Thomas Carlyle’s Labour

What is Thomas Carlyle’s definition of work? Does Carlyle define work more narrowly or more broadly than we usually do today?
  • Carlyle’s definition of work is being in communication with nature. This is more broad that how we usually define it today. Today we are much more specific in our definition of work. Carlyle’s definition is not as specific. 
Discuss why you agree or disagree with Carlyle’s opening assertion that “there is a perennial nobleness, and even sacredness, in Work,” Do you believe that this statement applies more logically to certain professions, such as artistic or service ones? Does it matter to Carlyle what type of work a person does?
  • I personally agree with Carlyle’s assertion. In some lines of work, there can be a noble aspect  to it. Yes, logically, this assertion will be applied to certain professions. Take the military for example — people in the military are fighting for our country and protecting us. Men and women in the military are being noble. To Carlyle, it doesn’t matter what kind of work a person does. He explains that there is always a hope that a man works honestly. Carlyle sees the nobleness in every type of work. 
In the opening paragraph, Carlyle established that true work is a means to an end. Explain the logic that leads to his conclusion that work is both noble and sacred. Pay attention to Carlyle’s assumptions.
  • Carlyle’s logic that leads him to believe that work is a means to an end is that men are always looking to discover themselves. Carlyle says that when working, he perfects himself. Working is the means to the end of discovering/perfecting oneself. Carlyle assumes that man always wants to perfect himself. 
What is Carlyle’s point in a paragraph 2? How is he adding to his definition of work?
  • Carlyle’s point in paragraph 2 is that man can often become one with his work. Work can often consume us and this is the point that Carlyle is making. Carlyle states, “the whole soul of a man is composed into a kind of real
    harmony”… meaning that the whole man is composed into the work life. 
Discuss the appeals to pathos in paragraph 3. Pay attention to connotation, imagery, and figurative language. 
  • People are always worrying about what will become of the world. In this paragraph, Carlyle asks, “What would become of the Earth, did she cease to revolve?” Carlyle is getting at the pathos of his readers by asking what would become of the Earth. 
In paragraph 4, Carlyle develops an extended metaphor about the “Potter’s wheel” and destiny. Explain the figure and its effect.
  • In this metaphor, the Potter is the creator. In life, we are all trying to better serve our creator as he knows our destiny. The potter in this metaphor knows the destiny of all the pieces of clay. Not working will get you nowhere. Nothing will be accomplished. 
Carlyle ends paragraph 4 with the admonition, “Let the idle think of this.” What is his point? Why is that short, imperative sentence an effective way to make the point?
  • Carlyle’s overall thought of this piece is that we all work. We all want to work to the point that we don’t have to work anymore. Carlyle’s view of the idler is that they don’t really do much. When he says “Let the idle think of this,” he is in a way challenging them. In the sentence before, he is talking about a botch, something that is not carried out well, and then says for the idler to think of that. 

Identify the following rhetorical strategies in paragraph 5, and explain their effect: emotional language, sentence variety and pacing, analogy, rhetorical question, and personification.
  • Emotional language — in the opening line Carlyle speaks about patience and courage. 
  • Sentence variety — Sentence variety allows for there to be more “meaningful” arguments. If the whole paragraph is long sentences, the arguments aren’t going to make as big of an effect on the reader.
  • Pacing — By pacing, and not throwing out all his points at once, Carlyle is not overwhelming his readers.
  • Rhetorical question — “His very money, where is it to come from?” As with all rhetorical questions, they make the reader think. When the reader is asked a question, they actually have to stop and think, therefore making the argument slightly more influential. 
  • Personification — Carlyle personifies English lies and writes as though they can speak…simply making his point come across easier. 

Why, according to Carlyle, is “every noble work… at first impossible”?
  • You must work at your work for a while before it can seem to be noble. At first, it may seem like work is not noble however after a while, this may rub off and one can see their work as being noble. 
How would you describe Carlyle’s tone in this excerpt? Cite specific passages to support your position. 
  • I would describe Carlyle’s tone to be thoughtful and positive. Carlyle refers to what will become of the earth if it ceases to revolve. Carlyle seems to being thinking of things in a deep manner — being thoughtful. He is covering all aspects from work to Earth to our destiny. 
In what ways is Carlyle’s thinking utopian?
  • Utopian thinking is often a positive outlook on the future and what will become of us. Carlyle speaks to our destiny’s and what will become of our future. This is a part of utopian thinking. Carlyle is thinking of our destiny. 



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