“Poverty blights whole cities; spreads horrible pestilences; strikes dead the very souls of all who come within sight, sound, or smell of it” — George Bernard Shaw
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George Bernard Shaw is saying that poverty has far-reaching negative effects. It can damage entire cities by spreading diseases (“pestilences”) and destroying people’s spirits or humanity (“strikes dead the very souls”).
Even being exposed to poverty from a distance, through sight, sound or smell, is enough to negatively impact people. The best interpretation is that Shaw saw poverty as a force that degrades living conditions and humanity on both individual and community-wide levels.