The enjoyment of life he strives for is never found.
In George Bowling s society, people generally choose a lifestyle that does not permit relation, fulfillment, and enjoyment of life. George Bowling lives with his wife and two children in a suburb of London. It is an average, middle class suburb, but the people living there are working class. The townspeople must be competitive with their respective trades in order to make a living; their jobs are not secure. The people living on George s street, Ellesmere Road, are constantly preoccupied with material possessions and maintaining their jobs. These people live in a society where there is little time to think about anything but monetary matters. In this type of lifestyle, material things in their lives are necessary for their survival, and they must therefore be concerned with those things first. George states it perfectly when he says, “Nothing s real in Ellesmere Road except gas-bills, school-fees, boiled cabbage and the office on Monday” (277). Even on weekends, people are concerned work waiting at the office for them on Monday. There never is a break in this life. The material things engulf these peoples lives, and they do not ever get a chance to break free for some “air” and relaxation. These people s lives are a constant struggle. “And what are the realities of modern life? Well, the chief one is an everlasting, frantic struggle to sell things. With most people it takes the form of selling themselves- that s to say, getting a job and keeping it…That feeling that you ve got to be everlastingly fighting and hustling, that you ll never get anything unless you grab it from somebody else, that there s always somebody after your job” (150). These people are consumed by the work they must do in order to be successful so they can support a family. Sadly, these suburbanites are consumed by this capitalistic monster, and do not even realize they are leading false lives, “selling themselves,” not enjoying themselves. Everyone in the community lives the same lifestyle and no one recognizes the misfortune of ones life. These businessmen assume they should follow the suburban struggle to keep up.
George lives his life on this same path, but he comes to a understanding about his life. George explains, “The thing that really changed me, really made an impression on me, wasn t so much the books I read as the rotten meaninglessness of the life I was leading” (143). He recognizes that he lives his life with no true purpose. He goes to work and competes in order to earn money for his wife and children, and to keep up with the bills. He does not really even love his wife. George speaks about his marriage, “If you re married, there ll have been times when you ve said to yourself “Why the hell did I do it?” and God knows I ve said it often enough about Hilda, and once again, looking at it across fifteen years, why did I marry Hilda? Partly, of course, because she was young and in a way very pretty” (155-56). George does care for his children, but he really sees no goal in his life, no enjoyment in his life. He lives only to provide for his family. He is one of the few people on Ellesmere Road that realize he needs to come up for “air.” George craves some meaning enjoyment in his life:
I wondered why it is that we re all such bloody fools. Why don t people, instead of the idiocies they do spend their time on, just walk round looking at things? That pool, for instance-all the stuff that s in it. Newts, water-snails, water-beetles, caddis-flies, leeches, and God knows how many other things that you can only see with a microscope…And all the while the sort of feeling of wonder, the peculiar flame inside you. It s the only thing in the world worth having, and we don t want it. But I do want it” (194).
George knows his friends and neighbors do not want the only thing worth living for, the “flame” inside of our hearts. He has come to the realization that it is the only real thing in the world that is important and he wants to let this flame burn inside of him, but he can never find the chance to get away from his work and material life. This instant marks the first time George questions the meaning of his life and becomes more observant to what really does matter in life. The “flame” he seeks is a burning passion in his life; an intensity about certain things he does not possess.
