Social Protest Lit.: Bjornstjerne Bjornson, from “Beyond Human Might”

indexExcerpt from a play by Bjornstjerne Bjornson entitled “Beyond Human Might” from Book IV called “Out of The Depths.” This chapter is focused on man’s pursuit of remedy for social injustice:

(Here a young clergyman is speaking to a crowd of miners in the midst of bitterly fought strike)

Bratt: Here it is dark and cold. Here few work hopefully, and no one joyfully. Here the children won’t thrive–they yearn for the sea and the daylight. They crave the sun. But it lasts only a little while, and then they give up. They learn that among those who have been cast down here there is rarely one who can climb up again.

Several: That’s right!…

Bratt: What is there to herald the coming of better things? A new generation up there? Listen to what their young people answer for themselves: “We want a good time!” And their books? The books and the youth together make the future. And what do the books say? Exactly the same as the youth: “Let us have a good time! Ours are the light and the lust of life, its colors and its joys!” That is what the youth and their books say.–They are right! It is all theirs! There is no law to prevent their taking life’s sunlight and joy away from the poor people. For those who have the sun have also made the law.–But then the next question is whether we might not scramble up high enough to take part in writing of a new law. (This is received with thundering cheers.) What is needed is that one generation makes an effort strong enough to raise all coming generations into the vigorous life full of sunlight.

Many: Yes, yes!

Bratt: But so far every generation has put it off on the next one. Until at last our turn has come–to bear sacrifices and sufferings like unto death itself!

 

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Social Protest Lit: Grant Allen, “The Wrongfulness of Riches”

indexAn short essay from Grant Allen entitled The Wrongfulness of Riches from Book IV called “Out of The Depths.” This chapter is focused on man’s pursuit of remedy for social injustice:

If you are on the side of the spoilers, they you are a bad man. If you are on the side of social justice, then you are a good one. There is no effective test of the high morality at the present day save this.

Critics of the middle-class type often exclaim, of reasoning like this, “What on earth makes him say it? What has he to gain by talking in that way? What does he expect to get by it?” So bound up are they in the idea of a self-interest as the one motive of action that they never even seem to conceive of honest conviction as a ground for speaking out the truth that is in one. To such critics I would answer, “The reason why I write all this is because I profoundly believe it. I believe the poor are being kept out of their own. I believe the rich are for the most part selfish and despicable. I believe wealth has been generally piled up by cruel and unworthy means. I believe it is wrong in us to acquiesce in the wicked inequalities of our existing social state, instead of trying our utmost to bring about another, where right would be done to all, where poverty would be impossible. I believe such a system is perfectly practicable, and that nothing stands in its way save the selfish fears and prejudices of individuals. And I believe that even those craven fears and narrow prejudices are wholly mistaken; that everybody, including the rich themselves, would be infinitely happier in a world where no poverty existed, where no hateful sights and sounds met then eye at every turn, where all slums were swept away, and where everybody had their just and even share of pleasures and refinements in a free and equal community.”

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Social Protest Lit: George Bernard Shaw, Preface to “Major Barbara”

indexThe preface to “Major Barbara” from George Bernard Shaw from Book IV called “Out of The Depths.” This chapter is focused on man’s pursuit of remedy for social injustice:

The thoughtless wickedness with which we scatter sentences of imprisonment, torture in the solitary cell and on the plank bed, and flogging, and moral invalids and energetic rebels, is as nothing compared to the stupid levity with which we tolerate poverty as a if it were either a wholesome tonic for lazy people or less a virtue to be embraced as St. Francis embraced it. If a man is indolent, let him be poor. If he is drunken, let him be poor. If he is not a gentleman, let him be poor. If he is addicted to the fine arts or to pure science instead of trade and finance, let him be poor. If he chooses to spend his urban eighteen shillings a week or his agricultural thirteen shillings a week on his beer and his family instead of saving it up for his old age, let him be poor. Serves him right! Also-somewhat inconsistently-blessed are the poor!

Now what does this Let Him Be Poor mean? It means let him be weak. Let him be ignorant. Let him be a nucleus of disease. Let him be a standing exhibition and example of ugliness and dirt. Let him have rickety children. Let him be cheap and let him drag his fellows down to his price by selling himself to do their work. Let his habitations turn our cities into poisonous congeries of slums. Let his daughters infect our young men with the diseases of the streets and his sons revenge him by turning the nation’s manhood into scrofula, cowardice, cruelty, hypocrisy, political imbecility, and all the other fruits of oppression and malnutrition. Let the undeserving become still less deserving; and let the deserving lay up for himself, not treasures in heaven, but horrors in hell upon earth. This being so, is it really wise to let him be poor? Would he not do ten time less harm as a prosperous burglar, incendiary, ravisher, or murderer, to the utmost limits of humanity’s comparatively negligible impulses in these directions? Suppose we were to abolish all penalties for such activities, and decide that poverty is the one thing we will not tolerate-that every adult with less than, say, 365 pounds a year, shall be painlessly but inexorably killed, and every hungry half naked child forcibly fattened and clothed, would not that be and enormous improvement on our existing system, which has already destroyed so many civilizations, and is visibly destroying ours in the same way?

 

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