Down and Out in Paris and London

By George Orwell


Welcome to a journey through the streets of Paris and London, as we explore George Orwell’s poignant memoir, “Down and Out in Paris and London” 📚✨. First published in 1933, this work takes us deep into the underbelly of two of Europe’s greatest cities, providing a raw, unfiltered look at poverty and the struggle for survival.

George Orwell, born Eric Arthur Blair, was an English novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic. He’s best known for his allegorical novella “Animal Farm” and dystopian masterpiece “1984”, but it was “Down and Out in Paris and London” that first made his mark on the literary world. This memoir, blending Orwell’s real-life experiences with his creative genius, falls under the genre of non-fiction, specifically autobiographical memoir. Here, Orwell sheds light on the life of the impoverished, offering insights into the societal structures that perpetuate poverty and desperation.

Orwell’s exploration isn’t just a tale of woe but a critical observation of society and a commentary on the human spirit’s resilience. As we delve into this remarkable narrative, we’ll uncover the layers of complexity that define existence at society’s margins. Join us on this enlightening exploration of George Orwell’s early masterpiece 🕵️‍♂️🌆.

Plot Summary

“Down and Out in Paris and London” chronicles George Orwell’s experiences living in poverty in two of Europe’s largest cities. The narrative is divided into two distinct parts — one detailing his life in Paris, and the other in London, with each part offering a vivid portrayal of the underbelly of society during the early 20th century.

Paris — Orwell begins his tale in Paris, where he lives a hand-to-mouth existence as a plongeur (dishwasher) in the squalid kitchens of Parisian hotels and restaurants. Despite the grueling work and long hours, he befriends other workers and meets various characters living on the fringes. His detailed observations reveal the harsh realities of poverty, the exploitation within the service industry, and the dignity and solidarity among the working poor.

London — The narrative shifts to London, where Orwell decides to return. En route, he finds himself trapped in the life of a tramp, wandering from one spike (homeless shelter) to another, navigating the bureaucratic and often dehumanizing system that manages the homeless. Through his encounters with fellow tramps and beggars, Orwell exposes the cyclical nature of poverty and the societal indifference that perpetuates it.

Climax — The climax occurs as Orwell reaches a profound understanding of the systemic forces that keep people impoverished and the societal disdain for the poor. This realization crystallizes during his time in a London spike, where the dehumanization and senseless regulations imposed on the destitute become overwhelmingly clear.

Falling Action — Following this epiphany, Orwell begins to see the light at the end of the tunnel. An opportunity arises for him to change his circumstances, symbolizing a potential escape from the cycle of poverty.

Resolution — The book concludes with Orwell reflecting on his experiences, offering a critique of the societal structures that create and maintain poverty. While he moves beyond his immediate predicament, the memories and insights gained from his time spent down and out in Paris and London leave a lasting impact, both on him and the reader.

This narrative, straddling memoir and social critique, provides a stark, eye-opening look at the underclass of two major cities, offering a timeless reflection on poverty, society, and the human condition.

Character Analysis

In “Down and Out in Paris and London,” George Orwell introduces us to a range of characters that not only enrich the narrative but also serve as vehicles to explore the themes of poverty, society, and human resilience. Here’s a closer look at some of the main characters:

George Orwell — As the protagonist and narrator, Orwell offers a firsthand account of living in poverty. His experiences as a plongeur in Paris and a tramp in London provide a unique lens through which the reader views the harsh realities of poverty. Orwell is observant, empathetic, and critical of the societal structures that perpetuate poverty. His journey reflects a deep personal and philosophical exploration of poverty and human dignity.

Boris — A former Russian waiter, Boris is Orwell’s friend in Paris. Despite his deteriorating health and the instability of his circumstances, Boris remains optimistic about his future. His resilience, loyalty, and the occasional humor he brings to dire situations lighten the narrative’s tone. Boris embodies the struggle and hope of the impoverished.

Charlie — An acquaintance of Orwell in London, Charlie offers insights into the life of a tramp in England. His knowledge of the streets and the systems in place for the homeless is invaluable to Orwell. Charlie represents the seasoned survivor of the streets, showcasing cunning and a deep-seated skepticism of societal norms.

Paddy — Another tramp who befriends Orwell in London, Paddy’s story is one of many that highlight the cyclical nature of poverty. He is a figure of sympathy, showcasing the impact of a system that fails to provide for its most vulnerable. Paddy’s character brings a human face to the statistics of poverty.

Character Analysis Summary

CharacterPersonality TraitsMotivationsCharacter Development
George OrwellObservant, empathetic, criticalTo understand and document the life of the impoverishedGains a deeper understanding of societal structures and human resilience
BorisOptimistic, loyal, humorousTo regain his former status and stabilityMaintains hope and camaraderie in the face of adversity
CharlieCunning, knowledgeable, skepticalSurvival and navigating the streetsProvides insight into the life of a tramp and the flaws in societal systems
PaddySympathetic, resignedTo find stability and comfort within his meansHighlights the personal impact of societal neglect on the impoverished

These characters, through their interactions and experiences, paint a vivid picture of life at the margins of society, each contributing to Orwell’s critique of the societal structures that perpetuate poverty and inequality.