With this realization, George finds the inspiration to get some “air” and enjoy himself. George drives in his car and stops along the side of the road to pick flowers. He is moved by what he sees: “What I felt was something so unusual nowadays that to say it sounds like foolishness. I felt happy…Curiously enough, the thing that had suddenly convinced me that life was worth living, more than the primroses of the young buds on the hedge, was that bit of fire near the gate…It s the spot on the picture that makes you notice everything else” (193). George decides from this point forward that he will get away from Hilda and enjoy himself; he will find the peace and quiet that he deserves and seek the passion and intensity missing from his life. The bit of fire he observes gives him an awareness of the world he never possessed before and never could appreciate. The one thing George loves the most is fishing, and he has not done that since he was sixteen (94). George is forty-five and determined to get some “air” and live the life he should have been living for so many misguided years. He says “In this life we lead- I don t mean human life in general, I mean life in this particular age and this particular country- we don t do the things we want to do. It isn t because we re always working…Its because there s some devil in us that drives us to and fro on everlasting idiocies. There s time for everything except the things worth doing” (93). George travels to Lower Binfield, where he grew up, to fulfill his life with the things worth doing, namely relaxing, taking in everything from the nature surrounding him, and most importantly, fishing. When he makes it to Lower Binfield and arrives at the fishing tackle shop to purchase a fishing rod and some bait, he becomes incredibly happy. He says that just the atmosphere “of the shop cheered me up. Whatever else changes, fishing-tackle doesn t- because, of course, fish don t change either” (237). George has felt an enthusiasm he never felt before. For the first time in 29 years George made the time n to go fishing. He actively pursues what his life lacks.
George is not committed to find what he is seeking. The minute he meets resistant he is willing to give up his whole plan. The pond where he wanted to fish in since a child no longer exists. He thinks about Hilda and starts feeling foolish for what he now believes to be a silly fantasy. George exclaims, “Coming up for air! But there isn t any air. The dustbin that we re in reaches up to the stratosphere…As for my idea of fishing- that was off, of course. Fishing, indeed! At my age! Really, Hilda was right” (257). This is just one instance where thinking about Hilda ruins his plans. He knows that she has called fishing disgraceful, absurd, and only for children(101). He gives in to the capitalistic pressure and allows her to become an easy excuse to justify his actions as ridiculous. George says, “She gets what I ve finally decided is definite pleasure out of rocking herself to and fro with her arms across her breast, and glooming at me, “But, George, it s very serious! I don t know what we re going to do! I don t know where the money is going to come from” (8)! She is one of the reasons why George s life has been consumed with monetary worries. Making ends meet frugally is all that is on her mind. Even when George has taken the family for vacation, “The chief feature of a holiday is endless arithmetic to decide how much the boarding-house keeper is swindling you” (100). George might get a chance to get away from his job for a while, but with Hilda along, the vacation turns into a very monetary-oriented time.
The presence of Hilda in George s life makes him very paranoid when he attempts to relax and enjoy himself. Hilda does not believe these activities represent the picture of success to her. George ends up losing a lot of the enjoyment he could have because of Hilda and his fear of her disapproval. When George goes to Lower Binfield, he has to hide what he is actually planning and to do. Hilda finds out that he had a friend postmark a letter from Birmingham to make her think he is staying there (275). He has to go through a lot of trouble when he actually decides to take some time off and head to Lower Binfield. George says the reason that Hilda is like this is that she “lacks…any kind of joy in life, any kind of interest in things for their own sake. The idea of doing things because you enjoy them is something she can hardly understand” (160). This is not surprising since she can not understand why George wishes to fish so badly. If it does not have to do with money, she does not understand it. “Even when the bombs are dropping, she ll be thinking about the price of butter” (270). The notion of Hilda in George s head, alone, makes him paranoid when he has the chance to enjoy himself. While in Lower Binfield he notices a woman who seems peculiar to him and assumes that she may be someone from West Bletchey who will “split to Hilda” and tell her where George is (241). Finally George leaves Lower Binfield, fearful that Hilda has discovered where he is. He says to himself, “She d got wind somehow-trust Hilda!- that I wasn t really at Birmingham, and this was just her way of getting me home” (258). His vacation is cut short because of Hilda, and his chance for enjoyment is ruined.
George allows the capitalist society in this time to control his life. The society makes people feel as if they are constantly competing for their jobs, when in actuality work is not that competitive. George has a job as an insurance salesman and only lives with the pressure that he allows to be put on himself. He must accept responsibility for his weakness. He is one of the select few people on Ellesmere road who recognize the need for some meaning in their life. Regardless, he gives in to the pressure of the society, uses his wife as an excuse, and is no better off than before he started his search for some enjoyment, relaxation, and meaning in life. Although the capitalist society tugs on people to follow a path to an unfulfilled and meaningless life, people can survive just as well by not following this path. George gives up his search for the fulfilled life exhibiting his weakness.