Mabel Dodge Writes on Working for a Living

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Title

Mabel Dodge Writes on Working for a Living

Subject

Labor, Politics, and Journalism

Description

Despite Antique Wording, Dodge Sheds Light on Labor Injustice

Dodge uses her column for the Washington News to shed light on the injustice of labor in a capitalist system. Despite “fluffy” wording and some racist undertones, the ideas Dodge presents and explores are radical and important. She is using her voice to humanize the plight of lower class laborers and other ethnicities. Though Dodge does make a parallel between the plight of factory workers and rich men, she does so in order to try to reach the upper class readers of the Washington News. These more affluent readers are the people who would best be able to provide assistance to reformers and lower class workers. Dodge serves as a bridge between people with drastically different backgrounds throughout her life. The work she does to humanize the issues of labor for the upper class is effective as an alternative to the combative tone of organizations like the I.W.W. Organizations like these promoted radical discourse about socialism and anarchy. The average American was intimidated by the combative approaches of organizations like the I.W.W. Dodge works around those fears by portraying the plight of the workers rather than the systems that created their situation. The “questioning” tone that Dodge’s piece takes also illustrates how Dodge wasn’t always the most concrete writer, but she was good at holding an audience’s attention.

The first example Dodge provides for unfulfilled people are, “The factory girl is earning nine dollars a week” and “The negroes remaking the Albany post road.” By attributing their lack of fulfillment to the confining conditions of their labor, Dodge illustrates how American production based mentality was taking advantage of and oppressing these specific groups of people. Dodge further conveys how factory labor deprives individuals of fulfillment by drawing attention to the mechanical nature of these two labor examples. Dodge describes the factory worker as “deadened by the relentless machinery that grinds her soul out of her.” Dodge illustrates the monotonous and unfulfilling nature of the labor intensive work of “the negroes,” when she writes how “They [“the negroes”] dig and shovel and carry bricks to and fro and lay them down again and the road grows.” Dodge uses depictions of the labor to create sympathy for these individuals and illustrate how they are unable to engage in self-exploration because of the oppressive nature of how they have to make money to survive. Dodge is radical enough to assert that these people are not actually “alive” because of how much society has stripped them of autonomy. Dodge repeats the phrase, “They are not making a living.”

Dodge draws a parallel between the lack of fulfillment of factory workers and the lack of fulfillment of office workers when she continues, “Even that rich man riding down in his motor to the office where he stays all day trying to make more money he is not earning a living!” This parallel is somewhat problematic because she is equating the strife of a factory worker to that of a privileged office worker. They both might not have fulfilling lives but it’s not really just to compare horrific working conditions to the boredom of sitting at a desk all day. Despite being hyperbolic and a bit exaggerated, the comparison is important because it provides an access point for more wealthy and upper class readers to identify with the struggles of the lower class. Dodge does not “other” the laborers, but rather puts their lack of fulfillment in their “jobs” on the same level as the readers of the paper. Dodge understands that at their core, humans seek to feel close to other humans and that understanding can only come through seeing connections. Dodge is a master connector, and this article is just one testament to her ability to facilitate relationships between people of starkly different backgrounds.

The conclusion Dodge reaches about “singing” during labor is idealistic and incredibly idealistic and unhelpful to individuals facing truly oppressive work conditions, like silk factory workers in Paterson. Dodge reveals her privilege when she writes that, “It doesn’t matter what the work is, if you enjoy it you are earning your living for you are expressing yourself in a kind of song that is true to nature and to life.” This suggests that maybe there would be some people content as factory workers. Dodge’s approach also suggests that happiness and contentment is something that an individual simply needs to create for themselves. Though Dodge displays some understanding of the oppressive nature of the system of production, her conclusion about needing to “sing like a bird” also draws attention to her in ability to fully comprehend the plight of marginalized groups she attempts to advocate for.

Creator

Mabel Dodge

Source

Library of Congress

Publisher

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

Date

30 August 1917

Rights

Library of Congress

Format

Text

Language

English

Type

Column

Text Item Type Metadata

Text

Mabel Dodge Writes on Working for a Living
Do you know what that phrase means?
The factory girl is earning nine dollars a week, but she is not working for her living. It is not a question of the nine dollars either.
If she got ninety dollars a week and remained in those close rooms, deadened by the relentless machinery that grinds her soul out of her—she would not be earning her living.
The negroes remaking the Albany post road.
They dig and shovel and carry bricks to and fro and lay them down again and the road grows.
They however are not working for their living.
Even that rich man riding down in his motor to the office where he stays all day trying to make more money he is not earning a living!
A living is something subtle and mysterious and yet the simplest thing in the world.
Money doesn’t give it to you though of course money is necessary to it, because one must eat to live.
But just eating doesn’t give it to you!
I will tell you who is working for a living and earning a living.
The birds do it. They fly around in the exercise of their instinct to preserve themselves; they search here and they search there. They find food for themselves and they take food home to their young.
They work hard, but their work is the exercise of their instincts. They love to do it!
And flying makes them sing!
Do you sing in the factory you factory workers?
Do you sing downtown in your office you rich man?
If anyone sings at work his work is giving him a living.
It doesn’t matter what the work is, if you enjoy it you are earning your living for you are expressing yourself in a kind of song that is true to nature and to life.

Original Format

Newspaper