The manifestations of poverty have found their reflections throughout the entire history of humankind. Despite any degree of civilization development or level of collective morality and ethics, it is an unavoidable phenomenon, typical for every period and society. Although the humanity pays a great attention and great efforts in order to eradicate this problem, the displays of poverty remain constant in the course of social development. The only thing, which tends to change, is the very nature of poverty, as well as its causes and contributing factors. As a result, it is possible to say that poverty is incurable or inevitable.
The national literature is the best source of the historical evidences and facts from the lives of the poor. Many authors attempted to reveal this theme in their works. Many of them aimed at mere informing on the problem while others (for example, Orwell) provided critical commentaries and personal remarks (Carr 39). Generally, literary pieces help comprehend the scopes and threats of the poverty in relations to the social, political, and economic situation of the country. Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London is one of the books, the purpose of which is to interpret the conditions of poverty in the middle class at the beginning of the 20th century. The book is valuable for its diversified information, detailed descriptions, and vivid images of the everyday life of the poor. Although the book was written nearly a century ago, it remains topical and actual even in the contemporary society.
The matter is that the poverty conditions have hardly changed since the 20th century; both European workers of 1930-s and American employees of the 21st century share some common experience and problems. Although, the society had undergone significant political, cultural, economic, and financial changes, the working class is still suffering from the social injustice, human inequality, and unfair treatment from their employers. Thereby, it is important to understand the main sources and causes of poverty to be able to fight against the phenomenon, in terms of the modern world.
Poverty in the 20th Century Europe and 21st Century America: Common and Different Features
Since poverty is a global phenomenon, which affects all societies, regardless of their development and qualities, it is possible to observe some common features in the living conditions of the poor, who are representing both 20th and 21st centuries. At the same time, one can conclude that the contemporary poverty is different from the last-century one, in terms of its origin, causes, and factors.
In Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, the reader gets to know that one of the most prominent causes of poverty is capitalism and class distinction (Brunsdale 40). Europe found it unable to meet the requirements and satisfy the needs of all its citizens despite the effectiveness of its political slogans and campaigns. Respectively, the dominant regime failed to bring prosperity into the lives of people, belonging mainly to the working class. This class distinction was sharply noticeable, as well. Therefore, Orwell informs that poor people could panhandle only in the “cheap pubs, for they are not allowed into the good-class ones” (Orwell 203). Such a situation led not only to the exacerbation of poverty but also to the scornful attitude, contempt, and disrespect toward the poor. The clear distinction between various classes also amplified the existed inequality and left no possibilities for the poor and homeless to improve their positions. In fact, quite a similar situation can be observed in the contemporary America. However, in this case, poverty results not from the capitalism or actual division of the society, but rather from social inequality. This inequality does not presuppose different treatment toward various professions or affiliations. On the contrary, this concept finds its implementation in the issues of race, ethnical, national, and gender inequality. The ageism is another problem, when it comes to the work relations (Hoynes 47). Thereby, contemporary poverty finds its roots in these problems, which provide different citizens with various degrees of opportunities for self-realization.
The second factor, promoting poverty, concerns the quality of healthcare. However, this issue is also different for the 20th century Europe and 21st century America. In Orwell’s novel, the reader gets to know that the lack of qualitative healthcare services amplified the situation with poverty and gave the poor no chances for the recovery or improvement of their conditions. Hospitals were viewed as the places for spending nights as there were no alternatives. In the case of the epidemic outburst, these establishments could hardly do anything to improve the situation and save human lives. Orwell describes one character, who could not work “after leaving the hospital, because he was still very lame” (Orwell 30). This evidence shows that hospitals did not provide sufficient care, and were used mostly as a type of night lodgings. Nowadays, the situation with the health care has dramatically changed. America demonstrates the high level of healthcare development, good standards of medical services, and quality of the whole system. Nevertheless, the other problem is the accessibility of the modern medicine. Many people cannot afford undergoing expensive procedures or operations because of the lack of finances. As they cannot improve their physical health, their work productivity falls, and they cannot earn for the life in a proper way. Respectively, the inaccessibility of medical services is another reason, contributing to deepening of poverty in modern America.
The third significant cause of poverty is lack of food and consequent starvation. On the one hand, the hunger can be viewed as the consequence, damaging effect, and outcome of the poverty. However, Orwell explains that the hunger “reduces one to an utterly spineless, brainless condition… turned [him] into a jellyfish” (Orwell 42). It is possible to say that hunger itself provokes poverty, makes people unable to analyze the situation clearly and behave primitively and even rudely. Under the conditions of permanent hunger torments, individuals can neither realize them, find good jobs, nor improve their social positions. A lack of food supplies used to be a great problem in Europe of the last century. The majority of poor could not afford to buy even essential products. Orwell argues, “The evil of poverty is not so much that it makes a man suffer as that it rots him physically and spiritually” (Orwell 243). That is the very case with starvation, which ruins the personal dignity and self-respect, making it impossible to think about any spiritual heights or values. When speaking about contemporary America, it is important to mention that hunger is not its actual problem. On the contrary, the problem is in the unequal redistribution of the food supplies between different classes of society. While some groups of citizens have unlimited access to the food, the others cannot obtain even the most essential ones. Nevertheless, starvation does not explain the nature of contemporary poverty.
The fourth significant cause of poverty, encountered by both Europe and contemporary America consists in the social injustice, individual irresponsibility, and difficulties in the employer-employee relations. These causes are typical for both centuries. In fact, a great percentage of poverty could have been eliminated with personal willingness and actions of the poor (Bradley 381). However, in the majority of cases, poor people have no interest or motivation to change their surroundings or obtain new achievements. Orwell asserts, “You discover the boredom which is inseparable from poverty; the times when you have nothing to do and, being underfed, can interest yourself in nothing” (Orwell 19). Therefore, the poverty is the result of not only social catastrophes and imperfection. To a great extent, it can be explained by personal indifference and lack of interest toward the life. Obviously, this factor is common for both societies under investigation since they are not influenced by the historical changes. Besides, the unfair working relations, miserable payments, and work overload are the other problems, which amplify the position of the poor.
To sum up, the analysis of the causes of poverty shows that the living conditions of the less fortunate citizens of 20th century Europe and 21st century America have different roots, reasons, and contributing factors. Despite general similarities, these two societies suffer from different problems and inaccuracies. While the 20th century Europe faced natural problems of disease epidemics or starvation, the matter with modern America consists in its impossibility to distribute goods and services equally among various groups of society. In the long run, both societies suffer from a great percentage of poverty, which ruins their stability, prosperity, and further perspectives. At the same time, it is possible to observe some common features, which explain the emergence of poverty in both examples. Among such features, there are personal indifference and irresponsibility, social inequality, and legal insecurity, as well as unfair working conditions and relations. All these factors prevent societies from the normal development and functioning, leaving the majority of citizens unprotected and vulnerable to the financial and economic problems. Moreover, the situation with poverty does not only demoralize certain societies but also leads to criminal activities, decreases productivity, and weakens the current positions. Thereby, the issue of poverty should be taken under the governmental control in order to prevent or partially reduce its damaging consequences and effects.