Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell is an intriguing and entertaining tale concerning Orwell’s experience and observation of poverty. This vivid memoir eloquently and intelligently describes his time spent with the destitute and desperate of his society in Paris and London. The haunting and moving way in which Orwell describes each character he meets sticks in your mind, and although many doubt whether this novel was a real autobiography, no one can ignore the unique personality of each character such as Boris, Charlie and Bozo.
Orwell voluntarily entered the ranks of the poor and scarcely surviving in Paris. His account is rich in its description of sights, sounds and characters. When he isn’t unemployed and pawning his clothes, he works long days as a “plongeur”. Orwell’s book fully demonstrates that the never ending cycle of Poverty is “squalid and boring”. He ends his Paris section by speaking directly to the reader about the reasons for such Poverty. Rather than claim any kind of nobility in his destitute state, he shows that the appalling jobs he and his friends perform are mostly useless and can easily be made obsolete, which creates a dismal tone in the novel. Later he moves over to London and joins the ranks of the English vagrants. This section is less strong and reads more like a scientific study of homelessness in Edwardian England.
The tense and dramatic atmosphere is accentuated in the detail of the rapid descent into the heart of the seedy and impoverished, portraying an entirely different attitude towards two of the most famous cities in Europe. Contrasting with great, romantic literary works of these cities, Orwell uses a depressing and dark point of view to bring to light many of the false generalizations and careless mistakes we have towards the unfortunate of our society. This shocking revelation creates a gloomy and appalled tone to the novel, making it more emphatic and memorable.
The novel also gives emphasis to the power of words that Orwell possesses, showing his talent through the thorough yet still entertaining descriptions he gives throughout the script. Since there is very little representation of spoken discourse in the text, the story must be fleshed out by vibrant narrative which is difficult to do well. However, in my opinion Orwell’s fine style and evocative attitude sets a tone of significance to everything that is written on the pages. Through this, Orwell is able to convey his inner thoughts and emotions to his audience in a refined and subtle way. This air of secrecy is very effective in the novel as it draws the reader in and leaves a memorable atmosphere.
Altogether I feel that this is an interesting novel with some strong key ideas about morality in the society of Orwell’s time. While much has changed since the 1930’s, I believe that the basic concept that Orwell is trying to get across are still significant in today’s culture. Rather than an actual story with a beginning, middle and end, I did sense that the novel read like a long journalistic article on society, due to the interlude chapters concerning, for example, slang and Orwell’s personal opinions of the idea of Poverty. It seemed to me that Orwell was trying to persuade us to accept and agree with his view, which to be honest worked wonderfully. However, I would not call this a typical novel, and I wonder if this part-fictitious tale could even be categorized with other novels or whether it should go under its own unique genre to match its unique author.
If the novel had been written by any other author, it would have been extremely dull, as the book is repetitive and the story line is weak. However the art lies in the description for the most part, creating a colorful image to relay to the audience the effect of a place or person. I thought that more went on in the Paris section of the novel than the London section, mostly due to the fact that he didn’t do anything but waste time trying to survive on little money whilst in London. I feel he included the London sections more to make a point about hardship in English Poverty rather than entertain an audience.
Overall I genuinely enjoyed reading this novel and encourage others to take a look. The novel looks dense and difficult, but even through the treacherous hardship Orwell faces, he manages to keep the tone light. To be honest, this is the sort of novel that everyone should read at least once in their lives to help educate the minds and inform them about the different aspects of humanity.
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