19 Aug Chapter 2: The Lord Our Shepherd & Chapter 3: The Economists
While fans of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists tend to enthuse about the political speeches and the workplace scenes, the domestic lives of the working people are an important and powerful part of the story. The next two chapters of our adaptation introduce the reader to the homes and families of some people introduced in Chapter One.
The domestic scenes are pivotal to the book, as they show the real life effects of what Owen has been talking about. It’s easier to understand the arguments he makes once you’ve experienced the stress of a life on the breadline. Tressell was so descriptive in his original text that he practically tells us every tiny detail of every room of their houses and workplaces, which helps with the task of drawing them. Depicting the characters at home with their wives and children, in their ‘civvies’ at the end of a hard day, is great fun and gives us an opportunity to expand on their characters.
The second chapter begins with Owen taking pity on a starving kitten in the rain. His empathy for the poor creature mirrors his mission; he’s on his way to Old Linden’s house to let him know where he might find a new job after his shocking dismissal in Chapter One. The scene contrasts Owen’s atheism with the Lindens’ religion. Their rented cottage is homely, warm and overpopulated. We meet Linden’s wife, his widowed daughter-in-law Mary, and his grandchildren. We learn Linden’s son Tom died in the Boer War leaving Mary and the children wholly dependent upon Linden. Old Mrs Linden’s faith in God to ‘provide’ is demonstrably futile but Owen politely chooses not to point that out.
In the second half of the chapter we meet Owen’s wife and child, waiting for him in their top floor flat. Owen’s home is very small but lovingly decorated, with bookshelves and a stencilled ceiling. Owen’s wife Nora and their son Frankie discuss the unfairness of poverty and the hypocrisy of religion. When Owen returns home bearing the kitten, the affectionate greeting he receives shows how much the precocious Frankie adores his father.
Chapter Three introduces us to Easton’s terraced house. Easton’s young wife Ruth and their crotchety baby are struggling to make ends meet at home, and she has an apron full of final demands. This is one of our favourite scenes, as the argument that follows is so familiar and relatable. Not having enough coming in to meet the family’s basic needs means inevitable debt and careful juggling — but people are so quick to blame bad management. The feeling of hopelessness and frustration really comes over in the circular confusion around what is overdue, what is owed, and what must be found for the weeks to come — a situation too many families will be very familiar with today.
The chapter ends with a tragic-comic scene that leaves us to reflect on how precarious, difficult and expensive it is to be part of the working poor. Easton’s clock in knackered, but since he’s broke he cannot replace it. Easton is terrified of sleeping-in and getting the sack. Sure enough, the clock stops, and in a blind panic he gets up for work in the middle of the night — only to be escorted home by a suspicious and scornful policeman. His experience is uncomfortably close to the modern equivalences such as loosing a job or getting a benefit sanction because you have to rely on an unreliable car.
Easton is a fairly tragic character. He’s desperate to be dignified, and in some ways he’s trying so hard he’s a bit pompous, but Scarlett seems determined to burst his bubble. She seems to do everything in her power to make him look silly. If there is an opportunity to put him in a funny position, she’ll do it!