In the form of a memoir, interspersed with passages of journalistic reportage, George Orwell narrates a selective account of his actual experiences in two great European cities. The book is retrospective, reflecting upon episodes that show vivid contrasts between the lives of the very poor and the affluent. Orwell’s first published work, Down and Out in Paris and London not only shows the extent of misery inflicted by society upon its rejected and destitute underclass but also presents a socialistic formula for the reform of society’s institutions.
The book is neatly divided into two parts: the first focusing on the narrator’s experiences in Paris, the second on his experiences in London. In the first section, generally more vivid, tart, and humorous, Orwell treats a relatively large group of nearly Dickensian eccentric types. Among the more notable sketches are those of Charlie, a bland young man who reveals his psychopathic fantasies of abusing virgins; Boris, a Russian waiter, Micawber-like in his optimism that he is “getting ahead,” yet generally spiteful and cunning rather than enterprising; and Furex, who spouts Communist sentiments when sober but, drunk, becomes violently chauvinistic. Included in this section are many snapshot images of minor figures, all part of a collage of portraits, sordid and amusing, which brings the Parisian underground to life.
The narrator’s experiences center on two major areas: the Rue...
(The entire section is 584 words.)