The Spring of Our Discontent

Man reading John Steinbeck's "The Winter of Our Discontent" in the snow.

A book for now: John Steinbeck’s “The Winter of Our Discontent”

It’s been an awful week. On Monday the bedroom tax came into being. As did laws to limit access to the legal system for all but the wealthy. Benefits will no longer rise in line with inflation. Council tax benefit control passes to local councils with a reduction in funding so councils will have to reduce this benefit or make even more cuts to care services for adults. And 13,000 millionaires are looking forward to a £100,000 tax cut.

The rhetoric, vitriol, and downright lies from the Coalition has tapped in to the prejudices inherent within our culture to the point where disabled people are being verbally attacked  and where the majority support the cuts to the welfare state, even though they don’t actually understand them. People pride themselves on coming to their own conclusions, and yet that same pride stops them from realising that they haven’t.

The Labour Party, despite doing very little to fight all this (even abstaining from the workfare vote), now find themselves with a 12-point lead over the Tories. But I find no consolation in this. Labour stopped being relevant some time ago. Gordon Brown’s PFI scheme was the groundwork for the Big Sell-off. Ed Milliband – a choice the Union’s regret – has no new solutions, only the same broken neo-liberal ideas as the Tories. Maybe growing demands for a new left will have a positive effect before it’s too late.

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, we then had Chancellor George Osborne yesterday using the deaths of 6 children to try to gain political advantage and further demonise the poor. An awful week.

In John Steinbeck’s ‘The Winter of Our Discontent‘, Ethan Allen Hawley is a man of honesty and integrity, but under pressure from his family to climb the social ladder, and with all his supposed friends full of ideas of how he could do this, he succumbs, betraying and exploiting his way to wealth and power. When he discovers that his son won a nationwide essay contest by plagiarising classic American authors and orators, a conversation ensues with his son in which his son denies any kind of guilty feelings. The son maintains that everyone cheats and lies and that this is in fact the way of things. After seeing his own moral decay in his son’s actions, Ethan sets out to commit suicide.

In the final scene of the book, Ethan comes to realise that, “It isn’t true that there’s a community of light, a bonfire of the world. Everyone carries his own, his lonely own”. Ethan believes that the “world is full of dark derelicts”. As Ethan sits in his cave in the bay, he reaches into his pocket to get his razor blades and end his own life, but he discovers his daughter has swapped the razors for a talisman. Ethan realises that he has to get back to his daughter. “I had to fight the water to get out, and I had to get out. I rolled and scrambled and splashed chest deep in the surf and the brisking waves pushed me against the old sea wall. I had to get back and return the talisman. Else another light might go out.”

It is too late for dark derelicts like George Osborne and David Cameron. Their lights, if they ever had them, went out long ago. But our lights still shine don’t they? Even if maybe they flicker more than we’d like. We must make sure they don’t go out.

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3 comments

  1. ileneonwords

    Thank you so much for visiting me on my site today, John! Also, thanks for following me on Twitter!!! It’s nice to know someone in England is following my blog.

  2. annedeloremusing

    This post is something I worry about…I agree with you and I do hope more lights shine brightly soon

    I also agree that Labour lost its relevancy (or just gave in to superficial wealth and power) a long time ago…we do need a new leader to believe in, one that has true welfare of others at heart

    thanks for that

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