Let’s Beat Up the Poor!


Baudelaire, Charles


Short Story


Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) was a poet who assailed the boundaries of mid-nineteenth century French society with a revolutionary and often scandalous form of satire. Although he squandered his inheritance and led the artificial, decadent lifestyle of a dandy, Baudelaire was a sharp social critic and aesthete. He also placed a high value on community and compassion despite the shocking titles he created for his works, such as "Let's Beat Up the Poor!" In this bizarre urban parable, Baudelaire presents us with a narrator in isolation—a self-titled philosopher—who, after claiming to have read many "fashionable" books about "public happiness," has a startling revelation about how he can end poverty. What social commentary is Baudelaire trying to convey through his satire? What does the narrator hope to accomplish by his actions? What does Baudelaire think of philanthropy? And who, indeed, is to decide who is "worthy of freedom," pride and life?

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Connection and RelationshipGiving and ReceivingJustice and EqualityMoney and WealthPoverty and NeedPower and Privilege

Big Questions

What makes it possible for us to connect to others? What gets in the way?What do those with more owe to those with less?What is the relationship between money and power?How do we know what someone needs?How do we recognize need?Can one empower another person or community?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. When the narrator leaves his room, what is he thirsty for?
  2. What or who are “entrepreneurs of public happiness”?
  3. What does it mean to have a “demon of action, a great affirmer”?
  4. What happens between the narrator and the beggar?
  5. Why is the beggar's “glance of hatred” an “excellent sign”?
  6. What is the narrator's theory, and how does he apply it?
  7. Why has it caused the narrator grief to try this theory out?
  8. What is expected of the beggar at the end? What does he “understand”?
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