Down and Out in Paris and London

by

George Orwell

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Down and Out in Paris and London: Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Orwell is ordered by the chef du personnel to shave off his mustache. It seems an odd order until Orwell, having discussed the matter with Boris and gained more experience in restaurant work, finds out that a man’s facial hair is an outward manifestation of his status in the hotel’s elaborate caste system. Cooks are allowed mustaches. Waiters are not. Plongeurs must, therefore, be clean shaven because they are lower than waiters. Above the cooks is the manager, and above him the patron, whom the staff never sees. The maître d’hotel is just below the manager and takes his meals in a special room with two attendants to serve him. Below the maître d’hotel is the head waiter and below him, the head cook. Then comes the chef du personnel, the waiters, the cooks, the laundresses and sewing women, the apprentice waiters, the plongeurs, the chambermaids, and finally, the cafetiers. The jobs even break down along ethnic lines, with the main rule being that waiters are never French.
Even a man’s appearance reflects his status in the Hotel hierarchy. By shaving off his mustache, Orwell is conceding that he is not on the same level as the hotel cooks and is, in fact, their subordinate. It might seem like a small concession, but since the social order at the Hotel X represents Parisian society as a whole, Orwell’s submitting to such petty rules shows how easy it is to become a victim of arbitrary and cruel class systems. The hierarchy at Hotel X is so well known and hardened by time and habit that no one questions it, even when it means that waiters in a French restaurant cannot be French.
Themes
Poverty as Prison Theme Icon
Poverty is Unnecessary Theme Icon
The one thing everyone at the Hotel X has in common is they all steal. Whether it’s food, alcohol, or money, all hotel workers will try to steal something at one time or another. They’re either thieves or potential thieves. The Armenian doorkeeper, who gives out wages, regularly pockets a portion of people’s pay. Orwell doesn’t discover this habit until his last week at Hotel X, and he is only refunded a tiny portion of what he is owed.
While thievery runs rampant at the hotel, Orwell saves most of his ire for the doorkeeper, who is identified only in terms of his race. Orwell, a notorious anti-Semite, suggests that he sees Armenians as even worse than Jews when it comes to the handling of other people’s money. This is another instance of Orwell’s casual racism.
Themes
Poverty as Prison Theme Icon
Honesty Does Not Pay Theme Icon
Distrust of the Other Theme Icon
As is the case with the tenants of the Hotel des Trois Moineaux, there are eccentrics among the Hotel X staff, including an educated young man with an STD and Morandi, a rumored Italian spy who, having slept with another waiter’s girlfriend, threatens to slice the waiter’s face open when confronted. The oddest character is a Serbian “extra” who makes a game of only working half the day and engaging in outrageous behavior after that so as to get fired with a day’s wages guaranteed. He plays the game all over Paris and, so far, has gotten away with it.
If poverty frees a man from the need to be conventional, restaurant work allows him to leave his ethics behind. The longer Orwell works at the hotel, the more examples of morally suspect behavior he encounters, and that behavior rarely results in negative consequences. Instead, the perpetrator (the Serbian, in this instance) gets ahead or simply moves on.
Themes
Poverty as Opportunity Theme Icon
Honesty Does Not Pay Theme Icon
Distrust of the Other Theme Icon