Down and Out in Paris and London

by

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 31 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At Bozo’s lodging house, Orwell meets a number of interesting characters, including a friend of Bozo’s who writes letters to people begging for money to pay for his wife’s funeral expenses. When he’s lucky enough to get any money from his queries, he spends it all on bread and margarine. Like many cheats, the letter writer believes his own lies. Lodging houses are, Orwell contends, full of such men.
Small-time criminality is often a last resort of the poor, and relying on crime to support oneself is yet another cycle that is difficult to break. Bread and margarine will do little to motivate the man to move on to more productive work. Orwell has already made the point that malnourishment is to blame for many men’s failures.
Themes
Poverty as Prison Theme Icon
Poverty as Opportunity Theme Icon
Honesty Does Not Pay Theme Icon
Orwell discovers at this juncture that, like in hotel and restaurant work, there is a hierarchy among London street artists. Street acrobats and photographers often do very well. Organ grinders like Bozo’s friend Shorty are considered artists, not beggars. Some screevers are most definitely artists. One man Orwell meets studied art in Paris and only became a pavement artist out of desperation when he and his wife and kids were starving. He mimics the Old Masters and manages to make a living with his pavement paintings, despite interference from prudish religious leaders and moralistic cops who take umbrage at any picture that depicts nudity or dares to criticize police conduct.
The pavement artist Orwell meets through Bozo is a tragic story of talent squandered. He is clearly qualified to do more than paint sidewalk masterpieces, but poverty and the responsibilities of family have boxed him in and limited his potential. Religious leaders and the police obviously do not help matters. With their prudishness and knee-jerk conservativism, they represent the forces that keep such men down. 
Themes
Poverty as Prison Theme Icon
Poverty as Opportunity Theme Icon
Poverty is Unnecessary Theme Icon
The lowest on the street performer totem pole are those who sing hymns or sell matches or bootlaces or envelopes filled with lavender. These are beggars, but because London law forbids begging in the streets, they pretend to have a skill or hock their wares in order to not be prosecuted. Is there a difference, Orwell wonders, between beggars and other ordinary “working” men? Contrary to popular opinion, which would set the value of beggars at naught, Orwell suggests that they ply their trade just like anyone else, and often in far more wretched conditions. Just because their work has no value shouldn’t matter. Many people’s work, like that of businessmen, has no inherent value.
Much like the Hotel X, the London street has a defined hierarchy that goes unquestioned by those who live and work there. At the bottom, of course, are beggars, whom, Orwell contends, are just as valuable to society as are businessmen. They toil each day in the hopes of feeding and sheltering themselves, a goal they share in common with the rest of humanity. Therefore, to demean the beggar is the height of hypocrisy, since it means holding them to a higher standard than the rest of the working world.
Themes
Poverty as Prison Theme Icon
Poverty is Unnecessary Theme Icon
Related Quotes