Down And Out In Paris And London Summary

George Orwell

Down And Out In Paris And London

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Down And Out In Paris And London Summary

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Down and Out in Paris and London is a memoir on poverty by George Orwell published in 1933. It details his time spent in Paris and London just before publishing his first novel. He gives details of working in Paris in near homeless conditions as well as travel experiences in London.

When Orwell first left his post in Burma as a police officer, he moved to London to travel and publish material for different journals, including what would be the first workings of the second half of his manuscript. He then moved to Paris into the Latin Quarter, a bohemian section of town known for its writers and artists. After a serious illness, he returns to London and begins to write.

In the first half of Down and Out, he describes his experiences in Paris. He describes the atmosphere of Paris at that time, with all its unusual characters, art scene, and immigrant population. His descent into poverty is given all the airs of a tragic-comedy. He loses his savings when an Italian compositor makes a copy of his room key. He earns income for a little while teaching English, but this dries up. He begins selling his clothing, and then pawning his clothing, as he searches for a job with a Russian waiter. He even goes for two days without food as his circumstances worsen.

He is teetering on the brink of true homelessness when he finally gets a job as a dishwasher in a hotel. This is a mind-numbing job for him with abysmal pay and long hours. He compares it to slave labor. He describes the filth of the hotel in the servants’ quarters and describes their schedules. They work and work, barely having time to sleep, and then drink half their money away on Saturday night.

He describes how one night there is a murder directly below where he lives, but everyone in the house sleeps through it. He wonders how they could have done such a thing, but concludes that with their kind of labor it seems wasteful to throw away sleep over something like a murder.

His Russian waiter friend decides to quit his job on anticipation of getting a better one at a new hotel, and Orwell, deceived by his optimism, does the same. The hotel struggles at first, and he is not paid for ten days. He sleeps on a bench rather than come face to face with his landlady, but the job turns out to be successful. He is finally paid, though his long hours as a dishwasher become even longer.

He describes a host of other minor characters in anecdotes about the city as he moves about working and looking for a job. At some point, he feels that dishwashing has enslaved him and comments that if dishwashers were smarter, they would have unionized. They have not, however, because the nature of their job leaves them no time to think bigger thoughts than dishwashing.

He finally contacts a friend back in London when the stress of the job begins to affect his mental health. The friend agrees to find him a job and sends him money to get his clothing out of pawn. He decides to leave Paris and return to London.

He is supposed to be the caregiver for an invalid, but his employer and patient goes abroad, leaving him temporarily jobless once again. He lives as a tramp until his patient returns, sleeping in public or Salvation Army accommodations. He has to keep moving because of the rules for vagrants at the time, and much of his time during the day is spent waiting for hostels, kitchens, and other services to open.

The bulk of the second half of the memoir describes these journeys, highlighting his experiences with charity and coming to understand the life of a tramp. He also describes the way he and others feel about the Christian charity offered to them. He says that they should have been more grateful, but they were not. Each one of them felt humiliated just a little by their experiences, and they were all from different walks of life.

The last parts of the book outline details about the kind of accommodations and services available to the local tramps. He comes to the understanding that he has experienced only the fringes of poverty and that he will never again judge a man forced to live in those circumstances.

Critics have argued over the truth of the memoir, citing evidence to show that Orwell exaggerated parts of his experience for the sake of the story. Orwell himself said that he has exaggerated nothing per se, but that writers often change or highlight the story as they choose what events to write about. He seems to believe that part of his duty as a writer is to create a good story and to detail larger truths related to his experience through rearranging and editing his chosen stories.

The book is a fascinating look into the bohemian life of many artists living in Europe as well as of the immigrant communities. At the time, one hotel complained about his treatment of the service industry, but many critics have agreed that his gentle critique was a necessary and even-handed look at an industry often hidden from its customers. It is a parody of his upper class upbringing and an interesting story of a bohemian past.