The Joy Of Childhood Essay

Orwells "such, Such Were The Joys....": Alienation And Other Such Joy

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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.

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Joys         Orwells         Alienation         School Student         Boarding School         Feeling         Subjugation         Pike         Bump         Tank        




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 sinner, following that which he is preached. Without
thinking, questioning or understanding, he blindly accepts the morality
presented him. The school establishment shuns and castigates him, teaching him
through fiery sermons and corporal punishment to hate himself for his
incorrigible actions. Sim and Bingo, the benefactors of this psychologically
ailing “scholarship” student, aid him in no way, adding only to his misery.
     Orwell reacts to this treatment as he was instructed to act, obeying the
role designed for him by his tormentors. He thinks such thoughts as, “It was
possible, therefore, to commit a sin without knowing that you committed it, and
without being able to avoid it. Sin was not necessarily something you did it
might be something that happened to you” and “[t]his was the great, abiding
lesson of my boyhood: that I was in a world where it was not possible for me to
be good” (5). This is the result of a child's flawed, but logical process of
thought. Though he realizes that which is conveyed to him bodes his own
rejection and eventual destruction, he listens to the conveyance because it
originates from people he is supposed to listen to. Orwell believed with
conviction that he actively “committed” intentional wrong without willing it
because he was innately inferior.
     Indoctrinated by this philosophy and assuming a fatalist, defeatist
mentality, Orwell knows he is doomed to failure. “Until I was about thirty I
always planned my life on the assumption not only that any major undertaking was
bound to fail, but that I could only expect to live a few years longer” (38).
The trauma of his childhood experience at Crossgates had an enormous impact on
the author, persisting long after maturity. His thought is centered around the
principle of failure, and therefore his entire existence is purposeless. Orwell
lives much of his life believing, in essence, that he does not belong amongst
the living.
     This defeatist mentality pervades the daily life of young Orwell. He
obediently not only prepares himself for self-destruction, but also assumes the
rest of the world is out to destroy him. Relating one of the few joyous moments
of his youth, buying candy, Orwell is interrupted by his own fears of wrongdoing
and detection. ”I assumed that any adult, inside the school or outside, would
collaborate voluntarily in preventing us from breaking the rules. Sim was all-
powerful, and it was natural that his agents should be everywhere” (16). Orwell
moves beyond feelings of isolation. He possesses no avenue to vent his
frustration; forced into his own developing mind, Orwell takes on a ‘me against
the world' attitude. The world becomes a grand conspiracy and all other
characters collaborators, prepared at any turn to pin him as guilty for another
inexplicable crime. Alone and battling all of reality, Orwell completes his
alienation from society.
     Orwell inserts in his essay on childhood the musings of his rational,
contemplative adult self. His commentary reflects evolution beyond the
indoctrinated mentality he states to have retained “until I was thirty.” There
is a general rejection of all the mindless, unquestioning instruction of his
youth. Orwell reminisces, “The schoolmasters with their canes, the millionaires
with their Scottish castles, the athletes with their curly hair-these were the
armies of the unalterable law. It was not easy, at that date, to realise that
in fact it was alterable” (37). As a reflective individual, Orwell looks to his
childhood and realizes that he allowed himself to capitulate his identity and
allowed others, others he hated, to define his existence. He does, eventually, “
see beyond the moral dilemma that is presented to the weak in a world governed
by the strong: Break the rules, or perish” (40).
     Orwell enumerates the maturation of his thought. He rejects “religion,
for instance” because “the whole business of religion seemed to be strewn with
psychological impossibilities” (36-37). On the same pages he rids himself of
the burden of harrowing authority figures. “Obviously it was my duty to feel
grateful towards Bingo and Sim; but I was not grateful. It was equally clear
that one ought to love one's father, but I knew very well that I merely disliked
my own father.” He rebukes the English boarding school system (47) and the
manner in which children are taught, “crammed with learning as cynically as a
goose is crammed for Christmas” (8). Orwell repudiates the English class system
as well, the very system that defined his place in childhood (43). He rejects
all that he was taught to believe right and virtuous as a child. He was
pressured to believe without thinking, and as a naive child he did so. As a man,
however, he condemns his former ideology, understanding that to be a man he must
forge his own process of thought.
     Orwell realizes that it is logically impossible to collaborate with the
old system on any level. Persevering through the trauma of his youth, he
creates a new system of reality defined only by himself and his rationale. A
child born to the world completely handicapped, rendered incapable by societal
standards, Orwell institutes his own rules to play by in the game of life. He
is able to redefine good and bad through his own faculty of thought so that what
is good and possible do coincide.
"Such, Such Were the Joys..." reveals the creation of George Orwell,
prolific writer and social critic. The author describes, with some presumed
exaggeration and inaccuracy, the origins of his later thought and aspects of his
childhood that molded him into a well-respected man and author. He relates to
the reader his necessary evolution in thought from misunderstanding and
alienation to a state of mind which produced such novel works as “Shooting an
Elephant,” Animal Farm, and 1984. Orwell consistently analyzes the society in
which he was inexorably involved, questioning its standards and the path it was
taking into the future. Orwell, whether it is he himself or he speaking through
one of his characters, always appears alone, an alienated but thinking resistor
to mass opinion.

WORK CITED:

Orwell, George. A Collection of Essays. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company,
1981.

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