If there is one man to whom I do feel myself inferior, it is a coalminer.
In the mid-1930s, George Orwell was given an assignment from his publisher – to write a book about unemployment and social conditions in the economically depressed north of England. Revolutionary for its time, The Road to Wigan Pier documents Orwell’s stint in towns likes Barnsley, Sheffield and Wigan in 1936, where he met and observed working-class people living in the bleak industrial heartlands of Yorkshire and Lancashire.
Orwell graphically and emphatically describes the hardships of ordinary people living in cramped slum housing, working in dangerous mines and growing hungry through malnutrition and social injustice. It is an honest, gripping and humane study that also looks at socialism as a solution to the problems facing working-class northerners – something many readers at the time were uncomfortable discussing.
The Road to Wigan Pier cemented ideas that would be found in Orwell’s later works, and remains a powerful portrait of poverty, injustice and class divisions in Britain to this day.