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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Caleb Garth's Philosophy of Work

The Gleaners (1857) by Jean-Francois Millet
"That depends," said Caleb, turning his head on one side and lowering his voice, with the air of a man who felt himself to be saying something deeply religious. "You must be sure of two things: you must love your work, and not be always looking over the edge of it, wanting your play to begin. And the other is, you must not be ashamed of your work, and think it would be more honorable to you to be doing something else. You must have a pride in your own work and in learning to do it well, and not be always saying, There's this and there's that—if I had this or that to do, I might make something of it. No matter what a man is—I wouldn't give twopence for him"—here Caleb's mouth looked bitter, and he snapped his fingers—"whether he was the prime minister or the rick-thatcher, if he didn't do well what he undertook to do" (Ch. 56).

The essence of Caleb Garth's philosophy on work is whatever your work consists of, love it and do it well.  Though Caleb always proved to be a diligent worker, he did not always bring in a salary proportional to his work ethic.  Nevertheless, Caleb strongly believed that one's work ethic reflected one's character, particularly a husband's with regard to his family.  His daughter Mary quotes him when she states "an idle man ought not to exist, much less be married" (Ch. 14).  Caleb sees work as preparation for the responsibilities of being married.  In cautioning Mary about marriage, Caleb tells her that a husband has an obligation to provide for his family:  "A woman, let her be as good as she may, has got to put up with the life her husband makes for her" (Ch. 25).  Caleb warns his daughter that the work ethic of a potential husband will have a huge effect on the lives of his dependents.  A lazy man makes a bad husband.  Caleb himself did not always have a lot of money, his wife at one point admonishing him that he must give up working for free, but he always worked hard.  At the reading of Featherstone's will, Caleb is almost alone of the many present that has no expectation of receiving money, going so far as to say, "I wish there was no such thing as a will" (Ch. 35).  Caleb does not believe in accepting handouts--it goes against the principles in which he believes.  There are many characters in the novel that would benefit from his tutelage.  I will highlight two that could have (Casaubon and Will Ladislaw)and one that does (Fred Vincy).

One person in the novel that fails to measure up to Caleb's work ethic is Casaubon.  While not lacking in ambition, in planning the massive Key to All Mythologies, Casaubon does lack the needed diligence to complete such a magnum opus.  In setting himself to such a task, he hoped to gain the respect of his colleagues while producing a work that would carry his name to future generations.  Unfortunately, the reasons why Casaubon is not taken seriously as a scholar become painfully apparent.  Firstly, he fails to learn German, which is an important language to his field.  Secondly, by failing to acquire the requisite knowledge, he handicaps his ability to remain up to date on the latest scholarship and fails to realize that his ideas are already antiquated.  Casaubon does not have the work ethic of Caleb and, therefore, dies unsuccessful.

Whereas Casaubon lacks intellectual skill, Will Ladislaw proves to be very intelligent.  Throughout the novel, Ladislaw shows the ability to speak fluently about art, writing, and politics.  Ladislaw's biggest encumbrance is his outsider status.  Much like Lydgate, Ladislaw faces criticism due to the uncertainty surrounding his origin.  Rumors spread of his possibly being Jewish or Corsican, despite his being English and Polish and a relative of Casaubon's.  As a result, Ladislaw struggles to find his proper place in Middlemarch society.  Casaubon says he "declines to choose a profession" (Ch. 9), though that is not entirely true.  Though he draws excellent sketches, he makes it clear that he has no interest in being an artist, having more respect for writing over visual art.  He is invited by Mr. Brooke to write for the political newspaper The Pioneer but is happy to give it up when the Brooke sells the paper.  Patience seems to play a role in his unsuccessful attempts at finding a career:  "If things don't come easily to me, I never get them" (Ch. 21).  He makes that statement when he is living off Casaubon's money, but his friendship with Dorothea pushes him to make something of himself.  Ladislaw is not lazy, but he seeks a challenge, and his job with the newspaper bored him after a while because he is not convinced that he can effect change in that position.  He continues to drift aimlessly until his marriage to Dorothea, after which he becomes a MP and achieves success.  Ladislaw can only work in an environment in which he makes a difference in people's lives (similar to Dorothea).

Fred Vincy is in the unique in that he is interested in marrying Mary Garth and must meet the expectations that Caleb has set forth.  Fred develops the reputation of a sponger:  he lives off other people's money while making none of his own.  He is hopeful of being Featherstone's inherito, though Fate ruins his plans.  He falls prey to gambling and loses his money, making himself unable to pay the loan for which Caleb co-signs.  Nevertheless, Fred desires to marry Mary, who reciprocates his feelings, though she is leery of Fred's potential to provide as a husband.  Caleb is the only one that sees promise in Fred, and he secures Fred a job assisting in the management of the Brooke and Chettam estates.  Caleb recognizes that Fred is not lazy, he just needs an opportunity as well as an extra push.  The episode of Fred's bad penmanship illustrates that Fred is capable of being success if he has someone to work patiently with him.  Caleb gives his approval to the match without fretting his daughter's future.

Caleb provides an excellent example of how hard work can present opportunities for a person.  The three men described above could use some of Caleb's work ethic.  Caleb believed in loving your work.  Casaubon never loves his work, it becomes a burden to him.  Will refuses to settle for any occupation he does not love.  Fred becomes passionate about his work and wins praise in the agricultural community.  Caleb also believed in having pride in your work.  While Casaubon never produces a work of which he could be proud, Will and Fred find pride in the work they do.  Therefore, the latter two experience successful lives.

1 comment:

  1. Casaubon feels insignificant and unappreciated. His work as a clergyman obviously has not been fulfilling. He could make a a larger or more significant contribution but this is beneath him. He preaches the Sunday sermon but does not visit the sick or poor. He just wants to be heard. He has considerable intelligence but researches and writes primarily to be noticed and admired by the intellectual elite. What Casaubon sadly fails to grasp is the simply dignity of doing a job well for its' own sake. Caleb Garth needs nothing more than the peace of mind that accompanies a day's work done honestly and well.

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