Down and Out in Paris and London


George Orwell

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Down and Out in Paris and London can help.

Down and Out in Paris and London: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Now that Orwell has money, he is able to spend Saturday nights at the bistro at the foot of the Hotel des Trois Moineaux, where people sing and drink and dance with reckless abandon, “certain that the world was a good place” and they a notable set of people. Among those people is Furex, a veteran of the war who never fails to get blind drunk every Saturday and deliver the same jumbled speech about French heroism and patriotism. The other regulars of the bistro find Furex, a Communist during the week and a red hot patriot when drunk, hilarious and they decide to trick him into fury by denouncing France to his face. Without fail, Furex froths, then gets sick on the table and is taken up to his room to pass out. The next day he is quiet again and reading a Communist newspaper.
Furex is, for the most part, a figure of fun. His patriotic speeches are laughable and nonsensical, his behavior on these nights entirely motivated by alcohol. When sober, he adheres strictly to the tenets of communism. Orwell is arguing that nationalism is often a result of enflamed passions rather than rational thought. Furex’s patriotism is similar to Boris’s: militaristic and childish, it’s easy, at least for the patrons of the bistro, to mock. Still, their treatment of Furex is cruel and suggests they’re not “notable” at all. 
Poverty as Opportunity Theme Icon
What follows Furex’s speech at the bistro is a period of goodwill. The patrons drink seriously and tell stories and grow expansive. All is right with the world. Later, though, a change comes over the bistro. Madame F waters down the wine, the girls are harassed by bullying men, and fights break out. Things continue to go downhill. Patrons drift off to gambling halls and brothels and men drink only out of habit, knowing it will make them sick. It does. The customers see themselves for who they are—not people of note, but dirty workmen on a weekly bender. Still, the two hours of bliss seem worth the misery they’ll experience afterward.
Drinking as consolation for a dreary life is a nuanced and complicated thing. What begins in fun and effusiveness ends in fights, abuse, and sickness. Thus, drunkenness reveals the patrons to themselves: they are unremarkable in every way. Two hours of drunkenness might indeed be bliss, but the bistro patrons spend every Saturday in this manner, taunting Furex and vomiting in the street, seemingly unaware of the possibility that there may be a wider world out there.
Poverty as Prison Theme Icon
Poverty as Opportunity Theme Icon
Related Quotes