Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Book Thirty-Nine- The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists - Part Two

Robert Tressell
The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists is set prior to WWI in England and is essentially a long plea for socialism. Long. I finished it because I wanted to find out about some of the secondary characters, but the primary characters are strictly stereotypes. Only one of them varies from his type, and he goes from being a loving husband to being a jerkwad. But Owen the Socialist is SO too good to be true. At first I thought the novel was funny but then I saw that it is actually Making A Statement. It’s workers vs. bosses, poor against wealthy… Tressell is so in your face. He’s capslock Tressell. THIS SUCKS! HERE’S WHY! SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP AND LET ME TELL YOU WHAT TO THINK ‘CAUSE THE PEOPLE WHO TOLD ME WHAT TO THINK WERE WRONG! I don’t begrudge Owen the Socialist his zeal; I’m happy he’s politically engaged. After all, in this world people could and did starve to death and businesses had ‘apprentices’ who weren’t paid for the first three years. My problem with Owen the Socialist is his sweeping generalizations. Of course, his co-workers make sweeping generalizations of their own, and that bugs me, too. This is a connection with our own world – and sweeping generalizations are always wrong. (Bah dum dum ching) In Owen the Socialist’s opinion, business owners are bad. They are greedy, selfish and inconsiderate. The workers are desperate; they accept low pay, poor working conditions and long hours to support their families. There is no middle ground here – the bed is either too soft or too hard. Several conversations reminded me of people today complaining about corporations making profits. But if a company does not succeed, it is not simply the upper echelon staff that lose their jobs. It’s also the employees trying to hold on the last few years before retirement and the people thinking about having a baby and those who are on their first job out of college and the  cleaners and the people who stock the vending machines and people who deliver packages and people who sell office furniture and cafeteria workers and people who pick up the garbage and cafes and restaurants in the area who lose business. Why is profit a bad word? Everyone I know works for the money. (Donna Summer previously addressed this.) If I didn’t get a paycheck, I wouldn’t keep going to work. And yes, I would like a raise, thank you very much, so if I work for a corporation I want that corporation to succeed. If the big bosses make beaucoup money that’s okay because if they earn more I have a better chance of earning more. Plus, one day I might be a big boss. (I don’t work for a corporation, so this is all theoretical, or as Joey would say, “It’s a moo point.”) While the workers work (generally painting the interior of houses), they discuss various political issues of the day. Owen the Socialist usually tries to steer the conversation toward socialism, but his co-workers have their own ideas. Some conversations feature complaints about immigrants comin’ in and takin’ their jobs. (Some things never change?) There are also complaints about people who don’t work. At one point the Owen the Socialist says - Unfortunately, Owen the Socialist is not helped by the religious community of the town of Mugsborough. Only one brand of Christian is found in this book: the hypocrite. Did Tressell never meet a person who lived his faith rather than using it as an opportunity for personal gain? How sad. There are charities that do good works in Mugsborough, though their deeds have a catch: you have to listen to a sermon before you get your free bowl of soup.  Mrs Knobrane and Mrs M. T. Head are two of the do-gooders. Great names, eh? Another cool name is that of Mr. Snatchum, the undertaker. Apparently, funerals are a competitive business in Mugsborough.  :bring out yer dead:

This book describes a wretched life and doesn’t allow for moments of hope that someone like Dickens provides. Dickens managed to shake up his society while appealing to a broad audience. This is something Tressell fails to do, but this is perhaps an unfair comparison. Who can measure up to Dickens?I’m not sorry I read this book but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else. Robert Croker/Robert Noonan used the pseudonym Robert Tressell for this book. He was concerned that his politics, so evident in this work, would interfere in his search for a job. Tressell could have been a character in this book; he worked very hard for very little money, had difficulty finding work, and died of TB at 40 years of age. This book was published after Tressell died.“The question is, what is the cause of the lifelong poverty of the majority of those who are not drunkards and who DO work? Why, if all the drunkards and won't-works and unskilled or inefficient workers could be by some miracle transformed into sober, industrious and skilled workers tomorrow, it would, under the present conditions, be so much the worse for us, because there isn't enough work for all NOW and those people by increasing the competition for what work there is, would inevitably cause a reduction of wages and a greater scarcity of employment.”Most of the men Owen the Socialist works with are not interested in his politics. Not that they have thoughtfully chosen another path; they fight about it like people today fight about politics: "I’m right so you must be wrong.""Nuh uh! I’M right and YOU’RE wrong!"
"Well you’re just stupid!" "I know you are but what am I?"  In the form of a monologue on a rainy day, the author gives his philosophy of a socialist land where everyone is equal and all are happy. Honesty compels me to report that I did not read the entire monologue, but I did find it interesting that there are no alcoholics under socialism. I mean, alcoholics would be avoided by others. “… but if they became very degraded, we should still remember that they were our brother men and women, and we should regard them as suffering from a disease inherited from their uncivilized forefathers and try to cure them by placing them under some restraint: in an institute for instance.”So if you were an alcoholic, there was good news and bad news and really bad news. Good: Recognition that alcoholism is a disease.Not So Good: Alcoholics should be locked up to be cured.Terribly Not Good: “Another good way to deal with 'em,” said Harlow, “would be to allow them double pay, so as they could drink themselves to death. We could do without the likes of them.” (Spoiler alert: Harlow is not a socialist.)