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The ninth chapter is the first section where Comenius is more expansive. In this episode he
details of the Order of the Tradesmen. While Comenius spends more time amidst what might be seen as white-collar associations, he starts his story in the practical end of the world. Today this is portrayed as where all the sweating and dying goes on. Right away, Pilgrim starts to dissect the reality of what he sees, “that all the work of men was for his stomach.”
While perceptions today often pit the poor against the one-percenters, let’s see what Comenius does in his observations of the classes. While the wealthy and powerful may feed upon the worker, it is the ultimate measuring stick of God that seems to level the playing field in a proposition neither can escape.
The Craftsmen & Sailors
Comenius himself was a man of refinement and education. However, he made a serious effort to understand the working man and show the conditions under which they worked during their lives. He commiserates with the working class by illustrating their labors and difficulty. Pilgrim visits blacksmiths, miners, builders, and craftsmen during this part of his trek.
After the initial installment with craftsmen, Mr. Ubiquitous senses a wanderlust within Pilgrim. He suggests a tour with the sailors and longshoremen who work with freight and the movement of goods. Pilgrim then boards a freighter and sets sail. The world is depicted simply as a walled city of interconnected avenues. In another unexplained or unexplainable detail, it does not figure out how this part of the story works because the labyrinth of the world does not seem to involve oceans or large bodies of water.
Nevertheless, Comenius uses this involvement to further illustrate his point. This section also features another illustration. Comenius associates his own overwhelming situation in his travels to England, allegorized by the billowing gale Pilgrim experienced. Later notes concerning this section divulge Comenius’s association between the two.
Neither of these involvements with the tradesmen or sailors appeal to Pilgrim. It is likely because such did not appeal to the type of person Comenius was in real life. Comenius was trying to illustrate that Pilgrim found these practical involvements did not escape contributing to the vanity, violence, and destruction of the world and its order. While the higher classes enjoy fancy things, the craftsmen and tradesmen do not escape their vanity because they fashion the babbles and finery the upper crust seeks and collects. Comenius never calls into question the ability to work with one’s hands or to be excellent in a craft. However, he points out how craftsmen often seek riches by applying their abilities towards providing the rich and famous with newer and more ingenious objects.
While many moderns today are wrapped up by arguments based around dialectical materialism—the played-up imbalance between rich and poor (bourgeoisie and proletariat)—Comenius reverts to a different analysis. The meaningful over the superfluous is not so nuanced or ethereal in the hands of Comenius. The haves and have nots are just as wanting for the truly meaningful and less having of that which transcends in comparison to the temporal, which is here today and gone tomorrow. The temporal over the eternal is a constant theme throughout the book. The comparison of the former to the latter is like polishing brass on a sinking Titanic. Who cares about the balance between rich and poor? They were both just as dead side-by-side in fridge waters. What was the meaning of their lives in the ultimate sense?
All told, Comenius is less cynical about “the working class” than he is about most the rest of the people he has Pilgrim meet in the rest of the story. This fact is rather interesting. Comenius’s point is that the working class is just as wanting a seeming untouchable value as the richest of the rich. What are we to make of this guttural gnawing in the hearts of men? Comenius digs at this ultimate issue. What is exposed is that the basis for class warfare in the hands of the thought leaders today does nothing to resolve these matters. Whether we are handy or politicians, we will end up mining our reality for something as elusive as the wind. Comenius continually calls for us to consider this 800 lbs. gorilla in everyone’s room.
I can hardly do Comenius justice. The prose and narrative are so rich that I hope you would pick up the book yourself to see what you’re missing.