September 2021

The North-South Divide, And Northernness in Road to Wigan Pier from George Orwell, A Novelist and Outsider’s View
Haiyi Wang

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During the time that George Orwell lived, the Britain society was on the edge of development and fluctuation, the north-south divide was an issue discussed by journalists and politics, nationally and regionally. George Orwell, by traveling up and down in the whole English territory, wrote down what exactly he saw and experienced in 1930s. In Road to Wigan Pier, he depicted the unemployment and living conditions in North of England, as well as the class division and his potential political views. Road to Wigan Pier influences historical and literature scholars and triggers huge amount of debates on the politics, economy and history of England. Most importantly, it is both a mirror of England in 1930s and a future-teller of the modern society that we are living in. As Benjamin Jonson has claimed, “ He was not of an age, but for all time!”. Most scholars consider the novel is in two parts: the first is the people he met and his physical experience in Wigan, Barnsley and Sheffield (the north). The second is his critical view on socialism in England and the middle class. In Road to Wigan Pier, and contemplating his personal background, what we can conclude is that George Orwell is a novelist, and he is neither a “north” nor a “south”. We have no persuading reasons of his work is not as the same value as those first-hand such as scientific data and photography. However, it is worth analysing his work with the record of the broad social condition in England. As a novelist and an outsider, we can see from the whole novel Road to Wigan Pier that he has his own perspectives on “northernness” from the aspects of employment, working-class and class difference. All these comments of George Orwell, since subjective and personal, especially trigger the politics’ thinking and the improve the social research orientation.

Therefore, in this paper, there are analysis on how George Orwell depicted the north-south divide in Road to Wigan Pier and what kind of position he held on the unemployment, working class and class difference in the “northernness”, by comparing to other scientific research and analyzing his personal background, why the description demonstrates his character of a novelist and an outsider in the 1930s Britain society.


1) Orwell, G. The Road to Wigan Pier. London: Penguin, 2001.

2) Stowell, G. “A Yorkshire Trip with Harry Hopeful” Radio Times. Oct 18, 1935. 8.

3) Dorling, D. “Distressed Times and Areas: Poverty, Polarisation and Politics in England 1918-1971” in Geographies of England: The North South Divide, Material and Imagined, edited by Alan R. H. Baker and Mark Billinge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

4) Meyers, J. George Orwell: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge, 1975.

5) Russell, D. Looking North: Northern England and the National Imagination. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004.

6) Taylor, P. J. “The meaning of the north: England’s ‘foreign country’ within?” Political Geography 12, no. 2 (1993): 136- 155


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