British National IdentityPS: The Lion and The Unicorn is available athttp://whitewolf.newcastle.edu.
au/words/authors/O/OrwellGeorge/essay/lionunicorn.htmlOrwell is a committed socialist. He went to Spain at the end of 1936,to write newspaper articles on the Spanish Civil War.
The conflict in Spainwas between the communist, socialist Republic, and General Franco’s Fascistmilitary rebellion. He was astonished by the atmosphere in Spain: classdistinctions did not exist there and everyone was equal. He joined in thestruggle by enlisting in the militia of the POUM (Partido Obrero deUnificacin de Marxista), which was associated with the British LabourParty. For the first time in his life socialism seemed a reality. The Lionand The Unicorn was written by him in 1941 in the period of WWII. He wroteto the British public: “And above all, it is your civilization, it is you.However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away fromit for any length of time .
.. Good or evil, it is yours, you belong to it,and this side the grave you will never get away from the marks that it hasgiven you.” He wrote this to arouse national unity to fight against thearmy in the war. Chris Waters is a professor of Modern European History.His research area is “The Rise and Fall of the Therapeutic Ideal inTwentieth-Century Britain.” Dark Strangers written by Waters, is aboutdiscourses on race and nation in Britain from 1947-1963. Orwell thinksclass division would disappear after WW II and thus there would be nodivision in society.
Waters found, however, that although the classdivision disappeared, a new racial divisiofn emerged. Although this newdivision had a negative impact on racial minorities, it did foster aunified national identity amongst nation born whites.In The Lion and The Unicorn, Orwell describes the British charactersin geographical and cultural terms. Britain is a very class-ridden countryand it was very different in living condition between the ruling class andthe working class. Lower class people were used to the unfair wealthdistribution.
However, Orwell believed that after World War II, thedifference between classes in Britain should be diminished and the evencondition should be made to all common people. The opposition and tensionbetween two groups of peoples should no longer exist. He is quite positiveon this aspect. However, there was a surge in the number of blackimmigration to Britain after World War II. Due to the innate reluctance ofBritish public to accept foreigners’ assimilation, it led to a domesticsocial dislocation crisis. In Dark Strangers, Waters points out that agradual erosion of national cohesion was being created because there was ahuge cultural difference between new black immigrants and native Britishpeople. Black people lived in the quarters which were dirty and unsecured.
The fears of unlicensed Black male sexuality generated anxieties for theBritain public about national safety. Even though government agencies triedhard to gain national consent among different ethnic nationals, the countrywould inevitably be split to majority and minority groups. His theory israther different from Orwell’s post-war social harmonious one.Both writers suggest that social divisions would bring potentialcrisis to the country.
On the one hand, in The Lion and The Unicorn, Orwellmentioned “But is not England notoriously two nations, the rich and thepoor?” They lived in a completely different world but in the same country.The habit and interest of the people from two classes were also different.The huge isolation made the opposition between two classes which endangeredBritain to separate herself.
Orwell reminded the British people that if thenation’s people differentiated themselves, they were not able to defendtheir country from the invasion of other countries. On the other hand, inDark Stranger, the division of the country is between white and blackpeople, from their living places: “The cohesiveness of the national ‘in-group,’ to step into the ‘coloured quarter’ might indeed have felt’strange.’ But this rhetoric owed as much to Victorian representations ofthe dangers of the city.” (Waters 226) Waters points out that the blackimmigrant was frightening the British because of its strangeness. Somewomen, they believed, had potential danger by insult done by black people.Moreover, the new culture will corrupt traditional British culture and theintermarriage between black and white was threatening because it breachedthe eugenic of the white British ideology. However, Waters raises the issuethat “in-groups” and “out-groups” relationship could serve to cement thebonds that tied British together – because of the external racial blending,inner group people tended to distinguish themselves; hence, the nationalidentity could be sharpen neglecting the class division.
In the light of WWII, all classes of people had to be committed andinvolved in the army to defend their country from the invasion of Germany.The distance between the two classes of people were shortened. It was aperfect chance that Orwell wrote in hope to appeal a unison of nationalspirits among different classes. He believes that class division should notexist after WWII, because small businesses tended to merge together intolarge ones; more lower class people became owners to keep properties. Thepeasantry was disappearing but more professional job functions had emerged.The expansion of middle class was a tread: “The tendency of advancedcapitalism has therefore been to enlarge the middle class and not to wipeit out as it once seemed likely to do.” The traditional class gap wasdisappearing.
However, the new racial division seemed not likely to vanishas Waters mentions that immigrant is different from local peoplegenetically. People thought that racial mixing in Britain was leading to”genetic chaos.” as “natural,” socially defined groups, again reproducingnotions of essential difference between groups of people based on theirskin color.
In addition, native British people would not accept blackimmigrants as British identity. There are three reasons: First, manyimmigrants did not possess sufficient British cultural background to becomea British and the custom is very hard to learn. Second, people prefer theirculture to be honourable and distinguished.
They feared that the currencyof national belonging would be devalued if it were made widely available.Third, the norms that bound the national ‘in-group’ together were somequasi-mystical qualities which are some wordless understandings. Theclosely related group just had an inexplicable cohesion.WWII changed the British character dramatically. Britain was isolatedfrom Europe and British people tended to be “xenophobic”. They did notwelcome foreigners and likewise, foreigners did not understand British aswell.
Britain was a very strange place from other European countries. AsOrwell summarizes the repelling of British character:The insularity of the English, their refusal to take foreignersseriously, is a folly that has to be paid for very heavily from timeto time ..
. intellectuals who have tried to break it down havegenerally done more harm than good. At bottom it is the same qualityin the English character that repels the tourist and keeps out theinvader.Even thought he acknowledged that British dislike foreigners, he could notpredict the large population of immigration. However, after WWII, peoplechanged their attitude tried to accept foreign cultures. Much time wasspent by the government to research the racial differences and relationsfor increasing the cohesion of a multi-ethnic country. Moreover, theuniqueness of traditional British character has been mutated by foreignculture influence after WWII.
Orwell comments the speciality of Britishcharacteristic:When you come back to England from any foreign country, you haveimmediately the sensation of breathing a different air …
dozens ofsmall things conspire to give you this feeling. The beer is bitterer,the coins are heavier, the grass is greener, the advertisements aremore blatant. The crowds in the big towns, with their mild knobbyfaces, their bad teeth and gentle manners, are different from aEuropean crowd. Then the vastness of England swallows you up, and youlose for a while your feeling that the whole nation has a singleidentifiable character.The change of national culture is discussed by Waters:they did indeed possess a unique national culture. On closerinspection, however, it seemed no more than a delusion: the onlydistinctive national character the British possessed .
.. was theirsusceptibility to the illusion that they had one, and a veryremarkable one at that remarkable as it might have seemed during thewar, a pervasive sense of loss seemed to ensue at the war’s end.Because the diversity of British nationality immigrants has created in WWII, the binary opposition of ruling class and working class atmosphere wasconverted. The traditional class division, therefore, also went away.
Race, observed from the course of history, could be a critical issueto human peace. For example, Germany used the eugenic issue to unify thepeople in the country to fight for their nation illogical. Britain alsoapplied Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest theory to create unequal statusbetween people which had deepened class differentiation. Thedifferentiation among different groups is inevitable.
However, Britain usedracial issue as a tool to successfully unit all its own white people ofdifferent classes by creating a new division to the foreigners. Theimmigration functioned to highlight the British national identity.Nonetheless the immigration has also changed Britain from a homogenoussociety to a heterogeneous one, but it also victimized the ethnic minoritywho became a group to be despised.