Analysis of an Outstanding English Essay "Work" by John Ruskin

John Ruskin (1819 -1900) was an English art critic and social thinker, also remembered as a poet and artist. He wrote a number of essays on art and architecture that became extremely influential in the Victorian era. He takes material for his lecture “Work” from the existing economic revolution which is generally referred to as “Industrial Revolution”. Apart from its advantages and benefits it brought a great destruction for the poor people. The writer reveals the general facts and harsh realities which were ignored even by those who themselves were the main victim of revolution.

What is Working Class?

Ruskin, in the very beginning, is going to clarify the matter that what it is meant by “working class”. Most probably it is the opposite of “idle class”. Then “idle class” will be the synonym of “upper class”. At this point, Ruskin asks question to his audience whether he is correct in drawing this distinction or not. The question is asked only with the intention to gain the sympathy of his audience so that to convince them about his own arguments.

Then, he rejects the above mentioned distinction because the idle people may be found in both rich and poor classes. There is a working class among both rich and poor and there is also an idle class among both rich and poor. So the distinction between working class and upper class has been proved to be wrong. As the topic of his lecture is work, the writer sticks to the working class. He draws organized distinction between the two classes in various respects. The following are the major distinctions vividly drawn by the author.

First Distinction

This distinction is between two classes; those who work and those who play. It can be understood easily after knowing the difference between work and play. “Play” has been derided for the purpose of pleasure with no determined end while work is something totally different which is intended to earn benefit and is done with some determined end. The writer critically analyzes some popular work of England that are worthy to be called “games”.

“The first English game is making money”

This is an ironical statement for those who earn money blindly. Such people don’t know why they are earning money and what they will do with it? They are in fact players, playing the game of minting money. The aristocratic ladies of his time were also indulging in the most expensive game of “dressing”. Ruskin satirically encodes their behaviour saying these are the “poor women” with no proper clothing. Had the garment-budget of these ladies distributed among the poor people of third world, it would have sufficed them to fulfill their basic needs. However, the distinction between work and play is not exclusively mutual; a single thing can be equally “work” and “play” according to its primary and secondary purposes.

Second Distinction

The writer draws another distinction between the rich and poor. The first spends a large amount of money even on cheap and ordinary things while the latter has to endeavor his basic needs.

Ruskin quotes two instances from a newspaper. The first says that in Russia a man of good fortune entered into a hotel to take his breakfast. He paid there fifteen francs only for two peaches. The second story states the miserable state of a dead person whose body was lying on a dung heap with no person paying any heed towards him only because he belongs to the poor class. Some dried pieces of “bones” were taken out of his pocket thus intensifying the misery of the poor person.

Lawful Bases of Wealth

The lawful basis of wealth is that a worker should be paid a fair amount of his work and he should also be given liberty regarding his money; whether spends or saves for some rainy day. After implementing this law in a true sense there would be no “poor person” except for those lazy people who stay at home lazily instead of doing some work. Such kind of poor are doubly poor; lacking not only worldly possessions but also the moral strength. Those who follow this law are real rich irrespective of money they have in their possessions.

False Base of Minting Money

Duty is the main thing that should be given priority. Those who cares more about their salary or fee than the work they have been assigned, though, can become rich but on the false basis. Ruskin critically refers to such kind of people terming them “uneducated class”, “inferior in intellect” and “coward”. At this point Ruskin has proved his philosophy by giving an analogy. He says the primary purpose of a soldier’s life must be to win battles. Similarly teaching goodness should be the sole purpose of a clergyman’s life. Both of these persons are paid well for their duties but that is at secondary level. If this becomes their primary objective then they would be “coward” and “stupid”.

Third distinction

Some people work with their hands while some other with their brains. There is rough work to be done, and rough men must do it. There is also gentle work to be done and gentle men must do it. Both works are important in that the maintenance of life depends on manual as well as mental work. Every person should do honestly his own job, mental or physical.

Nevertheless it is a true fact that the dignity of labour and hard work is recognized only by his own class. A man working in a quiet and serene room with everything comfortable is unlikely to be aware of the hardships of train-drivers who have to drive against cruel winds with no difference of day and night in their life.

The rough work is generally honest, real and useful whereas the gentle work often accompanies dishonesty and cheating. When both the works are worthily done the head’s is noble work and the hand’s is ignorable. Again Ruskin criticizes the rich class who persistently thinks of providing relief and comfort to the working class but do nothing practically.

The essay tells us that both kinds of work should be done properly but he problem surfaces when people don’t work willingly. The main reason of this attitude is they don’t know which work they can do better. This “will” can be promoted only when they select the appropriate profession in accordance with their ability. Ruskin says, “in order that a man may be happy, it is necessary that he should not only be capable of his work, but a good judge of his work”.



Source by Muhammad Tayyab

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