Monday, October 25, 2010

The Man who was Thursday Essay- An Apology for Suffering

EDIT: I've recently been getting a lot of hits on this post from people searching for "Man who was Thursday paradox" or "Essay ideas for Man who was Thursday." Well, you have come to the right place.

The Man who was Thursday is the heart of Chesterton's Theodicy of Glory, a theme that is found in The Napoleon of Notting Hill, Orthodoxy, even The Ball and the Cross. To fight against insurmountable odds "has the splendour of God," and in doing so, the righteous justify themselves against the false accusation of the devil, that they have remained "safe."

Thursday is, essentially, Job, with the crucial addition of the cross, "the crux of the matter." When Job demands an answer of God, God replies with a flurry of questions, all unanswerable. Here, Sunday replies with just one question, but even more unanswerable. God's answer to the suffering of the world is not to stand aloof, but to descend into it and drink more deeply of the bitter cup than any mere man could do.

Also, if you're looking into Thursday's connection with Job, you have to check out Chesterton's Introduction to Job. Alright: END EDIT.

Alright, so as many of you know, I am here at Oxford. I am taking a class called "C.S. Lewis in context" and as part of this class, I read The Man who was Thursday and wrote an essay on it. This is that essay. I hope you enjoy.

In the Old Testament there is always the antithesis between the righteous God and the bitter things which man has to accept from Him without murmuring. In the passion story of the New Testament this antithesis is done away. It is God Himself who takes the place of the former sufferers and allows the bitterness of their suffering to fall upon Himself.
-Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.1, The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country

“Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?” Discuss the novel as an apology for suffering.
Bernard Bergonzi accurately summarizes Chesterton’s second novel, The Man who was Thursday (1908) as “[Chesterton’s] most obscure novel but… also his most popular.”[1] It has been read as many different things, ranging anywhere from a detective story or political satire to a “personal or private allegory,” representing Chesterton’s reaction to the “pessimism of the nineties,” or a political allegory of paranoia.[2] One reading, however, that often gets overlooked in the midst of all the other readings, is that of an apology for suffering.
The story focuses on Gabriel Syme, the “poet who had become a detective.”[3][4] The story begins with his encounter with the anarchic poet, Lucian Gregory, and a dispute about the very nature of poetry. The story quickly proceeds from there, and soon Syme has been elected as Thursday, one of the seven members of the Supreme Council of Anarchy and meets Sunday, the enormous President of the Council. As the story progresses, one after another of the members are revealed to be, like Syme, members of the police merely disguised as anarchists. At the very end, Sunday himself is revealed to be the very man who had first appointed them to the police force. Having an intense hatred of anarchists, he is part of a special branch of the police with the objective of eliminating the “high priesthood” of the Anarchists, those whose goals are “to destroy first humanity and then themselves.”
It is important at this point to note that as we discuss the theme of suffering, especially as it relates to Sunday and his role in the novel, we do not mean to imply that Sunday is a strict allegory for God—at least, not allegory as it was described by C. S. Lewis, which “gives you one thing in terms of another.”[5] Chesterton himself speaks out against this against “this line of logic, or lunacy, [which] led many to infer that [Sunday] was meant for a serious description of the Deity.” The book “was not intended to describe the real world as it was, or as I thought it was.” [6] Whatever Chesterton wishes the reader to get out of his novel, it is clear that Sunday does not have a 1:1 correlation with God, nor is the world portrayed in the novel meant to be taken as the “real world.” However, it seems clear that we can still learn something of God from Sunday and something of the real world from that in the novel.
As one reads The Man who was Thursday, it becomes apparent that one of the main problems the book raises is that of suffering. The problem of suffering is two-fold—not only do people suffer at the hands of the seemingly all-powerful ruler, but the ruler himself is calm and peaceful in the face of the suffering that he has caused. This complaint is first raised not by Gregory the Anarchist, but by Syme the anti-anarchist. Immediately before he is recruited by the police, a policeman bids him good-evening, and Syme explodes, telling him that if the river, red from the sunset, were literally running with blood, the policeman “would be standing here as solid as ever, looking out for some poor harmless tramp whom you could move on.” The complaint, voiced here by Syme, is that, in the face of suffering and chaos, the supposed forces for good and order, here played by the policeman, are unperturbed by the suffering. Their cruelty could be forgiven, Syme says, “were it not for [their] calm.” [7]
This initial complaint comes at the very beginning of Syme’s adventure—it doesn’t appear again until much later at the adventure’s end. Sunday, having led them on a chase this is from a blog: if this shows up in an essay, it's been copy/pasted from my site. ending in his “large old English garden,” has invited them to a “fancy dress ball” where they hold places as guests of honour, sitting on a bank in “seven great chairs, the thrones of the seven days.”[8] The Secretary, identified as almost coldly logical,[9] “turned in his chair towards Sunday, and said in a harsh voice: ‘Who and what are you?’” Sunday, without moving, responds, “I am the Sabbath. I am the peace of God.” At this, the Secretary stands up, “crushing his costly robe in his hand,” possibly a reference to the customary tearing of clothes as a sign of grief and distress seen in the Bible. In evident distress, he says that he knows what Sunday means, and “it is exactly that that I cannot forgive you.” He elaborates, saying that he knows that Sunday is “contentment, optimism, what do they call the thing—an ultimate reconciliation.” The Secretary, however, is not reconciled. He references the hardships they have gone through, emphasizing that Sunday was the cause of it all. He ends by saying that he could forgive God his anger, however terrible it might be, “but I cannot forgive Him His peace.”[10]
This, of course, is the same complaint Syme raised in the beginning, only elaborated and put into its proper context. Good men, not only followers of the Law but its defenders, have “wept, fled in terror, the iron entered into [their] souls”[11]—and here, at the cause of it all, unconcerned, content, and ultimately reconciled, is Sunday, the peace of God.
Very soon after this, the same complaint is raised again and for the last time, this time not from the defenders of the law but its enemy, Gregory, “the real anarchist.” This time, however, the complaint is not addressed merely towards Sunday, but towards all of the Seven. Gregory’s aims are simple: he “would destroy the world if [he] could.” He cries, “I know what you are all of you, from first to last—you are the people in power!” He is, it is revealed, the only true Anarchist out of all the named characters in the book. Everyone else is part of the police, the “great fat, smiling men in blue and buttons,” the people Gregory wants to pull down. The reason he wants to pull them down, to break them is that “You are the Law, and you have never been broken. But is there a free soul alive that does not long to break you, only because you have never been broken?” This, as he elaborate later, is the core of his complaint and, on reflection, the core of the previous two complaints as well. Gregory’s complaint is not that those in power are cruel, nor is it that they are kind, which again echoes the previous two complaints. Gregory curses them “for being safe! You sit in your chairs of stone, and you have never come down from them. You are the seven angels of heaven, and you have had no troubles. Oh, I could forgive you everything, you that rule all mankind, if I could feel for once that you had suffered for one hour a real agony such as I—”[12] Gregory’s main complaint “is that he alone has suffered; the detectives have all enjoyed the protection of divine providence.”[13]
Chesterton answers this complaint in two different ways, or in two different phases. First he addresses the suffering of men, both lawful and anarchists, in Syme’s excited rebuttal to Gregory’s claims. Syme begins by asking rhetorically why “each small thing in the world [has] to fight against the world itself?” In this question, he includes the isolation he and the other policemen felt in the Council of Days, where each of them thought himself alone among enemies. The reason, Syme says, is “so that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist.” The purpose of this is two-fold. The most obvious purpose is “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!’” Gregory’s complaint, remember, is not just against Sunday, but against all of the policemen—Syme sees his trials as the answer to Gregory’s “blasphemous” accusations, and Syme affirms that they are well worth it, saying, “No agonies can be too great to buy the right to say to this accuser, ‘We also have suffered.’”
The second reason for the isolation is inherent in Syme’s statement—so that they may have the “glory” of standing firm against evil. Although this appears at first glance to be merely a meaningless aside on Syme’s (and, through him, Chesterton’s) part, a closer reading of both this text and others reveals that this is not the case. Immediately following the Secretary’s complaint earlier, Sunday looks to Syme, who says that he does not feel “fierce” like the Secretary—in fact, he is grateful “for many a fine scamper and free fight.” We are reminded of Syme’s frantic flight from the Professor and his desperate duel with Dr. Bull—both horrifying incidents at the time, but in hindsight they are revealed as vehicles for the glory he now possesses as a result of his endurance. This theme of glory and honor found through suffering and isolation is found elsewhere in Chesterton’s writings as well. In Orthodoxy, Chesterton states, “The only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point—and does not break.”[14] Without a breaking point, without suffering and isolation, can there even be bravery? Chesterton seems to say there cannot. Seen in this light, the thanks Syme offers takes on a new aspect—he thanks Sunday not just for the “scampers” and fights, but for the glory gained, the bravery proved, neither of which he would have had otherwise.
Syme, then, addresses the suffering of men by demonstrating that it provides for men two things they could not have had otherwise. The first is vindication, a defense against the Accuser.[15] When the great enemy comes to accuse them of happiness, they may say, “We also have suffered.” The second is to earn glory and demonstrate bravery and honor in a way quite impossible without suffering. Glory is gained and bravery and honor demonstrated in no other way than through suffering.
However, there is still another aspect of the complaint. What of the peace of God? What answer can there be to that half of Gregory’s accusation? Surely we must say of God that he has never been broken, as Gregory does. Surely God is, as Gregory puts it, “safe?” Can Gregory the Accuser claim to have suffered while Sunday has not? Taking it one step further, can Satan the Accuser put the same claim to God? Syme says in response to Gregory, “It is not true that we have never descended from these thrones. We have descended into Hell… I can answer for every one of the great guards of the Law whom he has accused. At least—” Here he stops. He looks at “the great face of Sunday, which wore a strange smile.” As he speaks, with his halting, “dreadful” voice, it is not clear what unnerves him more—the possibility that Gregory is right, or the possibility that he is wrong. Seeming almost to dread the answer, he asks Sunday, “Have you ever suffered?” And as Sunday’s face fills the sky and everything goes black, Syme hears “a distant voice saying a commonplace text that he had heard somewhere, ‘Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?’”[16] With this line, “the mystery and magnitude of divine suffering suddenly confronts one afresh.”[17] Instantly the reader is reminded of the time that God did come down from his throne, the time that God was not safe. The reader is reminded of the time that God was broken, not upon a wheel, but upon a cross.
It is important to note that this is not an isolated incident in Chesterton’s works. The “mystery of the Incarnation and the suffering of God”[18] is something Chesterton, “famous for his exploitation of paradox,” kept returning to. He viewed the paradox of “an incarnate God who is born as a helpless infant and dies an ignominious death” to be absolutely central to the Christian faith. [19] Indeed, as The Man who was Thursday demonstrates, it is central not only to the Christian faith, but to the Christian understanding of suffering as well. In Orthodoxy, Chesterton says, “That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already.”[20] Indeed, we have just seen how Chesterton, in The Man who was Thursday, goes to a great deal of trouble to demonstrate just that, that “a good man may have his back to the wall.” However, Chesterton continues with the thing that makes Christianity unique among religions—the belief “that God could have his back to the wall.” Orthodoxy illuminates somewhat the ending of The Man who was Thursday. Chesterton states that “Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point—and does not break.” [21]
Given all of this talk of suffering, it is not surprising that Ian Boyd saw “echoes from the Book of Job” in the novel.[22] Indeed, the novel, especially the ending, has strong similarities to the biblical account of Job, which is described as “an honest discussion of why God allows good people to suffer.”[23] Chesterton, however, takes it even further. In The Man who was Thursday, he attempts to acknowledge Job and place it in a Christian context rather than a Jewish one—that is, in the context of a world into which the all-powerful God “is born as a helpless infant and dies an ignominious death.”[24] This is important, because the Christian world is the one in which God says “I too have suffered.”
Works Cited
Bergonzi, B., Chesterton, Gilbert Keith,,
accessed 17 October 2010.
Boyd, I., The Novels of G. K. Chesterton: A Study in Art and Propaganda. London: Elec Books Limited, 1975.
Chesterton, G. K., “Extract from an article by G. K. Chesterton concerning The Man who
was Thursday published in the Illustrated London News, 13 June 1936 (the day before his death),” as cited in G. K. Chesterton, The Man who was Thursday, London: Penguin Books, 1990.
Chesterton, G. K., Orthodoxy, “The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, Electronic Edition.”
Chesterton, G. K., The Man who was Thursday, “The Collected Works of G. K.
Chesterton, Electronic Edition.”
Hein, R., Christian Mythmakers, (Chicago: Cornerstone Press, 2002)
Lewis, C. S., “The Vision of John Bunyan,” R. Sharrock, ed., Bunyan: The Pilgrim’s
Progress. A Casebook, London and Basingstoke: The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1976 as cited in R. Hein, Christian Mythmakers, Chicago: Cornerstone Press, 2002.

