The Great Unwashed

Meanings of “The Great Unwashed”

The phrase “the great unwashed” refers to ordinary, or poor people. In a literal sense, the phrase is a derogatory appellation of the lower sections used by the middle and elite class.

Origin of “The Great Unwashed”

The phrase “the great unwashed” is said to have its initial usage in Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel, Paul Clifford, published in 1830. In that book, the phrase goes thus; “He is certainly a man who bathes and ‘lives cleanly’, (two especial charges preferred against him by Messrs. the Great Unwashed).” Since then, the phrase has been used by many authors conveying different nuances.

Examples from Literature

Example #1

The Great Unwashed by Sammosk

Stranded in this hellhole.
Ghostly faces coast past the bedroll.
Beneath notice lies your tin cup.
Brewing tea for no man.

Blame it on my government, blame it on the police.
Fleecing every one of us, never any release.
Now all that’s left is this showpiece.
Lain immobile upon the concrete.

This poem illustrates the condition of the poor and how they spend their lives in the streets. To him, their sick and hollow faces appear like ghosts lying under the notice boards with empty teacups. He further states that no matter how much we blame the government, or the police for not letting us live in peace, we have to carry on with the struggle of life without any let-up. The rest of the poem captures the heart-wrenching state of the homeless people, claiming that a man without a house is useless. It also presents the weak resolution of the speaker that he wants to rise up for those tormented souls but fails to muster up the much-needed courage, and decides to take more time. The phrase seems to have been explained through this short metaphorical poetic rendering.

Example #2

The Great Unwashed by Anti-Nowhere League

“Too many people gonna steal it
They want their fingers in your pie
Too many people gonna take it
They gonna bleed you till your dry
But I drink all night and I drink all day

These lines capture the undaunted struggle of the speaker who tries to achieve greatness but fails to do so. The elite never hesitates to harm anyone; especially they exercise their power on the people trying to make ends meet. However, the alcoholic speaker hopes that someday he will be able to face them, for, at the moment, he is unable to understand anything as drinking has robbed him of his senses. The phrase shows the use of irony as well as sarcasm.

Example #3

The Great Unwashed and Other Poems by E. J. Bates

This book presents a poetic anthology that welcomes its readers to send their own masterpieces such as; drawings and paintings around the globe. With an intent to inspire the audience, this book illustrates eye-catching pictures displaying various themes and emotions. Therefore, the collection titled with this phrase shows it used as an extended metaphor in the shape of poems and photos colored by the human voice.

Example #4

The Great Unwashed by Thomas Wright

I am not sufficiently well versed in the history of stock phrases to know who invented the one of “the great unwashed.” But however it originated, or in whatever spirit it was first applied as a description of the working classes, certain it is that it is a most expressive one—one the aptness of which none recognize more readily than the working classes themselves; and, indeed, it is just possible that it may be a paraphrase of their own saying, that a working man is one who has black hands to earn white money. “

This excerpt perfectly illustrates the meanings of the phrase. The writer is unsure about the first usage of the phrase; however, to him, the phrase embodies the idea of the working class as they dedicate their organs to their work. Ironically, their hard work provides fewer benefits to them. The book argues that the working class in Victorian England was used by the whites for profit. Hence, the book reflects the literal meanings of the term or the phrase.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “The politicians usually find themselves more comfortable with the great unwashed as compared to the upper class or the elite.”

Example #2: “The Duke asked the knight to lead the royal couple away from the great unwashed as the look on their faces showed how uncomfortable they were.”

Example #3: “To discourage the great unwashed from approaching his door, Mrs. John fixed iron fence around her mansion.”

Example #4: “The super-rich and the brand-oriented world is beyond the approach of the great unwashed and that is a great irony.”

Example #5: “Rather than randomly selecting from the great unwashed, the manager, Mr.Wilkins preferred to appoint his cousin to the post.”