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Chapter 15, Part Two

A study of a book by GK Chesterton.

Chapter 15, Part Two

Postby The Bigsleep J » 07 Apr 2007, 12:00

Okay, I’ve procrastinated with this enough, so here goes....

From a distance the policemen saw a man, drenched in the red glow of the fire, approach them, and Syme recognised him as Gregory, the true anarchist, unheard of from the third chapter of the story, where it all began. Gregory begins to state that he hates them, and then accuse the policemen of having it easy. Syme jumps up and declares that the anarchist is a liar and that their suffering is equal, if not greater, than his own. He then turns to Sunday and confronts him with the question, “Have you ever suffered?” Sunday then answered this question, as part of the vision, with “Can ye drink the cup I drink off?” Suddenly Syme finds that it all has been a dream, of sorts, but that his whole view of the world has changed in some way.

Finally Gregory makes his appearance into the story for the last time as Syme’s adversary. He is linked to symbolically represent Satan by both Bull, who quotes a Bible verse from the Book of Job, and by the red glow of the large fire. I don’t believe Gregory is meant to be taken as Satan in the first part of the story, though he does play that role in the end. In the first part he seemed to naive to be Satan, even if he was serious in his anarchism. There he was still a human being. But this Gregory at the end seeems to be the Supreme Anarchist, one going beyond mere grudges and politics into true evil, to such a point that the existence of his own sister seems inconsequential. Does Chesterton suggest that anarchism is ultimately, even if for a good cause, the work of the devil, or does he suggest (on a spiritual level) that even good intentions can lead to evil.

This is off course echoed when Gregory says that “the unpardonable sin of the supreme power is that it is supreme.” This makes him more like Satan / Lucifer, who represents the ultimate form of selfish rebellion. He accuses them also of being safe, of seemingly being unable to suffer as much as he because they have life easy, being the men in power. On a spiritual level this does echo the feeling many who have had hard times have when they said that people who believe in God never suffered (and always come from the upper and middle classes). Chesterton, being something of a socialist himself (which distributism, which he supported, is) disliked and distrusted the rich very much (his book Utopia of Userers is more or less devoted to this) and possibly he himself shared in some degree Gregory’s complaints.

Syme’s answer levels out Gregory’s complaint, and points out that they themselves have suffered, and that they were discussing this before he came and accused them of complacency. He compares the whole affair they had with a torture device called the wheel, which also echoes Sunday’s earlier words about the cosmos being an engine of torture. This is actually connected to the Catholic idea (though shared by many other Christians) of ‘salvation through suffering’, and that this world is nothing more than a spiritual test for us.

First I’d like to focus on this paragraph of Syme’s speach in particular:

“I see everything,” he cried, “everything that there is. Why does each thing on the earth war against each other thing? Why does each small thing in the world have to fight against the world itself? Why does a fly have to fight the whole universe? Why does a dandelion have to fight the whole universe? For the same reason that I had to be alone in the dreadful Council of the Days. So that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist. So that each man fighting for order may be as brave and good a man as the dynamiter. So that the real lie of Satan may be flung back in the face of this blasphemer, so that by tears and torture we may earn the right to say to this man, ‘You lie!’ No agonies can be too great to buy the right to say to this accuser, ‘We also have suffered.’


This is a focus again on the possibility that each man has potential to be “a police-man” or “an anarchist”, namely it is about free will, and that living in a world (which in a symbolical sense is also somewhat free to do what it wants) is in part the same. And because of this Christians can’t be accused that we have things easy and look at things through rose-coloured glasses, because they live in the same universe as everyone else. In a sense it reminds me of something the Japanese Catholic, Shusaku Endo, said (though contextually it is about weakness and strength, but it also touch on the question of suffering)

“There are neither the weak nor the strong. Can anyone say that the weak do not suffer more than the strong?”

Finally Syme himself confronts Sunday with this question, and this was arguably one of the most puzzling things in the book for me, at first. At first I thought it was Sunday who asked the question, but came to learn (thanks to Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of the book) that it was Syme who said this. That make what happened next to Syme make sense. When Syme asked Sunday, the Peace of God, if he suffered, Sunday ‘answers’ by letting the poet experience for a few seconds the excruciating, horrifying pain of what Christ must have suffered on the cross. This is established by (what Martin Gardner pointed out to be the only quote from the New Testament) the verse which asks: “Can ye drink of the cup I drink of?” The ‘cup’ was off course the suffering that happened to Christ on that Good Friday so long ago. So even the Son of the God (and thus also God) has suffered like everyone else.

