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The story of Eric Blair, also known as George Orwell, shows many aspects of poverty. Eric goes about everyday life that is completely and utterly different from every aspect of the average Americans life. He tells of various characters that are all attempting to escape the possessive hands of poverty. Each character has their own way of dealing with poverty. The problem is that none of them seem to escape. The stem of the problem can be found in many aspects of the book. The attitudes of the homeless, the operation of such homeless shelters as “The Spike”, along with the practices of the pawnshop and the actions of the coworkers all contribute greatly in oppressing the poor.
There are also many characters that play a role in keeping the poor down. The first one that will be discussed is the role of the tramps play in their own oppression. Oppression is not something that can be forced on someone. It is something that they must accept and find to be true in order not to fight it. This brings up the issue the feelings deep inside a tramp that Orwell brings up. “Indeed, when one sees how tramps let themselves be bullied by the workhouse officials, it is obvious that they are the most docile, broken-spirited creatures imaginable” (202). This proves the first point that the only reason that those in this destitute class remain oppressed is because in essence they are allowing themselves to be oppressed. In order for the destitute homeless people to move up in the world they must prove first to themselves that they should not be oppressed. By allowing oppression, they are supporting it.
Not only do the homeless not fight it but they admit themselves that they are not worthy of being praised. This attitude is exemplified by Boris in his talk with Orwell when Orwell first arrives and finds work as a plongeur, “Do you think a plongeur can afford a sense of honour?” (60). In saying this, Boris is proving the feelings that lurk behind those that work the low class jobs. They feel that they are so low that they do not even deserve their own honor. By not believing that they are worthy of their own honor they continue to hold themselves down.
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"The Continual Oppression of the Homeless." 123HelpMe.com. 17 Feb 2020
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The second example is found in the way that “the Spike” operates which is consistent throughout the homeless shelters found in this book. The Spike operates under the assumption that the homeless and vagrant population that runs through there will only need assistance for a night. These people are not allowed to stay for one night or as Orwell says, “each casual ward will only admit him for one night” (201). This is also contributing to their oppression. The United States has realized that the one night policy does not work and has implemented a new policy that many homeless shelters take.
In Portland, Oregon there has been a new policy that numerous homeless shelters have taken in order to help homeless people get on their feet and be released from their oppression. The houses are now called transitional houses and the policy is as follows, “Youth must be working on career or educational goals and save 1/3 of their income.” They have experienced a huge success from this new program. It has created an outlet from the oppressed lifestyle. The Outside In house alone in Portland has experienced an 80% success rate, which means that that they have had 80% of their customers never return to the streets. This shows you the difference that this new method has made. This method becomes increasingly important seeing as how the numbers of homeless are increasing every day. According to the USA Today, “Requests for emergency shelter assistance grew an average of 19% from 2001 to 2002.” This makes the need to stop the oppression even greater.
By forcing the homeless to wander through the streets in search of their next meal and place to sleep the homeless are left with fewer options. This is what leads them to take measures such as finding other places to stay. In an article in Community Care the problem was articulated as the following, “Nearly 1,000 families with children are still living in bed and breakfast for longer than the six-week limit, which could result in legal action from next month.” This is the action that the government must take in order to prevent homeless families from residing in these bed and breakfasts. By not allowing the homeless to stay in these casual wards, the community is further oppressing the homeless people.
Orwell attempts to make some money and climb the social ladder by obtaining a job at the Hotel X. He works here as a plongeur under virtually every other employee. Here is where we see the oppression at work. Orwell talks about the doorkeeper in a way that nobody would expect. He says that the doorkeeper is “the greatest thief in the hotel…Out of my five hundred francs a month, this man actually managed to cheat me of a hundred and fourteen francs in six weeks” (72). This shows the amount of compassion that one homeless man has for another. There is no respect among the employees who all share the same lifestyle. Through the stealing of incomes, the doorkeeper is just keeping down the other employees.
If the stealing of incomes was not bad enough, other employees also disrespect their coworkers through calling of names such as, “pig” and “mackerel” (58). Earlier discussed was the ego of the homeless. It was shown that they allow themselves to be oppressed due to their ego problems. This is another factor by which those above oppress the homeless. By calling them names and making them feel psychologically below their coworkers, they continue to oppress the vagrant homeless population.
Orwell speaks of the multiple times that he goes to the pawn shop in order to sell his goods and pay for a meal. He sells so many of his clothes that he continually is making the possibility of climbing the class ladder smaller and smaller. Orwell begins selling his stuff and gets himself into such a hole that he goes without food for five days. At the end he finds an oil lamp and his friend Maria says, “Starving, with three francs fifty staring you in the face! Imbecile!” (86). Here one can see the extent to which the homeless will go to live for the next meal. By selling everything that they have, they are again supporting their oppression. They are unable to accumulate anything with their subsistence level wage and are forced to rely on such measures as selling their goods to the pawn shops. This keeps them alive, and also establishes a dependence on the services of a pawn shop, forcing the homeless to return.
In conclusion, the homeless are kept in their place under the rest of society through many subtle tactics. These tactics can be shown through the actions of the doorkeeper, the attitudes of Orwell or Boris, or the role of the homeless shelters and the pawn shops. Through the use of all these tactics, the homeless such as Orwell are oppressed, keeping them as the homeless destitute class.
Orwell, George. Down and Out in Paris and London. San Diego: Harvest Publishing, 1933
Families still in B&B over six-week limit, Community Care, 03075508, 3/18/2004, Issue 1514
Homelessness grows as more live check-to-check, USA Today, Aug. 12, 2003
White Lotus Design. “Outside In. Together on the Edge.” Outside In Home Page. URL: http://www.outsidein.org/services.htm