Themes and Symbols

“Down and Out in Paris and London” is rich with themes and symbols that contribute to the depth of George Orwell’s exploration of poverty and society. Here’s an in-depth look at some of the major themes and symbols in the book:


Poverty and Inequality — The most prominent theme, Orwell meticulously documents the struggles of the poor in Paris and London, highlighting the systemic issues that trap individuals in cycles of poverty. The detailed portrayal of the plongeur’s life in Paris and the tramp’s existence in London serves as a critique of the social and economic structures that perpetuate inequality.

Solidarity Among the Impoverished — Despite the grim circumstances, there’s a recurring theme of camaraderie and solidarity among those living in poverty. This is seen in the friendships Orwell forms and the small acts of kindness that punctuate the narrative, suggesting that compassion and humanity flourish even in the harshest conditions.

Identity and Dehumanization — Orwell explores how poverty strips individuals of their identity, reducing them to their economic or social status. The impersonal treatment of the tramps and the rigid hierarchy within the Parisian kitchens exemplify how societal structures dehumanize the poor.

The Illusion of Social Mobility — The book critiques the notion that hard work alone can lift one out of poverty. Characters like Boris cling to the hope of a better future, yet their efforts are often thwarted by circumstances beyond their control, illustrating the barriers to social mobility.


The Plongeur’s Work — The backbreaking labor of the plongeur symbolizes the endless and often pointless toil of those at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Despite their hard work, the plongeurs remain invisible and stuck in their social positions, reflecting the futility faced by the working poor.

The Spike — The spikes, or homeless shelters, represent the institutional approach to poverty, which often prioritizes regulation and control over genuine assistance. The dehumanizing conditions within the spikes symbolize society’s failure to address the root causes of homelessness.

Money — Money, or the lack thereof, is a constant symbol of power and status throughout the book. It dictates the characters’ abilities to navigate their environments and shapes their interactions, serving as a stark reminder of the economic barriers that divide society.

Through these themes and symbols, Orwell paints a comprehensive picture of poverty’s complexities and the societal dynamics that sustain it. “Down and Out in Paris and London” goes beyond a simple narrative of hardship, offering a profound critique of social inequality and a call for empathy and reform.

Style and Tone

In “Down and Out in Paris and London,” George Orwell employs a writing style and tone that are both engaging and enlightening, drawing readers into the depths of poverty with a blend of stark realism and compassionate observation. Here’s a breakdown of key aspects of Orwell’s style and tone throughout the book:

Writing Style

  • Direct and Unvarnished — Orwell’s prose is straightforward and unembellished. He presents the realities of poverty without romanticization, providing a clear, unfiltered view of the lives of the impoverished. This directness allows readers to confront the harsh truths of society’s underbelly.
  • Detailed Descriptions — Orwell’s attention to detail brings the world of the impoverished to life. From the grimy kitchens of Parisian restaurants to the crowded lodgings of London’s spikes, his vivid descriptions create a palpable sense of place that immerses readers in the experiences of his characters.
  • First-Person Narrative — The use of first-person narration enhances the authenticity of the memoir. Orwell’s personal reflections and insights add depth to the narrative, offering a blend of subjective experience and objective observation that makes the story both personal and universally relatable.


  • Empathetic — Despite the often bleak subject matter, Orwell’s tone remains empathetic. He approaches his characters with a deep sense of compassion and understanding, highlighting their humanity rather than merely depicting them as victims.
  • Critical — Orwell’s tone is also critically reflective, especially when discussing societal structures and the dynamics of poverty. He does not shy away from critiquing the systemic issues that contribute to the suffering of the impoverished, aiming to provoke thought and encourage societal change.
  • Hopeful — Amidst the critique and realism, there’s an undercurrent of hope in Orwell’s tone. He admires the resilience and solidarity among the poor, suggesting that change is possible and that empathy and understanding can lead to a more equitable society.

Use of Humor

  • Subtle Humor — Orwell occasionally employs subtle humor to lighten the narrative’s heaviness and to humanize his characters. This humor is never at the expense of the subjects but serves to bring warmth and relatability to their stories.

Through his distinctive style and tone, Orwell crafts a narrative that is both a compelling account of personal hardship and a powerful critique of societal neglect. His approach not only engages readers but also challenges them to consider their perceptions of poverty and their role in the broader social fabric.

