Last Reviewed on December 20, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1090
The Diverse Manifestations of Societal Inequity
Hotel World's title contextualizes the hotel environment as a vehicle to describe the wider world. The hotel is a microcosm, a representation of society as a whole. Smith uses characters from multiple social classes within the hotel—employees, paying guests, and nonpaying guests—to explore the diverse manifestations of societal inequity.
Sara Wilby is a chambermaid: she represents the lowest social class in the "world" of the titular hotel. She falls to her death when the cables of the hotel's dumbwaiter break, betrayed by something she is supposed to be able to use for her job. Once she is dead, she feels "more here than [she] ever was." Her experience suggests that Sara was a ghost to the hotel even when she was alive, as she performed tasks that its guests took for granted. Through Sara, the novel invites readers to consider how many people exist invisibly within the world of the wealthy.
Lise, who works as a receptionist at the Global Hotel, is very conscious of her distance from the social and economic world of its guests:
. . . when you work in a hotel, whatever it is you do—whether it’s smiling at guests on the front desk or spitting in food in the kitchen, stripping beds of the smells of people or smoking against the rules out on the fire escapes, whatever—presses you hard, with your nose squashed and your face distorted and ugly, right up against the window of other people’s wealth, for which employment you are, usually quite badly, paid.
Lise's bank card and checkbook have been confiscated by her bank, which is treating her like a child in the wake of a single overdraft. Her lack of agency and the attendant financial concerns make Lise painfully aware of her place in the hotel's hierarchy. She fantasizes about entering a rich guest's room to watch the woman sleep and other acts of rebellion against the hotel's corporate policies. However, Lise calls Else's room just to startle her “in a calculated shift of social power," leveraging the hotel's power so she can feel empowered herself.
The higher classes of the hotel are represented by Penny, a journalist and paying guest, whose review will perpetuate the hotel's myth of accessible luxury. Penny is solipsistic and incurious about others, making assumptions rather than asking questions. Penny mistakes the homeless Else for “a minor ex-rock star” and assumes there is a story to be found by following her. When she realizes that Else is homeless, she justifies her unwillingness to help: "If you were poor, you were poor. You couldn't handle money." The speed with which Penny loses interest in Else's story, and her callous attitude toward Else's circumstances, speak to the perpetuation of the societal inequity the novel describes.
The Singularity of Individual Experience
The particular Global Hotel in which the novel is set belongs to a large corporate chain of similar hotels. Coming there to sleep or work, guests expect to find a room like any other, devoid of personality or interest. In that, the hotel is an impersonal place. It speaks to the slow creep towards globalism, the loss of the personal, and the way in which corporations change society for the worse.
Despite its homogenous appeal, Smith's characters have very different experiences of the hotel. Else is "made miserable" by the individual acts of labor that went into making her room pristine. Clare experiences the hotel through its employees, who are universally kind to her. Lise seeks ways to defy hotel policy, but unconsciously straightens her uniform even when the security cameras are off. Penny is bored by the hotel, but then applauds its "unique, individual design" in her review. As she is leaving the world, the ghost of Sara describes the hotel as if it were alive, "breathing the people out and...
(The entire section contains 1090 words.)
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