Finally Syme awakes and finds (somewhat) that he had spent the evening talking with Gregory and that it was now morning, and that he was still in Saffron Park. However this is not like waking from a dream, but waking up to something greater.

“But Syme could only feel an unnatural buoyancy in his body and a crystal simplicity in his mind that seemed to be superior to everything that he said or did. He felt he was in possession of some impossible good news, which made every other thing a triviality, but an adorable triviality.”


What this paragraph means, personally, is that Syme has now matured spiritually. At first he came towards Christianity out of some way of rebelling against his parents and was willing to fight almost militantly against those who he felt challenged Christianity in a youthfull way. But now he’s matured and have gone past that, and now everything seems new and different. He and Gregory gets along peacefully and seem to agree to disagree about some triviality (much like Chesterton and his good friend, George Bernard Shaw). This is what may Christians refer to as being born, though not in the general sense, but in a more complex fashion. He now sees “everything that there is” with possibly the paradoxical clarity of it being part of something Greater and Trustworthy that he can’t fully see or comprehend.

Does that sound too paradoxical? I may have missed something. Any questions?
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Postby Sven » 07 Apr 2007, 12:54

Great wrap up to a great study, Johnnie! Many thanks for all the work you've done.

I'll just offer the following, written by Chesterton and published in the 'Illustrated London News' on June 13th 1936, the day before he died. It's part of a book review of Edmund Clerihew Bentley's novel Trent's Own Case.

G. K. Chesterton wrote:...I happened to dedicate to Mr. Bentley, in those distant days, a book called The Man Who Was Thursday; it was a very melodramatic sort of moonshine, but it had a kind of notion in it; and the point is that is described, first a band of the last champions of order fighting against what appeared to be a world of anarchy; and then the discovery that the mysterious master both of the anarchy and the order was the same sort of elemental elf; who had appeared to be rather too like a pantomime ogre. This line of logic, or lunacy, led many to infer that this equivocal being was meant for a serious description of the Deity; and my work even enjoyed a temporary respect among those who like the Deity to be so described. But this error was entirely due to the same cause; that they had read the book but had not read the title-page. In my case, it is true, it was a question of a sub-title rather than a title. The book was called The Man Who Was Thursday: a Nightmare. It was not intended to describe the real world as it was, or as I thought it was even when my thoughts were considerably less settled than they are now. It was intended to describe the world of wild doubt and despair which the pessimists were generally describing at that date: with just a gleam of hope in some double meaning of the doubt, which even the pessimists felt in some fitful fashion. The matter was fully stated in some rather bombastic verses which I addressed to Mr. Bentley at the time; and I may be excused for mentioning them here in this connection; as a salutation and a memorial of old times.


I know many editions of the book don't have the dedication poem included, the "bombastic verses" mentioned at the end of the quote above. Here it is for those who don't have it:

G. K. Chesterton wrote:To Edmund Clerihew Bentley

A cloud was on the mind of men, and wailing went the weather,
Yea, a sick cloud upon the soul when we were boys together.
Science announced nonentity and art admired decay;
The world was old and ended: but you and I were gay;
Round us in antic order their crippled vices came--
Lust that had lost its laughter, fear that had lost its shame.
Like the white lock of Whistler, that lit our aimless gloom,
Men showed their own white feather as proudly as a plume.
Life was a fly that faded, and death a drone that stung;
The world was very old indeed when you and I were young.
They twisted even decent sin to shapes not to be named:
Men were ashamed of honour; but we were not ashamed.
Weak if we were and foolish, not thus we failed, not thus;
When that black Baal blocked the heavens he had no hymns from us
Children we were--our forts of sand were even as weak as eve,
High as they went we piled them up to break that bitter sea.
Fools as we were in motley, all jangling and absurd,
When all church bells were silent our cap and beds were heard.

Not all unhelped we held the fort, our tiny flags unfurled;
Some giants laboured in that cloud to lift it from the world.
I find again the book we found, I feel the hour that flings
Far out of fish-shaped Paumanok some cry of cleaner things;
And the Green Carnation withered, as in forest fires that pass,
Roared in the wind of all the world ten million leaves of grass;
Or sane and sweet and sudden as a bird sings in the rain--
Truth out of Tusitala spoke and pleasure out of pain.
Yea, cool and clear and sudden as a bird sings in the grey,
Dunedin to Samoa spoke, and darkness unto day.
But we were young; we lived to see God break their bitter charms.
God and the good Republic come riding back in arms:
We have seen the City of Mansoul, even as it rocked, relieved--
Blessed are they who did not see, but being blind, believed.