[1] B. Bergonzi, Chesterton, Gilbert Keith,, accessed 17 October 2010.
[2] I. Boyd., The Novels of G. K. Chesterton: A Study in Art and Propaganda. (London: Elec Books Limited, 1975) 40.
[3] G. K. Chesterton, The Man who was Thursday, “The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, Electronic Edition.” 505.
[4] Ibid., 511.
[5] C. S. Lewis, “The Vision of John Bunyan,” R. Sharrock, ed., Bunyan: The Pilgrim’s Progress. A Casebook, (London and Basingstoke: The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1976) 197-8, as cited in R. Hein, Christian Mythmakers, (Chicago: Cornerstone Press, 2002) 14.
[6] “Extract from an article by G. K. Chesterton concerning The Man who was Thursday published in the Illustrated London News, 13 June 1936 (the day before his death),” as cited in G. K. Chesterton, The Man who was Thursday, (London: Penguin Books, 1990) 185.
[7] Chesterton, Thursday (Electronic), 506.
[8] Ibid., 626-9.
[9] Ibid., 628.
[10] Chesterton, Thursday (Electronic), 631-2.
[11] Ibid., 632.
[12] Chesterton, Thursday (Electronic), 633.
[13]R. Hein, Christian Mythmakers, (Chicago: Cornerstone Press, 2002)
[14] G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, “The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, Electronic Edition.” 343.
[15] The reader is reminded that one of the meanings for Satan in Hebrew is “Accuser.”
[16] Chesterton, Thursday (Electronic), 634.
[17] Hein, Mythmakers, 129.
[18] Boyd, Novels, 46.
[19] Bergonzi, Chesterton.
[20] Chesterton, Othodoxy (Electronic), 343.
[21] Ibid., 343.
[22] Boyd, Novels, 46
[23] The Holy Bible, “ESV Classic Reference Edition”, Introduction to the Book of Job. (Wheaton: Good News Publishers, 2001).
[24] Bergonzi, Chesterton.

No comments:

Post a Comment