Keep the Aspidistra Flying Symbols, Allegory and Motifs
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Written by Callie Labrador
Gordon Comstock Allegory
Comstock is an allegory of Orwell at the time of his writing the novel. In fact, Orwell told an interviewer that he should never have published the book and was ashamed that he had written it at all; he only did so because he needed the money. Gordon Comstock's character is an allegory of the author. Both men were raised in middle class families and grew up to despise everything about the middle classes. Both men were well educated and attended private school, but felt like they did not belong there because their classmates were all from wealthier families. Both men worked part-time in a bookstore whilst dedicating themselves to their writing. Comstock's financial situation is also an allegory of Orwell's as he finds himself having to take a job just for the money. Whilst Orwell writes this novel to support himself, Comstock takes his aversion to fitting in to society one step further and refuses to support himself at all. At various points in the novel, Gordon is an allegory of the way in which Orwell wishes he had behaved. Both men are very left wing in their beliefs and do not like being judged by society.
Sir Richard Rees Allegory
Philip Ravelston is an allegorical character based solely on George Orwell's good friend Sir Richard Rees. Both men come from aristocratic stock and are wealthy enough to support themselves whilst also pursuing their political and academic goals. Rees was the editor of the very left wing Marxist publication The Adelphi, and this is also allegorized in the novel as Ralveston is the Marxist editor of the similar magazine, the AntiChrist.
An aspidistra is a large-leaf indoor plant particularly popular as a house plant in the first half of the Twentieth Century among middle class families in suburban Britain. It was a symbol to these families that they had "arrived" in the middle class, along with a suburban home and a middle level job, and stained glass panels in their front door. In the novel it is both a positive and a negative symbol. The majority of people who own an aspidistra see it as a symbol that they have moved up in the world and that they are achieving at a certain level, which makes it a positive symbol. Comstock sees it as a symbol of everything he despises about the middle class, and their desire to be seen to keep up with the Joneses, and fit in. In this way it is also a negative symbol.
At the end of the novel, Gordon has a child on the way, a suburban home and a middle-level job in advertising. He suggests that they purchase an aspidistra, and in this context the plant is a symbol of Gordon's acknowledgement to himself that he is now a member of the middle class as well, and a symbol of his giving up his self-imposed life of angry poverty.
Lack of Money Symbol
As Gordon's financial position continues to decline, so does the quality of his character and his personality. His horizons narrow completely as his options for leaving his filthy bedsit apartment narrow too. As his financial options decrease, so does anything pleasant about his character. His finances are meaner, and so is he. As soon as his finances improve he becomes easier to live with and if not entirely pleasant, at least someone with something other than hate in his personality. His financial poverty symbolizes his poverty of character as well.
Marriage to Rosemary Symbol
Gordon's marriage to Rosemary is a symbol of his re-entering society and his resignation to this outcome. It also symbolizes his letting go of his self-imposed poverty and his determination to do absolutely everything he can to be the opposite of what "society" requires. By marrying Rosemary he is becoming middle class like his family, and is going to be giving his child the same middle class upbringing that he despised himself. Their marriage is also a symbol for the way in which even the most determinedly different members of the community are forced to conform in the end however hard they rail against doing so.
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