Honesty

The voice of George Orwell in his novel Down and Out in Paris and London is one that fascinates me. Although he is telling it from a first person perspective, and talking about his own life, it still manages to adopt an almost objective voice and perspective. This is very interesting, because the content of the book definitely is not objective, being the first person account of a period of his life. It is by only narrating the details of what happened, and focusing much more on the experience and what was happening to him then on his own feelings. When he does refer to how he felt, he for the most part refers only to the way he felt at the time and does adds very little additional commentary. The result is a very descriptive voice on his part, which the reader comes to trust as bringing and honest account of the events being described.

In this novel he describes an episode of his life as a writer in which he essentially lived in absolute poverty in Paris and then later London. He provides incredibly detailed descriptions, and paints a very vivid image of life down and out. His voice is very simple and clean, easy to follow. At the same time, describing or pinpointing what exactly makes it so effective is proving incredibly illusive to me.

Here is a short excerpt in which he describes life working in a Parisian restaurant to show his voice.

It was amusing to look round the filthy little scullery and think that only a double door was between us and the dining-room. There sat the customers in all their splendour—spotless table-cloths, bowls of flowers, mirrors and gilt cornices and painted cherubim; and here, just a few feet away, we in our disgusting filth. For it really was disgusting filth. There was not time to sweep the floor till evening, and we slithered about in a compound of soapy water, lettuce-leaves, torn paper and trampled food. A dozen waiters with their coats off, showing their sweaty armpits, sat at the table mixing salads and sticking their thumbs into the cream pots. The room had a dirty mixed smell of food and sweat. Everywhere in the cupboards, behind the piles of crockery, were squalid stores of food that the waiters had stolen. There were only two sinks, and no washing basin, and it was nothing unusual for a waiter to wash his face in the water in which clean crockery was rinsing. But the customers saw nothing of this. There were a coco-nut mat and a mirror outside the dining-room door, and the waiters used to preen themselves up and go in looking the picture of cleanliness.

It is an instructive sight to see a waiter going into a hotel dining-room. As he passes the door a sudden change comes over him. The set of his shoulders alters; all the dirt and hurry and irritation have dropped off in an instant. He glides over the carpet, with a solemn priest like air. I remember our assistant maître d’hôtel, a fiery Italian, pausing at the dining-room door to address and apprentice who had broken a bottle of wine. Shaking his fist above his head he yelled (luckily the door was more or less soundproof): ‘Tu me fais chier. Do you call yourself a waiter, you young bastard? You a waiter! You’re not fit to scrub floors in the brothel your mother came from. Maquereau!’

Words failing him, he turned to the door; and as he opened it he farted loudly, a favourite Italian insult.

Then he entered the dining-room and sailed across it dish in hand, graceful as a swan. Ten seconds later he was bowing reverently to a customer. And you could not help thinking, as you saw him bow and smile, with that benign smile of the trained waiter, that the customer was put to shame by having such an aristocrat to serve him.

Something about the quality of his description almost gives me a feeling of objectivity, although it certainly isn’t. Perhaps this is achieved through injecting a sense of honesty into the voice, causing a sense of trust to develop in the reader. The result, making one feel like the events have been objectively narrated to some extent. His thoughts are simply observations, for the most part descriptive, and a lesser part analytical. The balance between these two draws the reader in. His descriptive imagery feels objective, and allows the reader to see what he is experiencing. His more sparse analytical comments compliment the description, and since the reader has the description seemingly objectively, they can then relate to his analytical conclusions—they can see how he arrived at them. Keeping the description and analysis clearly separate also seems to make the reader more trusting, by giving them the sense that they are able to differentiate between the two and see objectively, drawing their own conclusions. It gives the reader a sense of power; they do not feel like the speaker is forcing the analysis down their throats.

I think the beauty of Orwell’s voice lies in its simplicity. It feels natural, and flows without interruption. It is easy to follow, accessible, and full of descriptive imagery. It also feels honest and down to earth, which I think is a component that really draws people in.

This video is another example of a similar voice, yet through a different medium. The speaker is very clear, the message simple, and above all it is honest and coming from his heart. This sense of honest and open display of emotion creates an incredibly powerful voice that allows the viewer to really connect and share some of the emotion.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kelmEZe8whI&feature=player_embedded&has_verified=1[/youtube]

From this exploration I am beginning to come to the conclusion that simplistic, open, and honest description is one of the most powerful forms of voice.

Works Cited

Orwell, George. Down and Out in Paris and London. London: Penguin Books, 1989. Print.

WikiLeaks’ Collateral Murder: U.S. Soldier Ethan McCord.” YouTube. YouTube, 10 Aug. 2010. Web. 7 Nov. 2011.