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Written by Callie Labrador
The protagonist of a novel is usually the person the reader is rooting for as the novel progresses. In Gordon Comstock's case, this could not be further from the truth, and in the reader's defense it is because he is profoundly difficult to like. Based on Orwell himself, but without the author's prodigious talent for the written word, Comstock is an angry twenty-nine year old man who is spiteful, pessimistic and generally unpleasant to be around. He and the author have several similarities; both were raised in middle-class, relatively affluent families, and both hated their upbringing. Both men have a scathing disregard for the middle classes at all and what they see as their "wannabe" outlook on life. Both were educated at good private schools where their classmates were considerably wealthier than they. Both worked part-time in a bookstore whilst concentrating on their writing - but here the similarity ends because whilst Orwell went on to commercial and critical literary success, Comstock did not.
The main problem with Gordon is that he has a strong sense of entitlement and feels aggrieved that his family have spent all their available money and cannot therefore support him in the manner to which he feels he should be able to become accustomed. He puts great pressure on his sister to support him financially even though she is no better off than he is. He despises money because he feels that it has a hold on people and that people judge everyone else according to how much money they do or do not have. Therefore, to Gordon, he is unsuccessful with women because he has no money. He believes that if he was a man of means they would find him more attractive. In fact people in general are not attracted to Gordon because of his difficult and nasty personality. He is also very lazy. He likes the job at the bookstore because it requires no ambition and it enables him to stay exactly as he is. As his financial situation gets worse, so do his options and so does his life. He also becomes even more ornery because now he actually despises money for the fact he doesn't have any. He also hates his lifestyle of self-imposed poverty.
When his girlfriend becomes pregnant it is the excuse he needs for giving up poverty in favor of returning to society and a working life, enabling him to appear noble to himself for turning his back on his principles to save Rosemary from a life of being abandoned by her family who are angry and ashamed of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Whilst everyone else is able to see Gordon for what he really is, he himself is capable of monstrous self-delusion and his going back to work for the sake of his girlfriend and child is another delusion that he creates for himself to avoid facing up to the fact that he is just like everyone else, and needs a job that pays money so that he can live.
Ravelston is based on Orwell's own good friend and their relationship is reflected in the friendship of Ravelston and Comstock. On the face of it the men are unlikely buddies; Ravelston is charming, polite, fun and attractive both by appearance and by nature. He is also generous for the sake of generosity, without wanting anything in return; for example, he pulls strings within his contacts in the publishing world to publish Gordon's slim volume of poetry but never tells his friend that he was instrumental in getting it published. Ravelston comes from wealth and has managed to retain and increase his wealth. He is the editor and publisher of a left-wing magazine called The AntiChrist and his success irritates Gordon, who is extremely jealous of him.
Rosemary as a character is difficult to understand. She is a hard-working girl who lives in a hostel. She comes from a respectable middle-class family. It would not be hard to imagine men being attracted to her. However, she puts up with Gordon for a considerable time as his girlfriend despite the fact that she is clearly frustrated by his complete lack of work ethic and willingness to at least make a little money so that she does not have to pay for him all the time. Rosemary refuses to sleep with Gordon. She won't stay at his tiny apartment and she is not allowed "overnight guests" in her room at the hostel. For a while, she avoids seeing Gordon, having put an end to their relationship. However, she makes a surprising return, visiting him and finally sleeping with him before vanishing all over again. The reason for her second vanishing act becomes clear when she reveals that she is pregnant with Gordon's child and that she is in danger of being disowned by her family as a result. Rosemary is the catalyst for Gordon's return to society.
Julia is Gordon's sister and despite the fact she is no better off financially than he is, she supports him despite the fact his is poor from choice. She is not a feisty woman and therefore unable to stand up to his bullying tactics. She is nonetheless frustrated by his lifestyle choices but not frustrated enough to stop financially subsidizing them. She is described in the book as rather tall and uncoordinated.
Mrs Wisbeach is Gordon's idea of the landlady from Hell although she does not seem to make any particularly unreasonable demands of her workshy tenant. She is profoundly nosy and imposes strict rules on her tenants but seems to be a woman of good moral standing and an honest landlady.
Flaxman is another of Mrs Wisbeach's lodgers. He seems to represent Orwell's idea of the middle class salesman and is viewed rather disdainfully by both the author and Gordon Comstock. He is a travelling salesman who is currently separated from his wife. He works for the Queen of Sheba Toilet Requisites Company. This company seems to be a tool for the author to show what ridiculous products people are prepared to sell and buy and that it is this commercialism that is driving everyone towards an over emphasis on money.
Erskine is managing director at the Albion Publicity Company, the advertising agency where Gordon is working when we first meet him and also the company to which he returns at the end of the novel. He is large and expressionless but personable and with an eye for spotting talent. He promotes Gordon to the position of advertising copywriter which seems to set off his downward spiral and descent into self-imposed poverty.
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