Read our complete notes on the essay “Work” by John Ruskin. Our notes cover this essay’s summary and detailed analysis.

Work by John Ruskin Summary

Ruskin delivered his lecture “Work” before the working men’s institute, at Camber well. In this speech he addresses the working people there at the institution of working men. This speech is a socio-economic criticism on the contemporary life of England. In the very beginning of his speech he tries to bring forward all the harsh realities and destruction of industrial revolution in the life of working class.

He talks about the class distinction caused by this industrial revolution. Ruskin takes up some glaring issues of poor people. He doesn’t care for that society in which the poor end up noticeably poorer and the rich wealthier. The upper class enjoy by making poor people work for them and to accommodate them. So far as poor working people concern there is no contrast between male ruler of ancient time and modern aristocratic class. He develops several analogies to differentiate between idle men and working men, upper class and lower class.

He tries to make distinction between idle poor and idle rich, busy poor and busy rich. He says that there are many beggars, they are as lazy as they have ten thousand a years and many there are rich men as busier than their servants. Here he gives few recommendations for healthy society as he says if rich idle people observed and admonished the idle rich people, all would be correct. If the busy deprived people took notice and reprimanded idle poor, all would be okay.

But unfortunately these classes only look for the faults of other class. Only the depraved poor consider rich as their enemy and want to sack their houses, divide their wealth. Only the dissolute rich people use disgusting language of the wrong doings and follies of the poor people. Here he criticizes the industrious people and points out the tremendous existing distinction among industrious people; the distinction of low and high, lost and won etc. Ruskin draws distinctions between the two classes in four major respective.

  • work and play
  • poor and rich
  • work by hand and brain
  • wise work and foolish work

Here he defines the work and play. He says that play is a physical and mental effort, which has no resolute end, self pleasing. On the other hand work is something which has determined end and to earn benefit. He criticizes some of the famous plays of London as cricket, snooker and calls them a game of money making but useless money. He says that it’s like the runs of cricket has no use.

He says London is a city of play, very hard and unpleasant play. He places shooting and hunting in the category of game; costly and expensive game. He says that those who earn money by these games are earning money blindly. They do not know why they earn money and what they will do of it. As hunting is a game for gentlemen’s for women we have ladies’ game of expensive dressing. He gives the example of a brooch at jeweler’s shop ago; cost of 3000 pound. He criticizes the costly dressing of English, French and Russian men and women. While on the other hand poor people have no proper dress to wear. And he says this is the first distinction between upper and lower.

For his second distinction between poor and rich, between upper class money donors(Dives) and lower class money acceptors; beggar (Lazarus), he compares two articles from newspaper to illustrate this distinction. He reads the first article which is about the lavishness of a rich Russian at Paris. He spends fifteen franc only for two peaches. Another article is about the dead man beside a dung heap. The Thames police constable finds a dead body of an aged man beside the heap of dung in Shadwell Gap. The cadaver was of a bone picker. He was extremely poor. The inspector finds some bones and a penny in his pocket. Then he goes on talking about the lawful and unlawful bases of wealth.

The lawful basis of wealth is that the working man should be paid the handful value of his work and should be given a complete liberty over his possession. If today he does not spend the day after he will spend it. The lazy people who do not work but stay at home only breaking bread in the end will be doubly poor with nothing in possession.

Next, Ruskin talks about the false basis of distinction. He says such people who earn money on false basis are poor, uneducated, coward and inferior in intellect. Their only purpose is to make money nothing else. He defines the false basis of wealth as those who prefers money than their duties.

Ruskin says that the primary objectives of a soldier are to fight and win battle. The duty of a clergyman is to baptize and preach as the doctor purpose is to cure patient. If they prefer money than their work this is false basis of accumulation wealth. This is a huge distinction and can be compared the distinction between heaven and hell, between life and death for there are no two masters can be served.

He compares the duty the first lord as God and fee the second master as devil. If you prefer first you are servant of God and if fee first you are the devil’s servant. The next he says such kind of Satan’s servant to be found in every nation, who has making money, is principle objective of their life. They are very mean and stupid people.

