George Orwell’s “How the Poor Die”, is an anecdote that reflects his stay in a hospital in Paris, back in 1929. In deep detail, Orwell described the setting, people, and what he felt towards the negative atmosphere to convince readers about the horrifying Hopital X. In this essay, Orwell’s use of literary and historical reference, language use and imagery, and comparison will be discussed in terms of whether or not this essay is effective for modern readers.
In his anecdote, Orwell used a lot of literary and historical references that are useful in explaining the current period that he was in. “How the Poor Die” is set in Paris, back in February 1929. At that point, Orwell wrote that hospitals already have a negative image even before he wrote his anecdote. In paragraph 5, Orwell referred to a variety of literatures from the 19th Century. Tennyson’s poem, The Children’s Hospital and the conversation between Bob Sawyer and Benjamin Allen remains unfamiliar for modern readers.
Orwell also mentioned a few other characters from the 19th Century that also has the same impression of hospitals. This includes George III who shrieks when surgeons approach him, and “the names given to doctors in nineteenth-century English fiction, Slasher, Carver, Sawyer, Fillgrave and so on” (paragraph 5 line 13). A brief description of literatures from the 19th century like those mentioned before allows modern readers to understand the relation of the negativity of hospitals and these characters.
Therefore, since Orwell gathered his historical references in one paragraph, modern readers still have the ability to determine that in this paragraph, Orwell is informing readers that a lot of people have always had a negative image of hospitals, even before his stay at Hopital X. To give readers a view about the horrific Hopital X, Orwell used a variation of imagery to describe mostly negative perspectives about his experience. Orwell first described the setting. One of them was the ward that he stayed in.
He described it as “a long, rather low, ill-lit room; full of murmuring voices and with three rows of beds surprisingly close together. There was a foul smell, faecal and yet sweetish” (paragraph 2 line 8). In there, not only did he give visual images, Orwell also described the sounds and also the atmosphere (smell) that he was in. Orwell’s detailed imagery isn’t limited to the setting only. He also explained to readers “’cupping’, a treatment which you can read about in old medical text-books but which till then I had vaguely thought of s one of those things they do to horses. “ (Paragraph 2 lines 14-16). Elaborating the meaning of this treatment is effective for modern readers because even then, he also mentioned that readers should ‘read about (cupping) in old medical text-books’. With that explanation, modern or non-modern readers get to have the idea of the unfamiliar treatment that the doctors gave him. Other than that, by telling that it is actually ‘one of those things they do to horses’, Orwell is telling readers that again, this is one of the oddness of Hopital X.
It is a technique that Orwell used to convince readers that his experience at Hopital X is undoubtedly miserable. Orwell also manages to convince readers about his miserable experience by comparing Hopital X to hospitals in England. He compared Hopital X to hospitals in England because he happens to have an English blood. Therefore, the comparisons are mainly biased to English hospitals, and hence, more negativity of the French hospital is revealed. The main comparison that Orwell referred to would be the service given from the hospitals.
The nurses at the Hopital X “still had a tinge of Mrs. Gamp” (paragraph 5 line 12), which is the complete opposite from English nurses. Mrs. Gamp is another historical reference that Orwell made. Based on the footnote, Mrs. Gamp is introduced as “an alcoholic who works as a monthly nurse” (paragraph 19 line 2). Therefore, we can assume that a majority of nurses from Hopital X are like her or in other words, fails to give a good service to their patients. The result of this bad service makes sense to another explanation that Orwell made.
When death occurs in Hopital X, the situation is explained as; “business of people just dying like animals, for instance, with nobody standing by, nobody interested, the death not even noticed till the morning–this happened more than once. ” (Paragraph 5 line 3). The main use of these comparisons is to assure past and current readers that French hospitals are surrounded by negativity. Again, this effect is useful in supporting Orwell’s negative point of view of Hopital X.
After almost a century, Orwell’s anecdote still has the ability to convince readers about the misery of Hopital X. With the use of literary and historical reference, language use and imagery, and comparison between Hopital X and English hospitals, “How the Poor Die” definitely proved modern readers about the misery of Hopital X. Therefore, it is safe to say that even if a literature is written a decade or even a century ago, the writing would still be effective if the author successfully address it with deep details.
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