In Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell makes regular use of the color red to highlight the degrading nature of poverty and the power it has to turn men into beasts. This is first apparent when Charlie, a shiftless youth, tells a story about raping a young prostitute who works out of a basement room whose every decoration is red. It was,” Charlie claims, “a heavy, stifling red, as though the light were shining through bowls of blood.” Orwell employs the color red in this chapter to symbolize human nature’s baser qualities, and to point out the fact that poverty not only demeans, but also imprisons its victims. The prostitute comes from a poor family, and her red room is, in effect, a blood-tinted jail cell. Red as a symbol of the beastly realities of poverty likewise applies when Orwell takes a position as a plongeur at the Hotel X where the basement furnaces put out “fierce red breath,” making working there a constant torment. The hotel’s wealthy guests and its more valued employees are not exposed to the furnaces. The heat, therefore, is not only a source of physical discomfort, but also a daily reminder of the basement workers’ humble place in the world.
The Down and Out in Paris and London quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Color Red. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one: Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Mariner Books edition of Down and Out in Paris and London published in 1972.).
The timeline below shows where the symbol The Color Red appears in Down and Out in Paris and London. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.