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The macabre portrait of Marrakech by George Orwell

Also known as George Orwell, Eric Arthur Blair has depicted a macabre portrait of the city of Marrakech. In reality, it is more about colonialism than about Morocco.

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George Orwell, writer, essayist and journalist./DR

George Orwell's life and its many twists are reflected in his famous novels and essays. Born on the 25th of June 1903 in India, he worked in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) as a sergeant in the imperial police, then made his debut in journalism in London but really began writing in Paris. He also made a brief passage through Morocco, where he wrote this essay entitled «Marrakech».

During his trip, Orwell was accompanied by his first wife, Eileen O'Shaughnessy. They landed in Morocco for a six-month stay, as evidenced by the statement made to Robert Parr, British consul in Marrakech. The couple rented a villa five kilometers away from Marrakech. As a summary of his experience, the writer published a single essay dated spring 1939.

«As the corpse passed by, the flies left the restaurant table in a cloud and rushed in its wake, but they returned a few minutes later». Thus begins «Marrakech», with a funeral that immediately gives away a gloomy tone and an atmosphere of misery.

«When you walk in a city like this - two hundred thousand people, whose at least twenty thousand literally have nothing but the rags in which they stand - when you see how people live and easily die, it is always hard to believe that you are walking among human beings.»

George Orwell-Marrakech

«They emerge from the earth, sweat and die of hunger»

For Orwell, a fervent anticolonialist whose ideas are considered by some to be contradictory or paradoxical, «all colonial empires are in fact based on this fact». Exploitation, misery and donation dictate relations between colonists and colonized. He describes Moroccans with «brown faces - plus, there are so many ! Are they really the same flesh as you ? Do they even have names ? Or are they just a kind of undifferentiated brown substance, as individual as bees or coral insects ?»

Was the life of Moroccans of that era deemed that insignificant ? For Orwell, they «emerge from the earth, sweat and starve for a few years, then they plunge into the nameless mounds of the cemetery and no one realizes they are gone. And even the graves themselves disappear quickly into the ground.» Raw words deliberately chosen by the writer to resonate in the minds of the colonists.

He wonders in a rhetorical way about what does «Morocco mean for a Frenchman ? An orange grove or a job in public administration. Or for an Englishman ? Camels, castles, palms, foreign legionaries, brass trays and bandits».

«Mummified, tiny and invisible»

For Orwell, those who settled in Morocco by force «could probably live here for years without realizing that for nine tenths of the population, the reality of life is an endless struggle and grueling in order to pull some food from an eroded soil».

The author of «1984» still considers that «most of Morocco is sorry that no wild animal bigger than a hare can live there». Those who plow these lands with «an exactly soil like a brick in pieces» are invisible to Orwell. They give this image of women each carrying a load of firewood. In Orwell's eyes, these women «are mummified with age and the sun, and are all tiny».

To rebel in order to chase the human

Some will see in this passage an allusion to the oppression of colonialism and the loads on the  backs «bent in two like an inverted capital». If in this essay, Orwell cannot help devoting a few paragraphs to the donkeys «the most constant creature on the planet», it is probably a reference to his first big success, «The Animal Farm», where animals manage to to chase Man.

But some critics of Orwell believe that his story dehumanizes the Moroccan population of the time. Raymond Williams points out «the paradoxical effect of Orwell's work», in the last chapter of Culture and Society published in 1958.

«He was a socialist who had popularized a harsh criticism of socialist ideology and its adherents. He was a strong supporter of equality and a critic who based his later work on a profound assumption of inherent inequality, an inevitable class difference.»

Despite this critical view of Orwell's work, Williams retains the image of «a human being who communicated extreme inhuman terror ; a man attached to decency and who has concretized a distinct misery».

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