Coming Up for Air
Goodreads ratings
3.8 / 5

"Coming Up for Air" Summary

By George Orwell

fiction | 278 pages | Published in NaN

George Bowling, the hero of Orwell's comic novel, is a middle-aged insurance salesman who lives in an average English suburban row house with a wife and two children. One day, after winning some money from a bet, he goes back to the village where he grew up, to fish for carp in a pool he remembers from thirty years before. The pool, alas, is gone, the village has changed beyond recognition, and the principal event of his holiday is an accidental bombing by the RAF.


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

An ordinary man seeks escape from his mundane life in George Orwell's "Coming Up for Air."


"Coming Up for Air" is a thought-provoking novel written by George Orwell. Set in England before the outbreak of World War II, the story follows the life of the protagonist, George Bowling, as he grapples with the complexities of modernization, nostalgia, and the inevitability of change. Through vivid storytelling and rich character development, Orwell crafts a narrative that delves into the themes of identity, disillusionment, and the struggle to find meaning in a rapidly evolving world.

Brief Synopsis

The plot of "Coming Up for Air" revolves around George Bowling, a middle-aged insurance salesman who is disenchanted with his mundane existence. As he grapples with the monotony of his life, George becomes increasingly nostalgic for his childhood and the idyllic English village of his youth, known as Lower Binfield. When he learns that his childhood home is due to be demolished to make way for a new housing development, George seizes the opportunity to revisit his past and recapture the sense of innocence and simplicity that he feels has been lost in the tide of progress.

Plot Overview and Setting

The novel is primarily set in the fictional town of Lower Binfield, a picturesque English village that serves as the backdrop for George's nostalgic recollections. As George embarks on his journey back to Lower Binfield, the story weaves between the past and present, offering a poignant exploration of the impact of modernization on traditional rural life. Orwell masterfully captures the essence of both time periods, painting a vivid portrait of a bygone era while juxtaposing it against the encroaching forces of industrialization and urbanization.

Main Characters

The novel features several key characters who play pivotal roles in shaping George Bowling's journey:

George BowlingThe protagonist who grapples with nostalgia and disillusionment.
HildaGeorge's wife, who represents the conventional expectations of married life.
Mr. RavelstonGeorge's affluent and cultured friend, offering a contrast to George's working-class background.
Connie ChatterleyAn enigmatic figure from George's past, evoking memories of youth and romance.

Summary of Different Story Points Over Chapters

Chapter 1-5: Nostalgia and Disillusionment

George Bowling, feeling trapped in his monotonous life, yearns for the simplicity of his childhood in Lower Binfield. As he reflects on the changes brought about by modernity, he becomes increasingly disillusioned with the direction of society.

Chapter 6-10: Revisiting the Past

Motivated by a desire to recapture the essence of his youth, George embarks on a journey back to Lower Binfield. The novel delves into George's memories and the emotional significance of his hometown.

Chapter 11-15: Confronting Change

Upon returning to Lower Binfield, George grapples with the stark reality of the changes that have befallen his once-charming village. His encounters with familiar faces and places prompt introspection and a deep sense of loss.

Chapter 16-20: The Illusion of Nostalgia

As George's nostalgic idealization of the past clashes with the present, he is forced to confront the harsh truths about the passage of time and the inevitability of change. His romanticized memories are challenged by the harsh realities of the modern world.

Chapter 21-24: The Quest for Meaning

In the final chapters, George undergoes a profound internal reckoning, grappling with the tension between his yearning for the past and the demands of the present. The novel culminates in a bittersweet realization about the transient nature of life and the enduring power of memory.

Main Events

  • George's decision to revisit Lower Binfield in search of nostalgia
  • His encounters with familiar faces and places from his past
  • The clash between George's idealized memories and the reality of modernization
  • The profound internal reckoning and realization that George undergoes

Themes and Insights


  1. Nostalgia and Modernization: The novel explores the tension between a yearning for the simplicity of the past and the relentless march of progress.
  2. Identity and Disillusionment: George's journey prompts a deep introspection into his own sense of self and the disillusionment that accompanies the passage of time.
  3. The Passage of Time: Orwell delves into the transient nature of life and the enduring power of memory, emphasizing the inevitability of change.


Orwell's portrayal of George's internal conflict and the broader societal shifts offers insights into the human experience, the complexities of memory, and the struggle to reconcile the past with the present.

Reader's Takeaway

"Coming Up for Air" is a poignant and introspective exploration of nostalgia, disillusionment, and the profound impact of societal change. Through George Bowling's journey, readers are invited to reflect on their own relationship with the past and the ever-shifting landscape of modern life. Orwell's masterful storytelling and rich character development make this novel a compelling and thought-provoking read that resonates with readers long after the final page.


In "Coming Up for Air," George Orwell delivers a compelling narrative that delves into the complexities of nostalgia, modernization, and the quest for meaning. Through the lens of George Bowling's journey, the novel offers a profound exploration of identity, disillusionment, and the enduring power of memory. Orwell's vivid prose and evocative storytelling make "Coming Up for Air" a timeless work that continues to captivate readers with its poignant reflections on the human experience.

Coming Up for Air FAQ

  1. What is 'Coming Up for Air' about?

    Coming Up for Air is a novel by George Orwell that follows the story of George Bowling, a middle-aged insurance salesman who feels trapped in the modern world and longs for the simpler, idyllic days of his youth. He decides to visit his childhood home, only to find that it has been transformed by progress and industrialization.

  2. When was 'Coming Up for Air' published?

    Coming Up for Air was first published in 1939.

  3. What themes are explored in 'Coming Up for Air'?

    The novel explores themes of nostalgia, the impact of modernity on traditional ways of life, the passage of time, and the loss of innocence.

  4. Is 'Coming Up for Air' a dystopian novel?

    While 'Coming Up for Air' does touch on some dystopian elements, it is primarily a realistic portrayal of the protagonist's disillusionment with the changes in society and his longing for the past.

  5. What is the writing style of 'Coming Up for Air'?

    George Orwell's writing in 'Coming Up for Air' is characterized by its clarity, vivid descriptions, and keen observations of human behavior and society.