Orwell on Britain

In both Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London the writer Orwell focuses on a portion of society that has been unfairly treated by both the government and the upper classes. In the excerpt we read from Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell paints a rather bleak picture of the culture and society of the English industrial towns at the time. These cities over crowded and unsanitary are prime examples of the squalid living conditions members of the working classes were required to live in. Orwell’s narrative seems more Dickensian then what we would expect of a civilized western country like Britain during the 1930’s. The other piece written by Orwell is an examination of the tramps who populated Britain at the time. These men were constant nomads traveling where ever they could find a hot meal. There lives were of no substance, they could not plant there roots anywhere and they were unused as labor in any capacity.

The aspect of Orwell’s two pieces that struck me were his descriptions of two government laws in particular. The first was the means test, which was a draconian dictate enforced on Britain’s that regulated there ability to receive any sort of meaning full welfare and governmental aid. Men who would assist neighbors where reported and stripped of there aid for this act, and the elderly were disregarded because of the money they took away from the family. The second law was the government decision to not allow tramps to stay at any one casual ward for more then one night. Repeated stays would result in pseudo-imprisonment. This law was hurtful to both the tramps and Britain. Instead of men having one place where they could stay a while and become a helpful part of the community these men had to move from place to place wasting there lives away in pointless travel. Both of these laws were in no way advantageous to British society and if anything they breed discontent.

Do the laws in place in Britain at the time this piece was written, the 1930’s seem out of date and behind the times for the way societies in all countries were growing?



4 thoughts on “Orwell on Britain

  1. This is a good mix between summary and analysis, but perhaps maybe a little more analysis next time. Good comparison of the two. However, I don’t understand your question. I think I see what your asking, and in that respect I don’t think these laws seemed out of date. Governments were still very bad with providing welfare at this time which caused all of these social and housing problems Orwell talked about.

  2. Excellent post. It seems to me that the laws Britain had in place at this time would seem to be insane and out of date in that the Great Depression started in 1929 and that people were struggling not only in America but in European countries as well. You would think that being unselfish and helping others would be beneficial and smiled upon for such acts, depending on how much money families had during this time. As much as these laws seemed to be ridiculous, I would not be surprised if they were not the only laws that existed throughout Europe that could be considered “out of date”.

  3. I found the hostility to nomadism interesting. Might this have to do with the need of bureaucratic industrial societies to have sedentary citizens, dependent on agencies and manufacturing plants, rather than rootless individuals crisscrossing the countryside of their own accord? Marginalizing such figures and ensuring that only the extremely poor would live in such a way (without choosing to do so), could serve as simply another means of maintaining order. Perhaps this might bear some relation to the Soviet hatred of “tramps”.

  4. Good post! The author of this blog wrote a good, descriptive summary as well as looking analytically at the two Orwell pieces. You go into depth and give your own opinion about the two laws which is absolutely true, that they really were not beneficial to British society. I think you ask an interesting question, but need to reword it so it sounds clearer to your reader. How about: Do the laws in Britain, during the 1930’s, seem out of date and behind compared to how other societies were growing?

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