Literary Devices used in Down and Out in Paris and London

George Orwell’s “Down and Out in Paris and London” utilizes a variety of literary devices that enrich the narrative and deepen the reader’s understanding of the themes and characters. Here are the top 10 literary devices used in the book:

  1. Metaphor — Orwell uses metaphors to draw comparisons between the abstract and the concrete, enhancing the reader’s understanding of his experiences and observations. For example, the relentless work of the plongeur is often compared to Sisyphean labor, symbolizing the futility and endlessness of their toil.
  2. Imagery — Vivid imagery is employed to paint a detailed picture of the settings and characters. Orwell’s descriptions of the grim kitchens, the squalid streets of Paris, and the dreary spikes in London allow readers to visualize the stark realities of poverty.
  3. Simile — Similes are used to draw direct comparisons, adding layers of meaning to Orwell’s observations. He describes, for instance, the kitchen of a hotel as “hot as the Inferno and so crowded that the cooks have to squeeze past each other like the tubes of a telescope.”
  4. Irony — Orwell frequently employs irony to highlight the contradictions within society and the absurdity of the social conditions he encounters. The expectations versus the reality of the life of a plongeur serve as a prime example of situational irony.
  5. Anecdotes — The narrative is peppered with anecdotes that illustrate larger points about poverty and society. These personal stories add depth to the analysis and make the statistics and social critique more relatable.
  6. Alliteration — Alliteration is used sparingly but effectively to add a poetic quality to the prose and to emphasize certain points. For instance, “Parisian poverty” and “London’s lonely streets” draw the reader’s attention to the specific experiences of the narrator.
  7. Personification — Personification is used to give human characteristics to non-human elements, often to emphasize the emotional state of the narrator or to highlight the harshness of the environment. For example, the Paris winter is described as “biting and bitter,” making it an adversary to those living on the streets.
  8. Juxtaposition — Orwell juxtaposes the lives of the rich and the poor, the cleanliness of the dining areas and the filth of the kitchens, to critique the social divides. This contrast highlights the disparity between appearance and reality.
  9. Repetition — Repetition is used to reinforce key themes and ideas. The repeated mention of hunger, for instance, underscores its constant presence in the lives of the poor.
  10. Allusion — Orwell alludes to historical, biblical, and literary texts to draw parallels between his experiences and broader cultural or historical narratives. This places his personal experiences within a larger context, adding depth to his critique of society.

These literary devices are integral to Orwell’s storytelling, enhancing the narrative’s impact by deepening the exploration of themes and enriching the portrayal of characters and settings.

Literary Devices Examples

Let’s explore examples and explanations for each of the top 10 literary devices used in “Down and Out in Paris and London” by George Orwell, organized in a table format for clarity.


Orwell’s comparison of the plongeur’s work to Sisyphean laborThis metaphor highlights the endless, repetitive, and ultimately futile nature of the plongeur’s work, drawing a parallel to the myth of Sisyphus, who is condemned to roll a boulder up a hill only for it to roll down each time it nears the top.


Descriptions of the grimy kitchens and squalid living conditionsThrough detailed imagery, Orwell vividly paints the harsh realities of poverty, allowing readers to visualize and empathize with the experiences of the impoverished.


The kitchen is as hot as the Inferno and cooks squeeze past each other like tubes of a telescopeThis simile vividly describes the cramped and overheated conditions of the Parisian kitchens, making the reader feel the claustrophobia and discomfort experienced by the workers.


The expectation of Parisian glamour versus the reality of povertyThe irony lies in the stark contrast between the romanticized image of Paris and the grim reality of poverty experienced by Orwell and others, challenging the reader’s preconceived notions.


Personal stories of fellow tramps and workersThese anecdotes serve to humanize the statistics of poverty, providing a personal lens through which readers can understand the broader social issues discussed in the memoir.


“Parisian poverty” and “London’s lonely streets”The use of alliteration draws attention to these phrases, emphasizing the pervasive nature of poverty in both cities and enhancing the prose’s musicality.


The Paris winter is described as “biting and bitter”By attributing human qualities to the winter, Orwell emphasizes the hostility of the environment, making the challenges faced by the poor even more palpable.


The cleanliness of dining areas versus the filth of the kitchensThis juxtaposition highlights the social divides and the disparity between the facade presented to the wealthy and the reality of those who serve them, critiquing societal hypocrisy.


The repeated mention of hungerRepetition of hunger throughout the memoir underscores its constant, gnawing presence in the lives of the impoverished, emphasizing the physical and emotional toll of poverty.


References to historical and biblical narrativesOrwell’s allusions place his experiences within a larger cultural and historical context, adding depth to his critique of society and illustrating that the struggles of the poor are a recurring theme throughout history.

These examples demonstrate how Orwell skillfully employs literary devices to enhance the narrative power of “Down and Out in Paris and London,” deepening the reader’s engagement with the text and enriching the exploration of its themes.

