The later half of the nineteenth century and early half of the twentieth century marked a period of great change in the United States. The demography was drastically affected by the influx of immigrants who left their homelands in search of a new life. People off all nationalities, languages, and colors came together as a newfound community to live work amongst one another, regardless of differences. Men sacrificed their homeland at the expense of providing for their families, their ultimate mission.
With this new life brought hopes of freedom, opportunity, and work. In modern society, money and material wealth are always at the center of life. The American dream is no longer characterized by a Leave it to Beaver lifestyle, but rather much larger in scale. The world we live in today is a capitalistic society that targets itself at making enormous profits off the funds of consumers.
Americans want to be rich so that they can gain more for themselves to fulfill their greed, which never can be fully satisfied. The majority of people in today’s society can be characterized as the “Takers” of the world. This situation that has grown to be the common way of life has blossomed over time into the mess that we observe today. Greed did not always rule society the way it does today. Literature and memoirs from a by-gone era prove this to be especially true. In reviewing such works, much emphasis is placed upon community and family. The man was conventionally the head of the household and would labor intensely to earn the needed resources to supply for his family.
None the less, families tended to be larger in those days with the mother at the forefront of household and child duties. Given this, these early people can be easily characterized as “Givers.” Marie Tomasi’s Like Lesser Gods illustrates this way of life through the men that came to Granitetown Vermont from lands far away in search of work at the granite quarries. The infinite amount of work was immeasurable which gave security to the people who came to work in this new land of Vermont.
In turn, this brought self-fulfillment to the people who worked there. Mr. Tiff recalled a letter he had received from Pietro while in Italy that characterizes his feelings:”It is beautiful, this Vermont granite we work, and its lifetime is that of the pyramidsYou ask me if here I am content? I am happy at my work, and happy with my family.
Therefore, according to your own teaching that two united affirmatives can but result in a more positive affirmative-I am happy man, Maestro! (Tomasi 13)The words of Pietro to Mr. Tiff clearly illustrate his happiness for his job and his family in America. However, tucked away in the woodwork of this great new world also lay risks that were not doubt unfixable. Pietro’s happiness was plagued by the notions of Maria that consistently worried about his health as a result of working with granite that came to be known as dusty lungs. “We can dress always in our Sunday best, and you can sell bread to the living instead of cutting stones for the dead” (Tomasi 14). With his family in immediate concern, Pietro felt strongly that he would be foolish to seek a lower salary when there were five mouths to feed (Tomasi 14).
Again, this indicates Pietro’s role as a Giver.The jobs that the Granitetown men held were valuable, rewarding, and risky all at the same time. Young boys saw their fathers marvel at the wonders of their world, yet were deterred from playing in the quarries or dreaming of following in their footsteps. Knives and chisels disappeared from their playroom. They were replaced with other gifts (Tomasi 48). A granite worker at this time was truly living in a two-fold world making the most of the now.
Stonecutters were all the same. Men against granite. They hated to admit defeat (Tomasi 165). Pietro’s quality of work long surpassed the work of the man that simply sells goods in a store for another to consume. His dynamic work not only made him happy, but it also offered many lasting rewards that maintained his balance. “For me there can never be anything like cutting a beautiful stone and knowing it will last, as I have fashioned it, long after all of us have gone” (Tomasi 20). This reward painted a mental image of Pietro not only as a granite worker digging an early death, but that of a skilled artist, a martyr. Dorothy Canfield Fisher made a similar claim in her story The Bedquilt.
Mehetabel, a woman of sixty-eight, also became an artist in her home and her community through her work in creating a patchwork bedquilt. The bedquilt was made from old clothes that belonged to various members of her family. Mehetabel did not only execute the very design but she also conceived it. Formerly, no true emphasis was placed on her role in the household, except for quiet old maid taken in by the family out of respect. However, when the family caught sight of her contribution, they all became intrigued by what she had to share.Mehetabel’s work indeed took her on a rewarding journey from a nobody to a somebody who gained self-esteem. The old woman sat straighter in her chair, held up her head.
She was part of the world at last. She joined in conversation and her remarks were listened to (Fisher 38). The quilt that she worked so hard on was an inspiration to her and gave meaning to her life as well. She treasured every God given minute she had to work on her fine creation. Every time she opened the door, no matter what weather hung outside the one small window, she always saw the small room flooded with sunshine (Fisher 36).The quilt became the center of life for Mehetabel as well as for the local people.
This praise was no doubtedly more attention than she had ever received. The simple fact that the finished quilt was going to be displayed at the local county fair was more than this old woman could fathom. But her lips were set in a blissful smile (Fisher 40). With this, she hurried to complete every last snitch until it was at last completed: She had truly created a future heirloom in which to treasure.At completion, the quilt was immediately taken out of the possession of Mehetabel. “They took it away so quick! I hardly had one good look at it myself” (Fisher 39).
In was done in such the similar fashion that a newborn child is taken from his mother after birth. After carrying it for 9 months, it is suddenly taken from the person who lovingly cared for it. The quilt was her baby, just as granite was Pietro’s baby. This caused a temporary void in the life of Mehetabel who began to feel the fulfillment of her creation.Mehetabel longed to see her quilt at the fair and to journey outside of the home that she had been so stationary at for so many years.
Upon arrival, she was greeted by many who bombarded her with questions regarding her artistic talents. “It was just perfect! Finer even than I thought” (Fisher 40). She fixed her eyes on the quilt and gazed at her newborn baby for the first time. Mehetabel worked very hard and was finally enjoying the rewards of fulfillment and gratifying self worth.The Washed Window, a story that Dorothy Canfield Fisher heard several times while growing up in Vermont also deals with the nature and meaning of hard work to create rewards. It is the story of a young Negro Booker T.
Washington coming of age after the Civil War had concluded. At that time, he was working at a mine owned by General Ruffner. Education was very limited seen as though public schools were not open to colored people.
The only option was to learn their letters in a very crowded, unequipped room full of Negroes.After learning his letters, Washington caught word that Mrs. Ruffner took an interest in the education of the Negroes that worked for her. The pay was five dollars, but he decided to pursue the opportunity regardless. “What could be worse than the way I was living and the hopelessness of anything better in the future?” (Fisher 206).
In this scenario, the character has no one else to please except for himself. Therefore, this reaction symbolizes his earnest desire to better himself. Mrs. Ruffner assigned him the task of cleaning out the shed. Washington had never experienced a clean environment, and therefore did not understand what clean meant to her. After several attempts, she made it clear to him what clean meant. Through this came a sparkling revelation in how to actually make decisions for himself in judging the cleanliness of the shed.
“What made me sweat was the work I had to do with my mind. Always before, when somebody had given me a piece of work to do, he had stood right there to do all the thinking” (Fisher 208). Without knowing it, this work that she bestowed upon him may have been the best lesson of all in learningTo complete the cleaning task, he finished by washing the glass window, something he had never experienced living in a hut of squalor. “To me it looked like a parlor.
I was proud of it. Till then, I had never been proud of anything I had done” (Fisher 210). The final touches on the window exclaimed the new light that had been projected through this poignant learning experience. “Lessons of as great value to me as any education I ever had in all my life” (Fisher 210). Mehetabel and Pietra similarly felt this fulfillment that marked Washington alike. Each person was incredibly different in nature and background, yet exemplified the nature of meaning and work as it applied to their lives.
In turn, it made them stronger people who gave of themselves to form their individual identities. These Vermonters shine on with a unique simplicity and provide inspiration alike for readers exploring life projected from a day gone by. The are all stories of wonderful people and very beautiful artists as well.