Homage to Catalonia

by

George Orwell

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Homage to Catalonia: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One afternoon, Benjamin asks for volunteers to join him in an attack on the Fascist position and Orwell decides to take part in the operation. Kopp explains the plan: the men are to drive the Fascists out of a section of their parapet with bombs and seize it before they can react. The militiamen are to be led by Benjamin and battalion commander Jorge Roca. After enthusiastically waiting for coffee with brandy only to discover that the rumor was false and that there was in fact no coffee, the volunteers are led out into the rain.
Orwell finally takes part in an attack against the enemy. The contrast between the violent actions he and his companions are going to engage in and the men’s enthusiastic reaction to the seemingly trivial idea of drinking coffee highlights the strange atmosphere of this war—specifically, the seamless co-existence of everyday actions and sudden death. The false news about coffee seems like a bad omen before battle, and yet another signal of the troops’ lack of organization.
Themes
Human Decency and The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Subjectivity and Personal Experience Theme Icon
The men walk through deep mud, often falling in the process. In the rain, Orwell raises his head to observe the line of men behind him, but Benjamin urgently tells him to keep his head down—an order that, for Orwell, makes little sense, since in the darkness people are barely visible, whereas speaking is more likely to reveal one’s presence to the enemy. In the rain and the mud, however, it is impossible for the men’s movements to be entirely quiet.
The men’s march toward battle, as they tramp noisily through mud, is far from elegant, demonstrating once again that war is seldom a glorious affair. Orwell’s curiosity at what is happening suggests that he is able to maintain at least a partly detached, writerly outlook on the action. At the same time, his reaction to Benjamin’s order emphasizes his sense of greater military knowledge and his dissatisfaction with the way the militia is being run.
Themes
Human Decency and The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Subjectivity and Personal Experience Theme Icon
In the darkness, Orwell is anxious to reach their destination. He feels that Fascist sentries could shoot them with their machine-guns at any moment. The walk seems to stretch on and on, and Orwell begins to wonder if they have gotten lost. However, the Fascist parapet soon comes into view and Jorge cuts the first line of wire protecting it. In his nervousness, Orwell is convinced that they are making a terrible amount of noise, but they still manage to make it through unnoticed.
Orwell’s nervousness and his impression that the walk is dragging on unnecessarily shows that he is deeply aware of the deadly situation he is in, at the same time as he mentions the troops’ lack of professionality. The darkness he describes builds dread, intensifying the eeriness of the upcoming battle. It seems that he is lost in an endless, inescapable nightmare, where the enemy is invisible and death can strike at any moment.
Themes
Human Decency and The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Subjectivity and Personal Experience Theme Icon
All at once, there is a loud bang and it becomes apparent that the Fascist sentry has finally heard Orwell’s company. Jorge throws a bomb over the parapet and multiple rifles are fired, all at once, from the Fascist side. The Fascists, Orwell concludes, had in fact heard them and been expecting them. Orwell is terrified and blinded by the bombs that are being thrown. He crawls down, throws a bomb himself, misses his target, and lies down on the ground in order to avoid the explosions. He hears a few men behind him announce that they have been hit.
The violence that Orwell has been dreading arrives suddenly, without warning. In the chaos of the situation, Orwell behaves less bravely or efficiently than he potentially could have, had he not been seized by fear. When he misses his target, he proves just as likely to make mistakes as his Spanish companions. This highlights the fact that Orwell’s narrative is biased. It often focuses more on other people’s faults than on his own.
Themes
Human Decency and The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Subjectivity and Personal Experience Theme Icon
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When the firing suddenly stops, the men charge forward. They attempt to run but only manage to crawl clumsily through the mud. Orwell expects to see Fascists waiting for them at the position. When he arrives, he is surprised to note that no one is there. Suddenly, he sees a Fascist running away and runs after him in the dark, trying to hit the man with his bayonet, which Orwell remembers as a comic memory, although he supposes that it was probably terrifying for the pursued soldier. Finally, thanks to his better knowledge of the terrain, the man manages to escape.
The militiamen’s crawl through the mud and Orwell’s subsequent chase of a Fascist enemy are somewhat comic episodes. They confirm that this war is not a series of noble actions but, rather, amateurish efforts that the difficult conditions on the ground render clumsy and ridiculous. Orwell also acknowledges that the very same action can have an entirely different meaning for two people, depending on who the aggressor and who the victim are, making it impossible to produce an entirely objective account of the war.
Themes
Human Decency and The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Subjectivity and Personal Experience Theme Icon
The militiamen are told to search the position and gather anything worth saving. The men find ammunition, although what they actually need are usable rifles. Orwell pays no attention to the few dead men in the position. He is busy searching for the machine-gun and, when he reaches the machine-gun spot, is disappointed to realize that the Fascists must have taken it away with them when they fled. In general, Orwell is shocked that the Fascist position seems entirely lacking in personal objects such as books or food. The unpaid conscripts, Orwell notes with dismay, must own nothing but the very bare minimum needed to survive.
