Insects symbolize poverty’s worst indignities, as well as the social and economic stratification that keeps the poor in their place. There is no end to the insect problem in the hotels of Paris and in the casual wards and lodging houses of London. Rooms that aren’t overrun are the exception, and insects stream across ceilings in long, endless lines like soldiers in a ravaging army. In this war, the rich win and the poor lose. The Hotel X (where Orwell and Boris finally find employment) is analogous to an ant colony or beehive in its physical set-up and hierarchical approach to work distribution. Some employees—plongeurs, cafeterie waiters, chambermaids—are valued only for their debrouilliard, or resourcefulness, whereas others, like the maître d’hotel and the dining room waiters, work in a much more privileged environment, rubbing elbows with the rich and disparaging those below them. The workers at the top of the ladder perpetuate this system because it favors them, and those who are on the bottom work like drones, only to go home to rooms that are crawling with bugs. Orwell is suggesting that the people who inhabit the fringes of society and slave away in the basements of big cities are in some ways the insects of the human experiment. The rich would like not to have to admit to the existence of the poor. They would prefer it if men like Orwell and Boris stayed out of sight, working themselves to death in sweltering basements and behind closed doors, isolated in their squalor.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Insects appears in Down and Out in Paris and London. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...Madame F and her husband, decent types who charge fair rents. Still, the hotel is bug-infested and dirty, and the insects stream across the ceiling like invading armies. The only defense... (full context)