Orwell, dismissed early by one of his English tutoring pupils and cheated by another, finds himself needing to pawn his clothes in order to live. The pawnshop is a large, open place where everyone can see one another’s transactions. An old man draws laughs when the shop clerk rejects his offer of four pairs of woolen pants. Orwell gets less than a quarter of the value of his clothes from the pawnshop clerk, realizing later that he made a mistake going to the shop in the morning. He should have gone after lunch, when the clerks are in a better mood.
Those in positions of power—in this case, the pawnshop worker—seem to enjoy humiliating the poor. They maintain their power through cruelty, cheating the poor at every opportunity. As is the case with living on six francs a day, successfully navigating such a world is virtually impossible. One has to be in-the-know, and the only way to get there is by making costly mistakes.
Orwell lies to Madame F. about having the money for rent. Later, in a stroke of rare good luck, he gets exactly the funds he needs when he is unexpectedly paid for a newspaper article. He turns all of the money over the Madame F., happy to have his rent paid for the month. Even if he has no ready cash for anything else, at least that burden is lifted.
The poor, brought low by a stroke of bad luck, often count on rare bursts of good luck to survive, which shows their precariousness. This moment also alludes to Orwell’s unique privilege—his connections and education allow him to write for newspapers, which is not an opportunity available to most of Paris’ impoverished people.
With his rent paid, Orwell knows he must find stable work of some kind. He remembers his friend, Boris, a 35-year-old Russian and former soldier whom he met in a hospital ward when Boris was being treated for arthritis. Boris was a waiter when Orwell first met him, and, at that time, Boris said that Orwell should hunt him down if he were ever in dire straits.
While some poor people take advantage of the poverty of others (like the Italian compositor), here Orwell shows that the poor also help one another and form real bonds.
Before going in search of Boris, Orwell describes his friend’s two dominant traits: a love of war and militaristic things, and a seemingly boundless optimism. Boris, his parents having been killed in the Russian Revolution, is from a rich family, but those riches are now all gone. Boris is, according to Orwell, a waiter by temperament. He doesn’t mind working hard in the present because he has faith that he will someday again be rich. Back in the hospital ward, Boris suggested to Orwell that the life of a waiter would suit him. Writing, Boris said, is a waste of time. The only way to make any money as a writer is to marry a publisher’s daughter.
Like Henri, Boris is an example of a man who is impoverished through no fault of his own: bad health and the loss of his parents’ fortune have landed him in his current state. Contrary to what most well-off people like to believe, the poor are not lazy—Boris, in fact, enjoys hard work. Boris’s love of the military and his dismissal of Orwell’s work as a writer is telling. Like many frail men, he longs to be strong. Like many poor men, he longs to be rich. He has no regard for Orwell’s art, since he measures value only by money. A lack of money can sometimes cause a man to value it above all things.