Orwell Readings

In George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and chapter four of The Road to Wigan Pier he writes about groups of destitute people in Britain who live on the fringes of society under hideous circumstances. Down and Out in Paris and London focusses on the homeless epidemic that has afflicted the country. Orwell depicts how these so called “tramps” live a mundane existence that does not contribute in any way to the good of society. He seeks to inform the public of the difficulties that these people face in order to combat some of the prejudices that exist towards them. In The Road to Wigan Peer Orwell describes the horrendous housing conditions that the impoverished class of industrial workers are forced to inhabit. The shortage of adequate housing forces these inhabitants to cram into overcrowded, dilapidated, and oftentimes condemned houses because they are the only available housing options of any sort. Many of these people would have gladly moved into different housing situations had the opportunity existed.

It was interesting how Orwell addressed the the much higher proportion of homeless men compared to homeless women. Many of Orwell’s contemporaries had failed to take this discrepancy into consideration when evaluating the homeless problem. It was nearly impossible for men to meet women because there were very few women who lived amongst them and it would be quite rare that a women of a higher economic class would desire a male from the lower class. Orwell writes “the evil of poverty is not so much that it makes a man suffer as that it rots him spiritually and physically… And there can be no doubt that sexual starvation contributes with this rotting process,” in order to empathize with their predicament. I found this quote fascinating because it states how although sexual pursuit is not as important to human wellbeing as food, water, and shelter, it is still an important aspect of a person’s health.

Orwell proposed a solution to lower the expense that homeless individuals had placed on the state by putting them to work. He argued that they would be able to settle down and live a decent and structured life. Although they would be working and contributing to the good of the whole of society, aren’t the conditions experienced by the working class as described in The Road to Wigan Pier nearly as impoverished and grief stricken as those suffered by the tramps. Does this housing situation really constitute a decent and settled life in your opinion?