The Road to Wigan Pier

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The Road to Wigan Pier was written by George Orwell and published in 1937. The first half of this work documents his sociological investigations of the bleak living conditions amongst the working class in Lancashire and Yorkshire in the industrial north of England before World War II. The second half is a long essay on his middle-class upbringing, and the development of his political conscience, questioning British attitudes towards socialism. Orwell states plainly that he himself is in favour of socialism; but feels it necessary to point out reasons why many people who would benefit from socialism, and should logically support it, are in practice likely to be strong opponents.

Contents

Background

The publisher Victor Gollancz suggested at the end of 1935 that Orwell spend a short time investigating social conditions in economically depressed northern England. In the period from 31 January to 30 March 1936, Orwell lived in Wigan, Barnsley and Sheffield researching the book.[2] The conventional view, based on a recollection by George Gorer, is that this was a specific commission with a £500 advance—two years' income for him at the time. However Taylor argues that Orwell's subsequent circumstances showed no indication of such largesse, Gollancz was not a person to part with such a sum on speculation, and Gollancz took little proprietorial interest in progress.[3] Gollancz published the work under the Left Book Club which gave Orwell a far higher circulation than his previous works. However Gollancz feared the second half would offend Left Book Club readers and inserted a mollifying preface to the book while Orwell was in Spain.

Structure

The book is divided into two sections.

George Orwell set out to report on working class life in the bleak industrial heartlands of the West Midlands, Yorkshire and Lancashire. Orwell spent a considerable time living among the people and as such his descriptions are detailed and vivid.

Chapter One describes the life of the Brooker Family, a more wealthy example of the northern working class. They have a shop and cheap lodging house in their home. Orwell describes the old people who live in the home and their living conditions.

Chapter Two describes the life of miners and conditions down a coal mine. Orwell describes how he went down a coal mine to observe proceedings and he explains how the coal is distributed. The working conditions are very poor. This is the part of the book most often quoted.

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