Orwell asks why men—many of whom are college educated—succumb to a life of drudgery. Finally freed from such a life, Orwell ponders this question and comes up with a few answers—namely that the plongeur, with no leisure time, has not the freedom to even consider a different life. The system makes him a slave. He has no time to ponder a different sort of existence, and the system itself is enabled by society’s tendency to fetishize manual labor, deeming it necessary when, in fact, it is often quite superfluous. As an example, the narrator offers the rickshaw pullers of the far east who provide a service that is unnecessary and cruel.
Orwell’s comparison of the life of a plongeur to that of a rickshaw puller is perhaps an imprecise one, as the rickshaw puller undoubtedly suffers more physical pain in the fulfillment of his duties than does the plongeur. However, Orwell is attempting, through exaggeration, to drive a point home: that the dishwasher is not free to alter his fate. Once he enters the kitchen of a “smart” establishment, he is yoked to that life, much like the rickshaw puller is yoked to his vehicle.
The same can be said for plongeurs. What, after all, is the point of luxurious restaurants? Are they, indeed, necessary? Orwell argues not, partly because the so-called luxuries offered at smart hotels and restaurants are often shams and the plongeur must work 17-hour days to support such shams. Who is to blame for the fact that a large portion of the working world slaves over dirty dishes? The rich, Orwell suggests, and the intelligentsia. Out of fear of the working classes, they perpetuate a system that keeps the working class too busy to revolt. The wealthy and the privileged benefit from such a system. Therefore, they do what they can to maintain it.
Orwell’s argument that the rich and educated are to blame for the fates of the Parisian restaurant worker is predicated primarily on the idea that they are the ones who profit most from an indentured lower class. While Orwell’s relatively privileged position in society renders some of his claims suspect, he is perhaps specially qualified to make this argument. As an educated man from an aristocratic family, he knows firsthand the sentiments of the upper classes.
Another factor in the system is the privileged class’s ignorance of the poor. Because they don’t know anyone who has suffered real hunger, they continue to assume that the poor are inherently different from them with no scruples and no moral fiber. The real criminals are the rich, who enslave men in order to run their smart hotels.
The only difference between the rich and the poor are their incomes. This truth renders false any claims made by rich men that the poor are poor because they are lazy, stupid, or otherwise inferior. The irony of this perception of the poor is that it ignores they ways in which the rich are often the most lacking in scruples.