Down and Out in Paris and London

by George Orwell

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What is Orwell's opinion of beggars in Down and Out in Paris and London?

Quick answer:

Orwell's opinion of beggars is that they are ordinary people trying to earn a living, just like the rest of society, and don't deserve to be despised.

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Orwell interacts with beggars at length when he is down and out in London. He defines beggars as people, usually men, who trade on the appearance of misery to sell matches or other small items, do some small entertaining tricks out in public, or simply ask for monetary assistance to survive. Their survival is almost always marginal: beggars are on the very fringes of society.

Orwell's opinion of beggars differs, however, from that of most of his society. He considers them ordinary human beings earning a living, if poorly, just like anyone else. He is aware, though, that most of society despises beggars as useless parasites and considers them different from the masses of decent people.

Orwell asks why this is the case. He says that beggars, like other laborers, stand outside for long hours for low pay:

getting varicose veins, chronic bronchitis, etc. It is a trade like any other; quite useless, of course—but, then, many reputable trades are quite useless.

In fact, Orwell argues, beggars do a lot less harm than many people in reputable trades. They are parasites, he admits, but so are many people who earn far more doing worthless things that provide no real societal benefit. In fact, because they earn so little, beggars at least are not too much of a drag on society's resources.

Orwell concludes that beggars are despised because they are poor. They can't turn a profit or grow rich, so they are looked down upon. In fact, Orwell says, they should be honored, because they suffer quite a bit for very little return.

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