Down and Out in Paris and London

by

George Orwell

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Down and Out in Paris and London: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Exhausted from two weeks of work at the Auberge, Orwell writes to B., a friend in London, asking him if he can help Orwell find a job. The seventeen-hour days are draining him, and he wants to do something different. He knows, of course, that he’s not alone. Hundreds—if not thousands—of Parisians live such lives and do it for years, including a girl Orwell once asked to a dance who demurred because her work schedule left her no time for fun. Consumptive, she died before Orwell left Paris. The kind of work the poor do robs them of their humanity, as Orwell discovers in the kitchen of the Auberge where everyone fights incessantly over petty matters, like where to put the garbage can. Just to spite the cook, one day he puts it right in her way so she is bound to trip on it. Conditions deteriorate even further. No one, including Boris and Orwell, is on speaking terms. Jules steals food in the name of principle. Rats run rampant.
Unlike Boris, the cook at the Auberge, and the girl Orwell mentions in this passage, Orwell has the privilege of being able to escape his life as a slave to the Parisian restaurant business. Why he hasn’t written to his friend earlier is a question worth asking. It gets back to Orwell’s goal in writing this book. He states in chapter one that he hopes to paint a detailed and intimate portrait of poverty, and doing so requires that he live as impoverished man for a time. There is always, however, a light at the end of the tunnel for him, making his callous treatment of the cook that much more inexcusable. The rats have become like the insects that inhabit every Latin Quarter hotel—unavoidable.
Themes
Poverty as Prison Theme Icon
Poverty is Unnecessary Theme Icon
Honesty Does Not Pay Theme Icon
Still, the restaurant is somehow a success. Popular with Russians and Americans, it finally draws its first Frenchman, and the staff unites for once in an attempt to serve a good meal. It’s around this time that Orwell hears back from his friend about a job in London looking after a disabled man, so he gives one day’s notice and leaves. The patron, strapped as usual, pays Orwell his wages minus 30 francs.
The good meal that the staff serves to the Frenchman is an empty triumph. Their lives do not improve as a result. Only the patron benefits. This is clear when he fails to pay Orwell his remaining wages—the restaurant worker never wins, even when he nearly kills himself with work.
Themes
Poverty as Prison Theme Icon
Poverty is Unnecessary Theme Icon
Honesty Does Not Pay Theme Icon