A main theme in Orwell’s writing is society, where it’s headed as a whole and the techniques and devices designed to control it. Eric Arthur Blair, which is his real name, is a master of the art of independent thinking and an ardent pillar of mankind. Always ahead of his time and never quite agreeing with it, the old Etonian was the great moral voice of his generation.
In the book ‘Down and Out in Paris in London’ Orwell demonstrates, in vivid detail, the world of being homeless. He portrays a way of life which few people can nowadays relate with – living with barely enough money to buy bread (on most days) and a bit of milk, the author gives a breath-taking first-person memoir of poverty.
“And there is another feeling that is a great consolation in poverty. I believe everyone who has been hard up has experienced it. 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.” Orwell (1933). 20-21.
Sleeping in bug-infested hostels, drinking in depraved Parisian bistros, pawning his last coat just to buy some bread and garlic, working 17 hours a day as a plongeur, Orwell gives the reader a mesmerizing tour of the underworld. So mesmerizing and in-your-face in detail that most of the names in the book had to be subsequently edited or deleted altogether.
What makes the book stand out even more is the narrator himself. Orwell comes from a relatively affluent background. Starving and with no money whatsoever, his fussiness in throwing away a whole saucepan of milk merely because a bed-bug had fallen into it underlines exactly his classy upbringing. One could tell from a thousand miles that mixing with the poor on equal terms and accepting the harsh reality of having an empty belly wasn’t easy for Orwell.
All in all, the book is a must-read for anyone who wants to have a glance at life from the point of view of a poor person. It is also inspirational because it shows how far one can go. From a struggling writer in his twenties to becoming one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, this experience surely shaped Orwell and his style of writing more than any other book he’s written. Or read.
George Orwell (1933). Down and Out in Paris and London. London: Victor Gollancz . 20-21.
Fig 1. George Orwell,(1933), File:Downout paris london.jpg [Online]. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Downout_paris_london.jpg [Accessed 10 May 14].
Fig 2. George Orwell,(1933), Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell [Online]. Available from: http://coffeestainedpages.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/down-and-out-in-paris-and-london-by-george-orwell/ %5BAccessed 10 May 2014].
Fig 3. George Orwell,(1933) [Online]. Available from: http://meetville.com/quotes/tag/poverty/page3 %5BAccessed 10 May 2014].