Adonis Diaries

Down and out in Paris and London” by George Orwell

Posted on: September 23, 2008

“Down and out in Paris and London” by George Orwell (July 14, 2008)

“Down and out in Paris and London” is just 215 pages, but each chapter is so packed with emotions and details of the hard life of tramps in London and Paris in the 1930’s that I needed to sleep over each chapter and resume reading other manuscripts for a few days.

This small book required weeks of slow reading that it seemed to me never to have an end. Italic phrases as mine. Orwell was in Paris in his youth and he was robbed of all his cash money and had no sources of income; thus Orwell described his penniless life in Paris and then as a tramp in London.

George Orwell in his “Down and out in Paris and London” tried to explain why people insist on working long hours, over 17 hours, everyday in mines and as plunger “plongeur” in hotels and restaurants.

Are there any meaningful purposes for people to accept sweatshop jobs other than basic economic necessities?

Most slave jobs are directed toward offering luxury to well off rich people who form a totally different caste than the poor people.  The paupers are politically labeled the mob in order to frighten the rich class into conservative behaviors of not attempting to ease the burdens off the working class shoulders, and keep them (the working class) always busy at work and not stop and think and act for a better future and personal ambitions.

Orwell experienced the job of “plongeur” in Paris swabbing dishes in hot dens underground during all his waking hours and going to bed right away after finishing this modern slave job.  The job of a “plongeur” is not idle work but George felt it was better off than many manual works like rickshaw pullers or gharry pony because many Orientals view walking as a degrading sport.

The author described in details how Hotels in Paris function and the hierarchy of the employees and how each caste in the hierarchy tries to express pride in his job and how the more expensive the dish the more frequent the cooks and waiters dip their greasy and sweaty fingers in the dish so that the dish looks in style and neat if much less hygienic.

George Orwell proved how dirty are the environment and the work in Hotels and restaurants and how the customers are not receiving the expected services commensurate to the high prices charged for the lodging and food offered.

The French “patrons” of the Hotels such as the manager, the chef cook, the maitre-d’ hotel and his assistant and the waiters make sure that the dishes prepared for them are hygienic and not mishandled as those offered to the clients. The French are never hired as waiters, but the cooks and sewing women should be French.

Arabs are never hired in jobs that expose them to clients and customers. This manuscript was not reprinted because the author supposedly stated a few racist quotes such as “Trust a snake before a Jew and a Jew before a Greek, but don’t trust an Armenian“.

My conjecture is that because the book first described precisely how the powerful hotels and restaurant industry function and bilk the clients with dirty and cheap food and over priced services and second because it gave a detailed account of the state of vagrancy of tramps in these developed States.

George Orwell writes “An illiterate working man, with the work habit in his bones, worries about losing his job because he needs work more than money. With no means of filing up time the out of job working man is as miserable as a dog on the chain.  The educated man, (at least from my own experience, those who loves to read and write), can put up with enforced idleness, which is one of the worst evils of poverty.”

I think that there are two main characters of people regardless of level of education; those who can sustain free time and invest it as lonely people can and those who needs to fill time by actions under various excuses.

In another paragraph a slumming-party of three religious people with a portable harmonium came into the kitchen of a lodging-house where over a hundred tramps were having dinner and started singing and preaching, but they were disregarded and never insulted.  Orwell commented “It is curious how people take it for granted that they have a right to preach at you and pray over you as soon as your income falls below a certain level“.

Once, Orwell was among a hundred tramps that had free tea and 6 slices of bread and margarine and they had to sit for mass; the tramps located in the gallery behaved shamelessly, chatting, laughing, smoking, calling out, and frankly bullying the few elder women of the congregation and Orwell commented:

It was our revenge upon them for having humiliated us by feeding us.  A man receiving charity practically hates his benefactor-it is a fixed characteristic of human nature.  The scene was different from the ordinary demeanor of tramps from the abject worm-like gratitude with which they accept charity.  The explanation was that the tramps vastly out-numbered the congregation and were not afraid of them; when a man has fifty others persons backing him, he will show his hatred.”

A young and chubby clergyman was distributing meal tickets worth sixpence to be used at a specific eating-house whose proprietor swindled each ticket holder of two pence worth of food; the clergyman was so embarrassed seeing this miserable lot that he hurried down the line distributing tickets without waiting to be thanked.  The tramps liked this behavior of the clergyman and there was genuine gratitude with this warm compliment “Well, he’ll never be a f—bishop“.

The chapter before the last offers the roots of the tramps ‘problems and a few suggestions to improving their lives.

First, Orwell fields the prejudices levied against the tramps such as being perceived as “blackguards, repulsive and dangerous criminals and who would die rather work or wash and want nothing but to beg, drink and rob hen-houses“, that they voluntarily refuse work and want to be supported by the public budget.

A few criminologists went as far as labeling the tramp an atavist in the nomadic stage of humanity. This prejudice of “Serve them damned well” attitude is no fairer than it would be towards cripples or invalids. If tramps were indeed criminals then the hundreds of them would not be served by only three persons in each lodging-houses.

The first plague of tramps is malnutrition and this lack of energy spent on walking miles to the next lodging-house is basically set by law, very much like driving to the left in England; the law prevents tramps to sleeping more than a night at a lodging-house for the duration of a whole month.

This law was meant to encourage vagrancy away from London and keeping constantly the tramps on the move.  It is interesting that lodging-houses purposely dump the leftover of edible food so that tramps just keep on their hunger and their ration of tea and four slices of bread and margarine.  Tramps barely can get a good night sleep because the beds are not comfortable, the blanket dirty and thin against the cold and the dormitories holding several dozens of tramps have a high rate of sick people coughing and with bladder problems.

The second great evil of a tramp’s life is being cut off from contact with women: their lack of sexual encounter with females and this forced abstinence encourages homosexuality and the feeling of degradation to the rank of a cripple or a lunatic. No humiliation could do more damage to a man’s self-respect than being considered too low in society classes to be a viable husband or boyfriend.

The third great evil is enforced idleness.  The British vagrancy law of the thirties arranges that when the tramp is not walking the road to the next lodging-house he is to sit still in cells; or, in the intervals, lying on the ground waiting for the casual ward to open and set him free to walk again.

The average tramp has no clothes but what he stands up in, wear boots that are ill-fitting, and does not sit in a chair for months (because chairs are not available in lodging-houses or in any public place in London)

Orwell suggested farm houses to be cultivated by the tramps while living in lodging-houses but the ideology of the time would not encourage socialism or Bolshevik economy and the government preferred that its lowest class of tramps suffer physically and spiritually rather than offering comfort and remedies to their plight.

There are rules to the freedom of tramps that differ between Paris and London:

In London tramps are not allowed to sleep in the underground train stations, or even sit on pavement or beg; tramps have to fake that they are selling something.  In Paris tramps have wider latitudes and can sleep and spend their time in public parks and sleep in the metro and beg overtly.

George Orwell ends his manuscript with what he learned from these months living as a true tramp in London and Paris

I shall never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels (since they can’t purchase drinks), nor expect a beggar to be grateful when I give him a penny, nor be surprised if men out of work lack energy (living on just tea and two slices of bread and margarine), nor subscribe to the Salvation Army (since they treat the hosted tramps as prisoners), nor pawn my clothes, nor refuse a handbill (so that the distributor of handbill can finish his job early), nor enjoy a meal at a smart restaurant.  That is a beginning.

Note: Even today, the law of the land is mainly targeting the poorer classes and does its best to climinalize the condition of being born within a poor environment

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adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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