Down and Out in Paris and London


George Orwell

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Down and Out in Paris and London: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Orwell and Boris try in vain to find work. Boris tries hard to hide his limp, but once a hiring manager detects it, they’re sent on their way. Their search is desperate and takes them to the railway yards, where they’re passed over for Frenchmen, and to the circus where they hope to apply for a job that involves cleaning up litter and letting a lion jump through their legs, but a line of fifty men waiting to try out discourages them.
The job in the circus is both dirty and demeaning. That so many men would line up for a chance to perform such humiliating tasks is an indication of the applicants’ desperation. There is no dignity in such a position and, it would seem, no end to poverty stripping men of their pride.
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Then Orwell answers a letter he receives from an agency about giving English lessons to an Italian man, but when he inquires further, he finds that the man has left the country. Later, Orwell goes to Les Halles, Paris’s fresh food market, to try to become a porter. Sensing Orwell’s uselessness, a fat man in a bowler hat challenges him to lift an impossibly heavy crate, then sends him away. Orwell sees four men lifting the crate and realizes the man was trying to spare him the humiliation of finding out he wasn’t suited for the job.
The poor man must get used to insult being added to injury. Orwell walks away from the chance to clean up lion dung only to be deemed too weak to work as a porter. Still, he is mostly grateful to the fat man because Orwell himself knew he was not a good fit for the position and the man’s stunt has saved him face.
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Boris receives a letter from Yvonne, one of his former mistresses, and hopes to find money inside. Instead, he finds excuses. Yvonne is struggling, too. Her sister has been ill. She can’t possibly lend him any money at this time. Boris takes to his bed in despair.
Again, Boris’s optimistic nature does not pay off for him or Orwell. And, like finding work, getting help from others often proves fruitless and embarrassing.
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Orwell and Boris live in squalor together, pooling their money to buy food, bickering over coffee, and commiserating over their filthy state. Boris suffers hunger and pain and indignities at the hands of his roommate. He tells Orwell a story to illustrate what Jews are like. In the story, a Jewish man offers his daughter to Boris, who was a soldier at the time, for 50 francs. Then Orwell and Boris play chess on a makeshift board fashioned from an old packing case and Boris explains to Orwell that the rules of chess are the same as the rules of love and war. Win at one and you can win at the others.
This is another instance where Orwell’s anti-Semitism shows through. Both Boris’s roommate and the man attempting to sell his daughter are Jewish. Orwell intimates that the roommate and the father are, at their core, greedy and conniving and that these qualities are inseparable from their Jewishness. Boris’s assertion about chess reveals the depth of his self-deception, for, at this moment, he is losing at both.
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