In his essay “Inside the Whale,” Orwell describes the art of Henry Miller, who allowed himself to become “swallowed” by his experiences and so became a true underground man. For Orwell, the life experience could be transformed into realistic art only if the writer is authentic, absolutely true to his subject without distorting it. In Down and Out in Paris and London, Orwell attempts to write as an honest observer, a plain, direct man with a passion for social reform. To achieve these ends, he employs a narrator who is candid, dryly clever, but not self-analytical. The speaker’s surface impressions, his surface irony, must carry conviction. The narrator is unflappable, unsentimental, as objective as a camera lens. The reader cannot determine why the narrator has risked his health and well-being to live among the down-and-out. Surely, as an educated man, young and (at least at the beginning of the narrative) in good health, he would seem to have opportunities to escape his predicament. Why must he deliberately starve himself to the point of death? Is he merely attempting, as a writer, to discover at first hand the sensations of misery, poverty, and famine? Or is he motivated by a masochistic urge that demands excessive punishment in return from some unacknowledged guilt? Orwell skillfully turns the reader’s attention away from these questions by focusing upon the vision of the narrator, not upon the man himself.
Similarly, when he...
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