Orwell’s disregard for the dead men is striking, since this is the first time he mentions seeing the dead with his own eyes. In this particular moment, his rush to complete a military task takes over any sense of shared humanity. However, he expresses compassion for the poor Fascist conscripts’ material conditions. This emphasizes his commitment to social equality and the fight for a decent, comfortable life for all, as his sense of social justice is not limited by political allegiances such as the separation between Fascists and anti-Fascists.
Themes
The Possibility of Revolution  Theme Icon
Human Decency and The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Suddenly, the men come across an object that they mistake for a machine-gun case: a telescope, a precious object that is desperately needed at the front. At that moment, a voice announces that the Fascists are returning to attack, and Orwell and his companions quickly build a barricade to protect themselves. As he brings heavy sandbags to the barricade, Orwell realizes that he is horrified by the chaotic situation he finds himself in.
The men’s excitement at finding the telescope signals the importance of understanding that war is not fought only on the battlefield. Rather, careful preparation and planning—which Orwell considers severely lacking in the Spanish militias—are just as important as physical engagement.
Themes
Subjectivity and Personal Experience Theme Icon
A few men from the Shock Troopers appear, leading Orwell’s companions to hope that reinforcements have finally arrived. Soon, however, they learn that most of the Shock Troopers who were on their way to help Orwell’s group got lost and were shot by the Fascists. At the parapet, the Fascists begin using their machine-gun and Orwell hides behind the barricade they have built. Despite the dangers he is facing, he begins to find the entire situation rather fun. He has time to think and, upon reflection, decides that he does not feel fear. He presumes that, had he found himself in a less dangerous situation that would have given him more time to think properly, he probably would have been completely terrified.
The horrific tale of the Shock Troopers’ massive death emphasizes the ease with which a simple blunder can lead to a sudden, cruel death. It also highlights Orwell’s group’s luck at being alive. However, after his initial feeling of horror, Orwell finds himself so immersed in the action that he is unable to grasp the life-and-death magnitude of what is happening around him. After long weeks of boredom at the front, he finds enjoyment in the feeling of adventure and personal agency. For a few moments, the war is no longer an absurd, meaningless affair.
Themes
Human Decency and The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Subjectivity and Personal Experience Theme Icon
By throwing bombs, the militiamen manage to drive the Fascists back for a while. They are then told, suddenly, to retreat at once. In the hurry to escape, they are forced to abandon the precious telescope. As soon as they leave the parapet, they find themselves under enemy fire and they run away in the darkness as fast as they can, but soon, in their confusion, they realize they might be lost. They come into view of a parapet that they don’t recognize. However, after an exchange of cries, they realize it is their own and they are able to crawl back into safety.
The men’s chance encounter with their own parapet emphasizes that luck and unpredictability are important factors in war, beyond traditional conceptions of planning and professionalism. However, Orwell does not have time to reflect on such occurrences. Rather, his brief explanations convey a sense of the immediacy of the action.
Themes
Human Decency and The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
The wounded have been taken away on stretchers, but Jorge and another wounded man are still missing. Distraught, Kopp asks for volunteers to go search for Jorge, his personal friend and one of his best men. Orwell joins the expedition. Darkness is fading away and, as they come near the Fascist parapet, they are shot at and forced to run away at full speed. Orwell is surprised to realize that, in a situation of life or death, regardless of how muddy the terrain or how heavy their equipment might be, men are always able to run fast.
Orwell demonstrates his affection toward Kopp, his commitment to the war, and his courage, when he decides to take part in a second, dangerous expedition. Despite his previous ironic comments about the lack of glory in the soldiers’ actions, here he acknowledges that extraordinary circumstances can in fact lead men to perform feats of physical strength.
Themes
Human Decency and The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Subjectivity and Personal Experience Theme Icon
Orwell later goes off on his own to look for Jorge, but finds no trace of him. Later, they learn that Jorge and the other wounded man had been taken away earlier to receive treatment. As dawn arrives, Orwell notices how desolate and exhausted the landscape and his companions look. He returns to his dug-out and makes a tiny fire, lighting a cigar that he had been saving carefully. Later, the men learn that their night attack, which was meant as a diversion for the Anarchists to attack a more important area near Huesca, was considered a success. Nevertheless, Orwell still feels sorry for having lost that precious telescope.
Orwell associates the landscape with his companions’ physical and emotional state, as both convey a sense of sullenness and gloom. These personal feelings contrast heavily with the official version of the story, according to which the men’s operation was a success to be celebrated. This shows the gap between official narratives and men’s real-life experience.
Themes
Human Decency and The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Subjectivity and Personal Experience Theme Icon