The issue of poverty among communities is one of the oldest challenges that human beings face across cultures in the world. Poverty affects many people in both developed and developing world across history. There are a number of factors that could contribute to the cases of heightened poverty among different cultures. Comparing the poverty levels in historical perspectives as well as in cultural dimensions will help to understand the root cause and to identify ways to prevent people from languishing in poverty for generations. Looking closely at the causes of poverty across cultures, it is possible to identify a general trend in root causes. It makes it possible to formulate policies that can address them in a sustainable way. Investigating poverty across cultures and histories is essential in trying to identify a common factor as well as develop the understanding of the factors. The world is much constrained in terms of the resources owing to increased population and depletion of resources, plus increased competition among societies. Therefore, analyzing poverty from different cultural and historical vantage points will provide ways to better utilize the little resources and allow everyone to leave in comfort.
George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London is a detailed account of how people struggle with poverty across two cultures. The account gives a detailed analysis of experience of poverty in Paris and London. It also highlights how the people in the two cities deal with the bangs of poverty. The story uses different scenes to highlight how the narrator experiences different forms of poverty, not just in terms of culture but also in terms of the people within the same culture. In a way, the author is focused on how different classes experience poverty and the factors that contribute to different levels of poverty among people living within the same cultural context. The purpose of the current paper is to provide an interpretation of the text Down and Out by George Orwell and compare the experiences about poverty in Paris in 1930s and poverty in America in the 21st century. Despite the differences that exist between the cultural divide in Paris of 1930s and the 21st century America, there is a sharp similarity in the way of life for the poor in terms of the working conditions, living conditions, and the general standards of living which are demeaning and squalid, not deserving of the normal human life.
Though there are social, cultural, and political differences between the standard of living for workers in Paris in 1930s and the 21st America, in both communities, the poor live in squalor conditions with poor housing and a lack of the basic social amenities such as houses and beds. People who work in low-paying jobs must share the houses especially during the night in order to find at least a place to sleep. In Down and Out, Madam Monce, one of the people living in shared rooms, find a woman squashing bugs on the walls of the house. She yells at her insensitivity of destroying the house when everyone else is trying to conserve the walls from further damage by blood stains of bugs. She wonders, loudly, upon finding that the other woman is squashing bugs on the walls, “How many times have I told you not to squash bugs on the wallpaper? Do you think you’ve bought the hotel, eh”? In both communities, the people are struggling to find enough good space without bugs where they can sleep quietly after a long days’ work. The owner of the house seems to be determined to protect it from being defaced with blood stains at the expense of the people who live their. In fact, everyone else is throwing whatever bugs they find out of the window rather than kill them on the walls.
The incident awakens many other neighbors who join the yelling through their windows. The narrator also experiences difficulties in coping up with life in general in the city since the amenities are in deplorable conditions and no one seems to care. A similar incident occurs in American experience, “where the minority poor in America live on the isolated parts of the country without basic needs as housing”. In contrast, the wealthy in the two cultures are the masters of the poor having ownership of the houses where the poor people live. To be able to have a resident, they are forced to be subservient to their masters by working for them for long hours while being paid little for their work.
Throughout the narration, poor people are struggling to make ends meet, sometimes forced to work in conditions which are inhumane or paid poorly for their work by their employers. In both cases, the scarcity of living amenities is something that the poor people struggle with having to share the little facilities that they are provided with by their employers. The narrator brings the devastating situation for poor people when his friend Boris goes out to Foundry to ask for his money, but instead, ends up sleeping on the floor after a long argument and alteration with the person who owed him money. “Boris slept the night at the house of a cobbler, another Russian refugee, in the Commerce quarter”. The same situation is highlighted in Kowalski (86) where people are forced to sleep out because they cannot afford to pay rent to their masters whom they owe money.