Down and Out in Paris and London – FAQs

Q: What is the main theme of “Down and Out in Paris and London”?
A: The main theme of the book is the exploration of poverty and social inequality. George Orwell provides a firsthand account of living in poverty, highlighting the struggles of the working class and the dehumanization faced by the impoverished in Paris and London.

Q: Is “Down and Out in Paris and London” a true story?
A: Yes, it is a semi-autobiographical memoir based on George Orwell’s own experiences living in poverty. While some names and events may have been altered for narrative flow, the book reflects Orwell’s real-life experiences and observations.

Q: Who are the main characters in the book?
A: The main character is George Orwell himself, serving as the narrator and protagonist. Other notable characters include Boris, a Russian waiter in Paris; Charlie, an acquaintance in London; and Paddy, a tramp Orwell meets in London. These characters help to showcase the various aspects of poverty and the human spirit in the face of adversity.

Q: How does George Orwell describe the working conditions in Paris?
A: Orwell describes the working conditions in Paris, particularly for a plongeur (dishwasher) in hotel kitchens, as grueling and dehumanizing. The work is physically demanding, the hours are long, and the environment is unhealthy, yet it is barely enough to survive on. This serves to critique the exploitation within the service industry.

Q: What does the book say about social mobility?
A: The book presents a critical view of social mobility, suggesting that it is a myth for many living in poverty. Despite hard work and ambition, characters like Boris find themselves trapped in their social status due to systemic barriers and societal indifference, highlighting the limitations of the so-called meritocracy.

Q: How does Orwell view charity and the societal treatment of the poor?
A: Orwell critiques the societal treatment of the poor and the inefficacy of charity as a solution to poverty. He illustrates how the systems in place to aid the poor, such as the spikes in London, often dehumanize them further and fail to address the root causes of poverty, indicating a need for systemic change rather than temporary relief.

Q: What impact did “Down and Out in Paris and London” have on social awareness of poverty?
A: The book had a significant impact on raising social awareness about the realities of poverty and the systemic issues that perpetuate it. By providing a vivid, firsthand account of life at the societal margins, Orwell opened the eyes of many to the conditions faced by the impoverished, fostering empathy and a call for social reform.


QuestionABCDCorrect Answer
What motivated George Orwell to live among the poor in Paris and London?AdventureResearch for a bookFinancial necessityPolitical statementC
Which job does Orwell primarily describe working in Paris?TeacherJournalistPlongeur (dishwasher)Street artistC
What is a ‘spike’?A sharp objectA type of alcoholic drinkA homeless shelterA Parisian landmarkC
How does Orwell describe the food provided to the poor in the shelters?Nutritious and ampleScarce and unappetizingExpensive and luxuriousVaried and deliciousB
Which of the following is a main theme in the book?The beauty of European citiesThe adventures of travelPoverty and social inequalityThe culinary artsC
What literary device is frequently used by Orwell to describe the living conditions?OnomatopoeiaImageryHyperbolePersonificationB
Who is Boris in the narrative?A wealthy hotel ownerA fellow plongeur and friend of OrwellA tramp in LondonAn official at a spikeB
How does Orwell view the societal treatment of the poor?As just and fairAs indifferent and often dehumanizingAs supportive and helpfulAs irrelevant to their conditionB
What does Orwell suggest is necessary to address the root causes of poverty?More charitable organizationsSystemic change and social reformStricter laws on beggingA new governmentB
Which city does Orwell describe first in his experiences of poverty?LondonParisBerlinRomeB

This quiz provides a comprehensive overview to test comprehension of “Down and Out in Paris and London,” focusing on key aspects of the narrative, themes, and the author’s insights.


Spot the Literary Devices

Read the following paragraph from “Down and Out in Paris and London” and identify the literary devices used:

“In the morning, the city had a surreal quality, ethereal and detached. The streets, which by night throbbed with the vibrant life of Paris, lay silent, shrouded in a mist that seemed to wash away the sins of the previous night. It was in these quiet hours that the city whispered its secrets, to those awake to listen. The sharp contrast between night and day, the visible and the invisible, mirrored the lives of those of us living at the edges of society, where existence felt both vivid and vague, full of sound and silence.”


  1. Metaphor – The city is described as washing away its sins with the morning mist, suggesting a transformation or cleansing that doesn’t literally happen but implies a renewal each day.
  2. Personification – The city is given human-like qualities, such as whispering its secrets, which creates a vivid image of the city as a living entity with its own mysteries.
  3. Imagery – Detailed sensory descriptions of the morning city create a vivid picture in the reader’s mind, making the setting tangible and alive.
  4. Juxtaposition – The comparison of night and day, the visible and the invisible, highlights the dual nature of both the city and the lives of the impoverished, emphasizing contrasts in their existence.

This exercise is designed to help students recognize and understand the use of literary devices in enhancing narrative and thematic depth in literature.