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since June 19, 2001


When it doesn't get any worse The life of a tramp

This was sent to me by a friend:  

I seriously recommend you acquaint yourselves with a short work by George Orwell, who, in the late 1920s/early 30s, spent several years as a tramp/unemployed/dishwasher, which he wrote about in Down and Out in Paris and London (1933). 

Any snotty wet-behind-the-ears feminist/pro-feminist should be made to read this book before ever again asserting that all men oppress all women.  Although Orwell certainly did not intend it to be taken as such, it comes across to me as a tremendous testament to the fortitude and inherent decency of men, as men.  Were there a pro-male Men's Studies course anywhere in the world, this book should be on the compulsory reading list. 

The extract below is from the last part of the Penguin edition of 1940, pp.180-181, as Orwell attempts to make some generalizations from his highly moving, at times very humorous, at times tragic experiences in this underworld. 


      Excerpts from Down and Out in Paris and London:

    "...It follows that the 'Serve them damned well right' attitude that is normally taken towards tramps is no fairer than it would be towards cripples or invalids.  When one has realized that, one begins to put oneself in a tramp's place and understand what his life is like.  It is an extraordinarily futile, acutely unpleasant life.  I have described the casual ward - the routine of a tramp's day - but there are three especial evils that need insisting upon. 

    The first is hunger, which is the almost general fate of tramps.  The casual ward gives them a ration which is probably not even meant to be sufficient, and anything beyond this must be got by begging - that is, by breaking the law.  The result is that nearly every tramp is rotted by malnutrition; for proof of which one need only look at the men lining up outside any casual ward.  The second great evil of a tramp's life - it seems much smaller at first sight, but it is a good second - is that he is entirely cut off from contact with women.  This point needs elaborating. 

    Tramps are cut off from women, in the first place, because there are very few women at their level of society.  One might imagine that among destitute people the sexes would be as equally balanced as elsewhere.  But it is not so; in fact, one can almost say that below a certain level society is entirely male.  The following figures, published by the L.C.C. from a night census taken on February 13th, 1931, will show the relative numbers of destitute men and destitute women:   

    Spending the night in the streets,    60 men, 18 women.  (this must be an underestimate.  Still, the proportions probably hold good  -G.O.) 

    In shelters and homes not licensed as common lodging-houses,  1,057 men, 137 women. 

    In the crypt of St Martin's-in-the-Fields Church,  88 men, 12 women. 

    In the L.C.C. casual wards and hostels, 674 men, 15 women. 

    It will be seen from these figures that at the charity level men outnumber women by something like ten to one.  The cause is presumably that unemployment affects women less than men; also that any presentable woman can, in the last resort, attach herself to some man.  The result, for a tramp, is that he is condemned to perpetual celibacy.  For of course it goes without saying that if a tramp finds no women at his own level, those above - even a very little above - are as far out of his reach as the moon.  The reasons are not worth discussing, but there is no doubt that women never, or hardly ever, condescend to men who are much poorer than themselves.  A tramp, therefore, is a celibate from the moment when he takes to the road.  He is absolutely without hope of getting a wife, a mistress, or any kind of woman except - very rarely, when he can raise a few shillings - a prostitute. 

    It is obvious what the results of this must be: homosexuality, for instance, and occasional rape cases.  But deeper than these there is the degradation worked in a man who knows he is not even considered fit for marriage.  The sexual impulse, not to put it any higher, is a fundamental impulse, and starvation of it can be almost as demoralizing as physical hunger.  The evil of poverty is not so much that it makes a man suffer as that it rots him physically and spiritually.  And there can be no doubt that sexual starvation contributes to this rotting process.  Cut off from the whole race of women, a tramp feels himself degraded to the rank of a cripple or a lunatic.  No humiliation could do more damage to a man's self-respect..." 

My comment:

Many men who are embroiled in the fallout of separation and divorce are little less disenfranchised than the tramps George Orwell wrote about.  How much greater is the risk for them to hit skid row than it is for anyone who has not yet been removed from his family?  For many the difference is only a matter of time.  Many of them will wind up on skid row!  It's not a matter of choice, it's one of circumstances.  Some of them will be the poorest of the poor even on skid row.

    Even though they may have jobs in which they earn good incomes, not enough will remain of their net pay to allow them to buy food or meals and pay rent.  They'll not even be eligible to obtain accommodation at a single men's hostel, on account of having a job and an "income."

    Worst of all, these men aren't only cut off from any contact with women, they are disenfranchised fathers cut off from access to their children as well.  Besides, what kind of a father wants his children to know that he lives on skid row?  Can we expect such a man to commit suicide?  You bet we can, and very many of them do. —WHS

Further reading:

Fathers and the "Patriarchy",    

The Consequences of Separation and Divorce,    

The Secondhand Man and

Dangerous Devices

Posted 1999 06 19
2001 02 11 (format changes)
2007 12 17 (reformated)
2009 04 01 (removed accidentally duplicated text)