The similarity between the poor in Paris of 1930s and 21st century America is evident in the way they struggle to find work. In Down and Out, the narrator and his friends walk from one place to another looking for a work without success. Though the jobs are available, they are not able to find a suitably well-paying one and even the ones that are available are demeaning to their human character. The narrator notes, in Down and Out, “Two bad days followed. We had only sixty centimes left, and we spent it on half a pound of bread, with a piece of garlic to rub it with”. Even after they have looked for a job without finding one, they still have to meet their obligations about their basic needs. They, thus, resort to improvising their meals just to be able to survive for the next day where they can hit the road once more to search for work. The situation is similar in the 21st century, where the poor people were not only isolated in terms of jobs but also discriminated on the basis of their color of skin and their cultural variations. In 21st America, the poor had no access to better health services. They worked for long hours without compensation for overtime. They also had competing relationships with their employers since nothing they did could measure to the expectations of their employers.
Employee and employer relations are not just premised on mutual benefit but rather exploitative kind of relationship. In both cultures the relationship between the employee and the employer was based on the employee being able to meet the standards of the employer. The narrator in Down and Out identifies several “peculiar lowness of poverty that you discover first” that poor people who come in the city encounter. The lowness of poverty is the way of life for many people in the two cultures across historical background. In the process of trying to make the ends meet, employees had to use lies in order to get through with the employer. Trying to adhere to the set standards would mean that they are fired the next day. For this matter, they would rather lie or engage in shady deals with business people from Russia and England in order to survive. The situation resembles the working conditions in America in 1990s, where the poor people engage in acts of thievery and trickery in order to get what they want. Even though the capitalist structure is meant to ensure the spread of wealth among the people, “it disadvantages in the poor in the society since the wealthy have the best means of acquiring more wealth at the expense of the poor people in the society”. The result was that the poor were left to work for the rich while the system pretends to be empowering everyone in the society.
People engagement in criminal activities is a result of labor systems that reward the employer at the expense of the employees. The creation of unfavorable living conditions is what pushes people into poverty. In Down and Out, the narrator asserts the systems in both cultures where the poor people are pushed into criminal activities by virtue of their living conditions. The narrator in Down and Out states that he associated himself with the Russian merchants in order to allow communist activities to take place in Paris because they wanted to improve their conditions of living. Communism is not allowed to thrive as an economic concept in the communities because it is considered a threat to the wealthy people. The wealthy are the same people who hold power to control how employees are paid. A study on the conditions of the minority poor in the United States in the 21st century reveals that most of them engaged with illegal groups like drug dealers in order to become rich quickly. Though the drug industry is illegal in America, the rich still find their way and fetch huge income from it. Landers observed this illegal practice by the rich when he noted, “the rich fears that it might disrupt the balance of power between the wealthy and the poor in the country”. Thus, the norm has been that any circulation of drugs with high returns is kept within a few connected individuals who control a lot of money that goes into drugs. In the meantime, they can continue to oppress the poor by paying them low wages and having them work for a long period of time at no overtime pay. In the process, the sweatshops continue to flourish because the poor have to make a little living by working for the rich people in the community.
In conclusion, from the above discussion, it is evident that poverty runs across cultures and historical vantages. Whereas the situation in Paris is different in terms of cultural setting and historical location, it is quiet similar to the one in America because poor people are struggling with the same problems of unemployment, poor housing, criminal activities, and poor working conditions. In the two cases, the wealthy people are the ones controlling the means of production and, therefore, what the poor people gets from their labor. The experiences are similar because poverty is not so much a respecter of culture and history as it does not respect the people who are oppressed in poverty. The same factors that contributed to poverty decades ago are still relevant across cultures and histories. It is, therefore, argued that poverty undercuts across different cultures and histories because the people who control the resources and means of production are guided by the same principles of selfishness and oppression across the spectrum. In both experiences, the poor are guided by their instinct of survival agreeing to engage in demeaning roles in order to be able to see the next day. They are kept in a state of hoping for better things tomorrow while the said tomorrow turns into a mirage to be chased around.