How does George Orwell present Poverty in 'Down and Out in Paris and London'?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Down and Out in Paris and London, published in 1933, Orwell chooses to live the life of a poor person. He writes:

It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs—and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.

In  Paris, after pawning almost everything he owns, Orwell becomes a waiter at a large, fancy hotel patronized by wealthy people. He describes in great detail the long, hard hours, miserable conditions, and endless dirt that surrounds the food preparation. It is two different worlds on either side of the kitchen door. He describes, for example, how fast the waiters must race around, running up and down steps and through back corridors to deliver room service breakfasts to the wealthy patrons. Things are so rushed that if they drop a piece of buttered toast face down on a dirty floor, they just pick it up, brush it off, and serve it anyway. He records coming into work one day to see a rat munching on the ham sitting on the counter that will later be served to the rich guests. His point is that nobody is really served in a situation that makes the life of the poorest workers so hard and miserable that they cannot do their jobs in a sanitary way.

In London, Orwell becomes a tramp, joining the beggars, almost entirely men, who are wandering the countryside. He notes that, like being a waiter, begging is hard work, and, really, no different from respectable work. He says, 

Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised?—for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice nobody cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that it shall be profitable.

Orwell wants to show us that the poor are not the "other," they are ordinary people just like us who have had bad luck or who have been denied opportunity. They do not "deserve" to be poor; they work hard at surviving, and they should not be unfairly stigmatized and treated cruelly for being poor. He writes that it is important and necessary for a person with no education to have work, because such people have no inner resources to fall back on if they do not have a job.

beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell addresses poverty when he speaks about the virtue of money and the trade of being a beggar. He compares the life of a being a beggar to more profitable trades such as accountants and doctors as if it is a trade unto itself. His premise is that the beggars actually participate in a job, but it is a job the fails to provide them with a decent living; they will never get rich. Orwell feels that it is not being poor that makes a man worthless, but the lack of being educated or having a job that pays a decent salary does. When a person has an education, they are able to fill their time with other activities even if they become unemployed. But, a poor man who is uneducated has no means to fill his time has no life force; no will to live. Poverty is a state of being that is unacceptable if you are not educated or inclined to use your mind. He states, “If you set yourself to it, you can live the same life, rich or poor. You can keep on with your books and your ideas. You just got to say to yourself, "I'm a free man in here" - he tapped his forehead - "and you're all right.”

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