01 Apr Ragged Children: the kids in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a story about a whole community of working class people, not only the waged men. We have written before about the women in the book, and today we’d like to introduce you to the children. Kids suffer the injustices of an economic system just as sharply as their parents, but have no power to change it. As well as being innocent bystanders, Tressell used children to represent the future – and as motivation for change.
Bert works an ‘apprentice’ at Rushtons, which means years of labour with no pay in exchange for learning a trade. Of course in reality he is used like a spindly beast of burden and taught nothing. His working conditions are often unsafe and they are certainly unfair. This is the best possible future that awaits all of the male children in the community – if they are lucky enough to survive that long.
Owen is fond of Bert, and takes an interest in him. He’s furious when he finds him being made to work in the cold, and he enjoys sharing his creative work with him in Sweater’s drawing room. Bert (being of such low status he’s practically invisible) hears everything, acts as lookout and is fiercely loyal to Owen and his friends.
Charley & Elsie Linden
The Lindens’ father was killed in the war, and when their grandfather loses his job the whole family becomes dependent upon the piecework sewing done by their mother. Inevitably that is not enough and they lose their home, and their grandparents to the workhouse. They are regulars at the Shining Light Chapel Sunday school, where good Christians such as Hunter and Belcher abuse their authority by taking pennies from children who already go without food.
As they grow, they take on responsibilities, and help their mother. Elsie in particular slides into the female role, taking care of the younger children and cleaning. It is clear that Elsie’s role in society will be just like her mother’s.
The only child of the artistic, creative and intellectual Owens, little Frankie is precocious, well dressed and over-confident. He is being raised to be class-conscious and to ask a lot of questions. He certainly thinks for himself, but it is clear to the reader that his future will be just like Bert’s before long and he is little suited to such hard labour.
Frankie hates his golden ringlets and velvet suit, and he admires Bert very much. He is, amongst the children of the book, privileged. He is in a position to invite them to a Christmas party and extend hospitality when they need it most. What he wants more than anything is a sibling to play with, and although his parents think they can’t afford a baby, Tressell’s plot has other ideas.
Freddy Easton is introduced to us as a crying baby. During the drawing of this book we took to calling him The Potato – he is always a burden and never a blessing! It was his conception that necessitated the Easton’s early marriage, and raising him is more than they can manage. It’s not his fault of course, but it’s horrible to watch as Slyme easily buys Freddy’s fickle favour with a rattle.
Freddy’s unfortunate, unwanted little sister is the product of a sexual assault. Her future depends on the charity of strangers, and she’s lucky to have been welcomed into a loving family of socialists.