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Why George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London is an effective piece of social commentary

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Examine with close textual reference the literary factors which make Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London an effective piece of social commentary. Down and Out in Paris and London is George Orwell's personal account of living in poverty in both cities. It begins in Paris, where Orwell lived for two years surviving by giving English lessons and contributing reviews and articles to various periodicals. Two years later, Orwell moved to London, where, along with writing and tutoring, he worked as a bookshop assistant, an experience which was to inform his later novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying. It was first published in 1933. He offered it as a record of experience, organised rather than fictionalised, and as a demonstration of how to destroy prejudice. This was all of a specifically social purpose that he saw in the book, it arose naturally from the facts he described. There is no gulf between fact, observation and message. No secondary or irrelevant interest interferes with the lucid presentation of detail, and the sustained tone of combined intellectual concern, emotional sympathy and unbiased detachment drives his words clearly. This essay will examine what literary factors George Orwell employed to make Down and Out in Paris and London a social commentary on Paris and London in the 1930's. ...read more.


He becomes 'one', a generalised being whom he is regarding along with other details. It is a personal experience viewed with thorough detachment. The result of this detachment is that when Orwell comes to make a subjective statement we accept it without thought. We accept the statement that the hotel was 'homelike' and Madame F. a 'good sort' in spite of what our own reactions might have been. This is most important achievement of the social commentator, to prevent his reader from accepting some facts while questioning others. Orwell does this by not emphasising the particularly shocking or the particularly unusual any more than he emphasis the trivial or the questionable. Here it is not of fundamental importance in itself whether the hotel was indeed 'homelike', but the fact that Orwell does not allow us to disbelieve it is at the very basis of his success as a social commentator. Orwell shows how demoralising poverty is, and how subjectively damaging. It shrinks a man to 'only a belly with a few accessory organs' and the more limited means of existence the less able a man becomes to resist or fight against circumstances. This has two effects. It deprives one of the necessity of being responsible, of paying attention to anything apart from the avoidance of starvation, and it cuts one off from that vast area of worry and concern that ...read more.


Orwell appeals to his readers' sense of decency. He does not have to add a message to his descriptions; the message is present in the language and the story itself. Though, at the end of Down and Out he gives us a brief, matter-of-fact chapter consolidating his material and offering some suggestions as to what could be done to help vagrants. He moves out of his role as observer with no change of tone. Far from our being disturbed by his blunt, "I want to set down some general remarks about tramps' (Orwell, 1933, page 203) it adds force to what he has to say, for he already established his credibility. Orwell's Down and Out, while not being the first book of its kind, was something of a phenomenon. Even when social commentary was at its height in Britain there was little that was genuinely muckraking in the sense that the author decided to investigate and write up a situation by becoming involved in it. Those, who did joined armies and causes, they did not, usually, join miners and factory workers, still less those on the dole. Orwell by gritting his teeth, and it is fairly clear that he did not enjoy living on bread and margarine or his stay at the spikes, battered his way, inevitably a little blindly, into foreign situations. While some admired him for it, others resented the fact that he had courage as well as conviction. ...read more.

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