Down and Out in Paris and London Irony

Down and Out in Paris and London Irony


The thrust of the book is a call for understanding, acceptance, empathy and awareness of the struggle faced by others. At the heart of this theme is Orwell’s analysis of prejudice; specifically, the seemingly built-in bias that people have toward the marginalized. It is therefore ironic in a way that is not particularly humorous to come across examples of language in which Orwell is himself expressing a prejudice without apparently even being aware of it:

“The shopman was a red-haired Jew, an extraordinarily disagreeable man”

This example could be forgiven as a being specific to this particular man if were the only example of anti-Semitism demonstrated--admittedly without malevolent intent--by Orwell. But it is not; it is merely one part of a pattern.

“That is a beginning.”

This an example of the author being some cute in his use of irony. It is the final line of the book; the text comes to a conclusion with this ironically framed confession of awareness of the lessons he has learned.

What the Rich Don’t See, They Don’t Know

This statement is proven literally true time and again in ways that are not to the benefit of the poor. In one particular example, however, this “see no evil” approach to living is ironically reversed to make the rich victims of its own blindness. The Hotel X is described by the author “a vast, grandiose place with a classical façade.” That which separates those patrons capable of affording a meal there and the poor who must work to service them is the door to the kitchen. One of the fiercest examples of irony in the book is the revelation that no such separation actually exists because what goes on behind the door impacts the diners on the other side. And, as Orwell makes quite clear:

“Everywhere in the service quarters dirt festered—a secret vein of dirt running through the great, garish hotel like intestines through a man’s body.”

“Nothing is easier to get than money.”

The man who makes this assertion is Boris, a former Russian soldier fallen on hard times with whom Orwell lives in a state of destitution. Schemes to get money always seem to collapse and even their most concerted efforts to find work typically result in failure. Nevertheless, Boris remains eternally optimistic. It is an optimism steeped in irony because inevitably the truth is revealed that pretty much everything is easier to get than money.

Bozo's Close Shave

Orwell’s sidewalk artist acquaintance named Bozo is drinking tea and laughing to himself. Orwell asks what’s the joke and Bozo tells him that he had to sell his razor earlier in order to pay for a place to sleep. Bozo is laughing to himself at the irony of this act of desperation: he sold the razor without first thinking to shave himself. In Bozo’s world, even something as seemingly unsubstantial as a freshly shaved face could mean the difference between eating a meal or sleeping under a shelter.

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