To explain this stupidity he tells about a biblical reference of Judas Iscariot. He was a money lover and like all money lover he deceived Jesus Christ and did not understand him. In modern time there many Judas’s bargainers who are fee-first men. The modern capitalists are violating the rights of working class. They take all the production themselves, except laborer’s food and that is modern Judas’s way of betraying others.

The next he talks about the power of capital and the disadvantages of capital in first priority. He says that when the principle object of life becomes the fee or capital of any nation or man, “it is both got ill and spent ill”; and it does hurt in spending and getting both. When money becomes the principle object of life it becomes a curse for the man and nation.

Next, Ruskin talks about the work by hand and work by head. Both types of work are important and necessary for the maintenance of life. Everyone should be honest to his work. Rough work can be done by rough men and gentle work can be done by gentle people. The same men cannot do both work at a time. He tells the working men a grand proverb of Sancho’s that nothing is achieved by empty promises or flattery. Both class of working should respect each other work because a man setting in a room with all facilities does have no idea about the work of a man sitting in front of furnace or a driver driving against the wind.

But the problem is that the rough work is real and honest and though generally no useful but the gentle work accompanies deceit and cheating. When both works are equally done with honesty then head’s work is honorable than hand’s work. All work should be done with orderly manner, lawful way and human way not in the doggish way or disorderly. He criticizes the war and recruitment of war once again. We enlist people for labor that kills. We should enlist people for labor that feed. Then he talks about justice in great detail. He emphasizes on justice between people, between working class in every action of life.

In the fourth section of his speech he talks about the wise work and foolish work. Here tries to differentiate between sensible work and non-sensible work in daily occupation. In bold words he says that wise work is that which is done for and work with God. But on the other hand the work which is against God is foolish work. Work with God means to enforce God’s law of order and ensure justice. Order and justice are two great human deeds; there are two deeds against that are devil’s inequity and devil’s disorder.

A sensible human must fight against these two Satan’s deeds. So far if a person does not fight against means work for him. All wise works can be described by threefold in character. The very first character of wise work is HONEST. Honesty is very much important aspect of wise work. Ruskin implores to the working men to be honest with their work. He says that without honesty we will not be able to do anything for you and you yourself will fail also to do anything for yourself. All things are vain without honesty. So you must put your heart together. Put your hand in hand and you will win at all.

The second attribute of wise work is USEFUL. Wise work is useful. There must be something in the end of your hard work if nothing comes this is hardest. If all your bees business turns to spiders; this is the unkind result for the worker. It would be the greatest waste for a worker if he commits the waste of his labor.

The next of wise work is CHEERFUL. It is as cheerful as child’s work. He says that God’s kingdom is not to come outside but it lies inside of our hearts. It is within us. If we want to enter into the kingdom of God or bring it into our life we must adopt the character of children. If we want our work to be cheerful we must adopt child’s character. These characters of children we want.

The first character of a child is that it is Modest. Modest child does not think that it knows everything, always ask question, and wants to know more. Well like the child the first character of a wise and good workman is that he knows very little ask questions and tries to learn more and more. The second important character of a child and wise workman is to be faithful. A good child always perceives that his father knows better what is best for it. it trust him wholly, and this is the genuine characteristic of good and wise working man in any field. They must be faithful to their captains. The third one character of a good child is to be loving and generous. All these characters of a good child is the characters of good and great workers.

Work by John Ruskin Literary Analysis

The recent essay Work is one from the speeches of Ruskin’s book “Crown of wild olive”. He delivers this speech to workingmen in the working institution at Camberwell.

The essay is the socio-economic criticism of European industrialization and outcome of the industrialization.  This essay shows Ruskin’s rage against the machine and it dehumanization in an industrial era. When machines were invented and factories and industries were established there was no value for workers working by hand. This industrialization created a competition among industrial people.

Ruskin gives value to product by hand and he says the thing created without toil is worthless and “Machine ornaments are no ornaments at all”. The industrialization of Europe created class distinctions among people. Here Ruskin talks about to eliminate this class differences by the justice and honesty with the work.

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