This is a tale of those old fears, even of those emptied hells,
And none but you shall understand the true thing that it tells--
Of what colossal gods of shame could cow men and yet crash,
Of what huge devils hid the stars, yet fell at a pistol flash.
The doubts that were so plain to chase, so dreadful to withstand--
Oh, who shall understand but you; yea, who shall understand?
The doubts that drove us through the night as we two talked amain,
And day had broken on the streets e'er it broke upon the brain.
Between us, by the peace of God, such truth can now be told;
Yea, there is strength in striking root and good in growing old.
We have found common things at last and marriage and a creed,
And I may safely write it now, and you may safely read.

G. K. C.
Rat! he found breath to whisper, shaking. Are you afraid?
Afraid? murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.
Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet -- and yet -- O, Mole, I am afraid!
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
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Postby The Bigsleep J » 08 Apr 2007, 16:29

Thanks for posting those, Sven! :) I should try to look up the complete article someday, if such a thing is possible.
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Job questions Sunday

Postby Kanakaberaka » 09 Apr 2007, 03:52

Although Sunday makes numerous statements on his own in this final chapter, he answers almost all questions with questions of his own. Chesterton wrote about this in his Introduction to the Book of Job -
When, at the end of the poem, God enters (somewhat abruptly), is struck the sudden and splendid note which makes the thing as great as it is. All the human beings through the story, and Job especially, have been asking questions of God. A more trivial poet would have made God enter in some sense or other in order to answer the questions. By a touch truly to be called inspired, when God enters, it is to ask a number more question on His own account. In this drama of skepticism God Himself takes up the role of skeptic.

So the six phiosopher/policemen find their questions answered with more questions from Sunday. This is especialy profound when he quotes "Can ye drink of the cup I drink of ?"

Also, the arrival of Gregory as the accuser adds to the Book of Job symbolism. It reminded me of the begining where Satan stands in the presence of God along with all the other angels. Gregory is discribed as wearing the same sort of outfit that Sunday's servants wear, yet Gregory's uniform is sable (black) rather than blue. It sounds like Chesterton is trying to say that Gregory has the same station or rank that Sunday's servants have, but has somehow darkend his purpose. Gregory also posseses a sword as the other servants do. This could symbolize that he has the same powers that they do.

Finally, Sunday's face is likened to "the colossal mask of Memnon" which it was also compared to in Chapter 5. I had trouble looking up this artifact. But after a bit of determined Googling I figured that Chesterton must have been refering to the bust of Ramesses II in the British Museum. It's known as "The Younger Memnon" and although it's not a mask, it is a huge stone face 8 3/4 feet high and 6 2/3 feet wide, weighing 7.25 tons! It impressed Shelley enough to write his poem Ozymandias. And would certainly have impressed any youngster seeing such an artifact for the first time. I wonder if Chesterton had seen it himself at an impressionable young age? Here's a picture of "Memnon" from the British Museum -

Image

Gabrial Syme's awakening at the end has me wondering though about where reality began and ended. Usualy when there is a dream sequence in a book, the protagonist wakes up at the point he left reality for fantasy. Syme finds himself back in Saffron Park at dawn. He walks with Gregory as a friend engaged in small talk. And yet Syme's nightmare began before this point in the story, when he heard the voice of Sunday in that darkened room. Was that meeting simply an earlier dream? Or was it a false flashback within Syme's nightmare? Rather than clearing things up this ending has me wondering about the whole experience.
Last edited by Kanakaberaka on 23 Apr 2007, 16:02, edited 1 time in total.
so it goes...
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Postby The Bigsleep J » 12 Apr 2007, 06:17

Thanks for the quote from the Introduction to the Book of Job. It does sum-up elements of the chapter. :)

Also, the arrival of Gregory as the accuser adds to the Book of Job symbolism. It reminded me of the begining where Satan stands in the presence of God along with all the other angels. Gregory is discribed as wearing the same sort of outfit that Sunday's servants wear, yet Gregory's uniform is sable (black) rather than blue. It sounds like Chesterton is trying to say that Gregory has the same station or rank that Sunday's servants have, but has somehow darkend his purpose. Gregory also posseses a sword as the other servants do. This could symbolize that he has the same powers that they do.


Good Observation, actually. I agree with it.

Not much I can ad, though. :)
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TH-th-th-th-that's all, folks!

Postby Kanakaberaka » 12 Apr 2007, 14:08

The Bigsleep J wrote:Not much I can ad, though.


Considering that this is the final chapter of the study, you must admit that's the best thing anyone could say :read: .
so it goes...
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Postby The Bigsleep J » 12 Apr 2007, 18:41

Gotcha, man! :toothy-grin:

*plays The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down and brings the curtain down on all of this*
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