"Down and Out in Paris and London" by George Orwell
A Reading Experience (Pt.43)
This is a book I read once whilst I was in school and not again until recently, about last year. I had completely forgotten all about it and now, I feel like it’s so important to talk about my first reading experience of it because it was such a memorable study of Orwell. By the age of fourteen, I only knew George Orwell as writing “Animal Farm”, “1984” and “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” and yet, I had never even heard of this book before. When I began reading it, I realised that it wasn’t anything like any of George Orwell novel I had ever read. This one felt more realistic, it felt more like my own world and yet, it was so different to my own as well. I remember my first reading experience being so immersive that when I actually finished it, I went back to read certain quotations and pages again. Especially the ones about the economy and the deception of large companies and organisations. When I came back to read it again, I was about twenty-three and I noticed so much more than I did before, especially having experienced more about the key themes in my own life and times. It was like reading an autobiography and I know that it is supposed to be, but I have to wonder how much of it is completely true - it’s just in my nature.
My favourite character in this book is obviously the narrator. The narrator being George Orwell in this semi-autobiography makes for a great storyteller but often, the reader feels incredibly sorry for him. He goes to get a job in a hotel, but the hotel never opens, he works in the kitchens and the conditions are horrendous and where he lives is even worse by great degrees. This character seems to represent not only the working class but the hopes for the working class, that they are doomed to work for the rich until they die and that there is very little hope of anything good or anything remotely good happening to them. But the character also represents constant hope and that’s the only reason the book actually continues from place to place, from Paris to London, because the narrator continues to hope that one day something good will come from all of his toiling and trouble.
The best theme in this book is the hopefulness of society. There’s something incredibly dark about the way of the working class and the conditions in which they work in, however they still have a great sense of self. The language of the narrator shows that the working class man isn’t always beaten down and isn’t always totally out of it. Being “down and out” does not necessarily mean being depressed but, there is a sense that the social class workings are trying to keep the working class person ‘down and out’. The narrator also presents us with aspects of hopelessness. Even though there is a hopefulness in society for the continuous stream of work, there is an overall hopelessness in the fact that the working class will never prevail. I think that the theme of hope and hopelessness represents the way in which the working class need to keep believing in themselves because if they don’t, then the rich people win because then the working class are really ‘down and out’ (as in depressed). The term “down and out” meaning two entirely different things depending on the context.
I think far more people should read this book because people tend to read “1984” and think that Orwell is all about dystopian futures and satire. The fact is, Orwell drew on his own experiences during life and his own work throughout not being a journalist. He drew on the fact that the working class is systemically oppressed from every angle and there’s really nothing they can do, even if they do everything on the planet they can. Personally, I also think that reading this book gives you a great insight into the fact that Orwell had it difficult and understands how the working class fits into society. It is a brilliant book and by miles, it is my favourite Orwell novel.