During Orwell’s last weeks in Barcelona, the city remains characterized by an atmosphere of fear, suspicion, and hatred. After the May fighting, as Orwell had predicted, the previous Government was replaced by one under greater Communist influence, intent on crushing its political adversaries. The atmosphere of doom is so great that everyone feels that something evil is bound to happen any time soon.
The political tension in the city bears a striking resemblance to the atmosphere before the Barcelona fighting. This time, the distinction between victim (the POUM and the Anarchists) and aggressor (the Communists) is more easily laid out, and the fight within the left easier to discern along party lines.
Because the press is heavily censored, a variety of rumors abound on both sides. One rumor affirms that the current Government is abandoning the war effort, offering no support to the Basques in their fight against Franco. Orwell initially believes this might be true, but the rumor is later dispelled. Other rumors include the fear that the Communist Party will launch a coup d’état and that Catalonia will soon be invaded.
The censorship of the press is an obvious infringement on democratic rights. In the absence of reliable news, even the most basic assumption, such as the Republican Government’s support for the anti-Fascists, is called into doubt. Paranoia replaces compromise and all political groups are treated as potential enemies.
In the city, the secret police is launching a series of arrests against Anarchists and POUM members. People are thrown into jail on vague pretexts and left with no possibility to communicate with the outside world. This is the case of Bob Smillie, who is still in prison. Imprisoned men are neither tried nor charged. They are kept in prison for an indefinite period.
A series of illegal arrests serves as yet another proof that democracy is seriously undermined. The injustice and absurdity of these arrests is obvious, as people are persecuted for their political beliefs, not for actual crimes.
In the street, local Assault Guards and Valencian Assault Guards check the papers of passers-by. Friends warn Orwell to hide any document that might attest to his involvement with the POUM. Anarchist newspapers are heavily censored and, since a new rule mandates that censored passages must be filled in with text, it is impossible to tell what has been cut out. In the meantime, the food shortage is only growing worse, as bread, milk, sugar, and tobacco are becoming extremely scarce. To buy olive oil, women wait in long lines controlled by Assault Guards who occasionally entertain themselves by trying to make their horses walk on the women’s toes.
The police become a cruel, oppressive force, enforcing unjust laws and harassing the weakest members of society. Meanwhile, the censorship in newspapers reaches a new height. The Government is not only oppressive, but also hypocritical. While engaging in censorship, it tries to maintain a pretense of democracy, keeping the population from becoming aware of the extent to which news has been censored. Orwell seems to have stepped into a disturbing, dystopian reality.
Orwell explains that it is impossible for anyone who has not experienced it to understand how nightmarish the situation in the city is. In England, where political freedoms are guaranteed, no one can conceive of being persecuted for their political opinions. In Barcelona, by contrast, eliminating one’s enemies instead of seeking compromise becomes part of ordinary political life. Apart from a few tourists confined to fancy hotels and oblivious to local politics, everyone in the city agrees that the atmosphere resembles that of a psychiatric hospital.
Orwell realizes that his English standards of political behavior are not useful in helping him understand the situation on the ground. He separates himself from the rich, oblivious English tourists, but also admits his inability to grasp the logic or local politics behind what is happening. The situation has degenerated so much that common-sense social behavior has vanished.
While Orwell is sill at a POUM-run hospital in the suburbs of Barcelona, he and his wife decide that they should try to leave the country as soon as possible. Because of his wound, Orwell will not be able to return to the front before many months, and he feels guilty about staying in the country and eating food that other people need to survive. More deeply, though, he is primarily moved by selfish motivations. He feels desperate to escape the dangers of war, political persecution, and all the oppressive aspects of everyday life that have defined his time in Spain.
Orwell realizes that his personal hardships have become more significant than his trust in the validity of the anti-Fascist fight. His situation mirrors, on a personal level, the people of Barcelona’s rejection of the revolution and the war in the face of material difficulties. Orwell’s ability to leave highlights his privileged status as a foreigner, whereas locals are forced to endure the war as long as it lasts.
To receive his medical discharge, Orwell must travel to Siétamo. There, he meets Kopp, who has just returned from the front and is excited about the fall of Huesca, which he mistakenly believes will happen very soon. Kopp is headed to Valencia to receive a letter from the Ministry of War putting him in charge of engineering operations at the front.
Even Kopp, whose judgment Orwell respects, believes in the fall of Huesca, even though the town was the object of a running joke among the militiamen. This episode emphasizes that, on the larger scale of the conflict, the Republicans at the front are stagnating in their fight against the enemy.
For five days, after Orwell spends a horrific night believing that he is going to have to fight again with the POUM in an attack that ultimately never takes place—and after a series of administrative correspondences and uncomfortable journeys in impossible lorries—he finally obtains his discharge ticket.
Even though he is trying to leave the country, Orwell is still subject to the unexpected twists and turns that have come to constitute his time in Spain, and which he has come to consider typical of Spanish disorganization. It seems as though he is trapped in an endless sequence of mistakes and delays.
Near the front line, Orwell realizes that political rivalries in the city have not affected the atmosphere at the front. At a hospital where he meets an Assault Guard who gives him cigarettes, the two of them laugh about the fact that, had they been in Barcelona, they would have been shooting at each other. At the front, Anarchists and Communists never express hostility toward each other and Orwell never feels looked down upon for his POUM membership.
