The description of poverty in Orwell 's book is the description of a scholar: someone who has never been poor and who is, willingly, allowing himself to become impoverished in order to study how it feels. Nevertheless, Orwell's portraits of the poor in both London and Paris are fond, and...
The description of poverty in Orwell's book is the description of a scholar: someone who has never been poor and who is, willingly, allowing himself to become impoverished in order to study how it feels. Nevertheless, Orwell's portraits of the poor in both London and Paris are fond, and he identifies some of the specific things that are difficult about being poor in both cities, which are not things that might be expected by those who have never experienced poverty.
Orwell notes that one of the hardest things about becoming poor when one had not been poor before was that one was then forced to spend the whole of one's life "telling lies, and expensive lies." He describes the difficulty of having to stop spending money on what one had spent it on before, such as sending out laundry and buying cigarettes; this made Orwell enemies of the laundress and the tobacco seller, who thought he was buying these services and goods elsewhere, but a certain sense of shame about poverty meant that he must keep his poverty a secret. He describes also the great difficulty of being constantly surrounded by food and yet unable to buy any for himself. In both Paris and London, the poor experienced the situation of being surrounded by the wealth and luxury of two of the greatest and richest cities in the world, with food at every turn, seemingly taunting those who could not afford to spend any money on it. In Paris, the poor lived on bread and wine; in London, on bread and margarine. Orwell was far luckier in Paris than most, because at the time of writing, his English money went a long way in France, due to the weakness of the franc against sterling or the American dollar. This was the 1920s, one of the most intense periods of poverty in recent memory even before the Wall Street crash, and Orwell illustrates this clearly in his book.
The difficulties of Paris are in some ways different to those of London. In Paris, Orwell describes poverty as somewhat of a freeing experience for "eccentrics": "Poverty frees them from ordinary standards of behavior, just as money frees people from work." The poor in Paris were permitted to congregate together. In London, such congregation was forbidden by law, and Orwell describes one of the great difficulties of the poor in London as being forced to move on. "Tramps" and "vagabonds" appear among his acquaintances in London as they do not in Paris. These people were never allowed to stay in one place, being continually moved on by the police. They had recourse to "spikes," or dossing houses, which were unremittingly filthy and disgusting, conditions to which they were forced to become accustomed. Orwell, knowing he could always return to his middle-class life, could never become used to these conditions, but the tramps had to. For them, it was simply their way of life: always hungry, dirty, downtrodden, and unable to think beyond their next meal. Orwell implies in his novel that, at a time when revolution was a concern, the upper classes may have preferred the poor that way.