Orwell writes of the sleeping accommodations open to London tramps. His first option is sleeping in the Embankment district, where Bozo works as a pavement artist. Bozo and Orwell have both slept on benches there, and they know the routine. If a tramp is to secure an Embankment bench, he must get there early, and the trick is to fall asleep at once because it won’t be long before the police come and make everyone move along. The Embankment, as uncomfortable as it is, is better than other parts of London where a stronger police presence means no man is permitted to sleep on the streets. He can sit down for the night but, should he fall asleep, he is in violation of the law.
It is no mystery that a man living such a life would fail to secure employment or better himself. That he is able to sleep and go on when all the odds are against him is the true wonder. Orwell does not write much of police interference, but the law and the threat of jail time does hover around the edges of the narrative like a dark cloud, reminding the reader that much of society considers the tramp a criminal. In reality, it is the law that makes him so, as its unjust nature pushes him to crime to survive.
Another sleeping option for the tramp is the Twopenny Hangover, where men sleep side by side in a row, leaning forward against a rope. In the morning, a man everyone jokingly calls “the valet” comes and cuts the rope. Slightly up from the Twopenny Hangover is the coffin. Men sleep in wooden boxes with a tarp for a cover. The worst aspect of the coffin, according to Orwell, are the bugs, which one cannot escape.
The Twopenny Hangover illustrates the literal tight rope the poor man walks each day—and it symbolizes, too, the hard and fast dividing line between the “haves” and “have nots.” The coffin drives the point home: the poor man is living at the edge of his grave, and poverty is a living death.
Given the awful sleeping options open to tramps, the London lodging houses are, if a man can afford the nightly rates, preferable, but they aren’t perfect by any estimation. Some, like the Rowton and Bruce houses, are comfortable and clean. Most, though, are filthy, cold, and loud. A good night’s sleep is impossible to come by in such places. This needn’t be the case, Orwell argues. Many of the owners of lodging houses are able to grow wealthy on the rates they charge, but they rarely put that wealth to use making their houses more habitable. Legislation would go a long way toward addressing this evil. Lawmakers might require that lodging houses offer tramps a rudimentary amount of comfort. Such a fix would be simple, Orwell argues, and is long overdue.
That lodging house owners prosper while poor men go without sleep night after night shows just how entrenched the corruption has become when it comes to housing London’s destitute populations. The owners are financially able to improve their establishments but refuse to because doing so would cut down on their profits. This is the second time Orwell offers a possible solution to a problem of poverty rather than simply describing the problem itself.