Orwell never ceases to admire the values that the soldiers maintain at the front. It becomes obvious that, when faced with the threat of losing their life, men demonstrate extraordinary respect for each person’s dignity. This situation emphasizes that two wars, not one (as Orwell had initially believed), are taking place in Spain: the military fight against the Fascists and the hateful political infighting in Barcelona.
During what he knows to be his final trip back to Barcelona, Orwell takes the time to consider his surroundings through the eyes of an external observer. He realizes that the town of Barbastro, which he had initially considered a cold, gloomy place, is in fact a picturesque town full of ancient, winding streets and artisanal shops. For six months, he realizes, he has never been able to look at Spain in this way. Rather, all the pleasant sights and sounds of the country were pushed to the background in light of the intensity of the war. Orwell suddenly begins to feel like a tourist, capable of appreciating the exotic allure of this country whose traditions and culture had previously so filled his imagination.
Orwell realizes that all his impressions of Spain were colored by the intensity of life as a soldier. This highlights the subjectivity of his narrative, suggesting that what he observed at one particular time and place is not a perfect reflection of truth but, rather, were often fleeting impressions that might be proven wrong or misleading over time. Orwell’s description of himself as a tourist suggests the same thing, namely that his commentary is undoubtedly influenced by his foreignness.
As soon as Orwell arrives at his hotel in Barcelona, his wife walks toward him and hisses in his ear for him to exit at once. Orwell is confused, does not know what is happening, and quickly follows her outside. On the way, two friends communicate the same message: he must get out at once. As soon as they reach the street, Orwell’s wife tells him that the POUM has been officially suppressed, their buildings occupied, their members thrown in prison and, it is rumored, shot.
The political tension in the city has become official and legal, as the Communist-led Government has decided to crush the revolutionary militia. Orwell becomes a potential victim in a political conflict he never chose to enter. His status as a foreigner does not protect him at all. He is subjected to the same, unjust system as everybody else.
Orwell learns that on June 15th the police assaulted the Hotel Falcón and transformed it into a prison. The next day, the POUM was declared illegal. Many people went into hiding but the police did not hesitate to use tactics such as taking wounded militiamen out of hospitals by force or arresting a POUM member’s wife in order to force him to surrender. The Communist-controlled police engages in illegal arrests, refuses to obey release orders issued by the Chief of Police, and throws people in prison indiscriminately, regardless of the detrimental effect this might have on the war.
The illegal tactics that the Government uses to arrest militiamen are not only anti-democratic, but also inhuman and cruel. It becomes apparent that the Government is not privileging the fight against the Fascists. The fierceness of the situation suggests that this political conflict, of which Orwell was unaware when he arrived in Spain, was perhaps the true issue at the heart of the civil war in Spain.
What stuns Orwell most is that news of the suppression of the POUM never reached the front, probably because the Government did not want soldiers to desert or refuse to fight in protest. As a result, Orwell laments, militiamen are dying at the front fighting the Fascists without knowing that, in the rear, they are vilely accused of Fascist collaboration. Such manipulation and hypocrisy on the part of the Government, Orwell writes, is difficult to forgive.
Orwell upholds the values of honesty and openness against the tendency to lie and manipulate to achieve narrow political aims. What he deems most cruel is the Government’s lack of respect for the dignity of the men who are sacrificing themselves in battle. The separation between politics at the front and in the rear is more obvious than ever.
Orwell learns from his wife that many of his friends have been arrested. He is particularly angry about Kopp’s arrest, because he respects Kopp enormously as a friend and military officer and because Kopp has sacrificed his very nationality in order to fight in the Republican army (were he to return to Belgium, he would be tried and put into prison for this decision). Orwell’s wife was not arrested, but the police have searched and confiscated all of Orwell’s belongings, including his diaries, books, and war souvenirs.
Through Kopp’s arrest, the political conflict affects Orwell on a personal level as much as on an ideological level. Once again, the Government’s lack of respect for a soldier’s sacrifice is appalling and signals its lack of sincere commitment to the anti-Fascist cause. Unhappy with merely suppressing the POUM, the Government seems to want to erase the very roots of its existence.
While still trying to understand why, if he is innocent, he should have to hide from the police, Orwell realizes that this is not a normal legal situation in which people are arrested for objective crimes. Rather, the rule of law no longer matters, and merely belonging to the wrong political party translates into a prison sentence. The only thing he can do, in this situation, is go into hiding.
Orwell makes arrangements with his wife to leave the country. While he assumes that he is probably on the secret police’s black list, he trusts that Spain’s disorganized bureaucracy will allow him to slip past the authorities undetected. In the meantime, he spends five days sleeping in uncomfortable but hidden spots in the city. Instead of being overwhelmed by political considerations about Spain, he remains obsessed with the daily discomforts he is experiencing and resents the situation he has found himself in.
Orwell’s fear of being arrested is tempered by his trust in what he believes to be the typically Spanish trait of inefficiency. Once again, material hardships prove to be of more immediate concern than the historic nature of what he is experiencing. As such, his anger against this oppressive system is both personal (moved by frustration and anger) and ideological (condemning it as anti-democratic).