Google+ Bookslingers Blog: Labour of... Gritted Teeth

Labour of... Gritted Teeth

Happy May Day, Bookslingers!

Not only is this a day where you can unabashedly dance around a maypole (as much as such a thing can be done unabashedly) but it is also a day to celebrate that fact that children are no longer legally allowed to work in mines in the US and Canada!

Labour has penchant for toques
This is the day where we salute those who fought for the  working day many of us "enjoy" today: eight hours of work, eight hours of pleasure/reading and eight hours of sleeping/reading.

And it was a fight. Peruse the Wikipedia article on History of Union Busting in the United States. And then this one.

So, having this in mind, you get a peak into the source of my ire towards Dear America: The Diary of Pringle Rose by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

Ostensibly, this is a book about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that killed hundreds of people and destroyed great swaths of the city. Unfortunately, the historical tragedy takes second billing to Pringle Rose's bizarre struggle with unions and domestic melodrama.

Part of my issue with the book was not the writing, which is solid and engaging, but with whose story was being told. It really brought me back to Bill Campbell's critique of another book in the Dear America series which tells the story of Japanese American Internment through the eyes of a priveledged, white protagonist. Though not to the same extent, the misplaced protagonist displaced the story from where it should have been.

Pringle Rose is the daughter of a rich mine owner in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The workers in his mines are on strike for better conditions and the situation is quickly descending into violence. Pringle is a world away in Merrywood School for Girls in Philadelphia but her life is overturned when her parents are killed in a mysterious carriage accident - her brother Gideon (who has Down Syndrome) is the sole survivor.

When her uncle arrives with his inevitably cruel wife, Pringle doesn't know if she can go on. Her only bright spot in a life darkened by grief is Rabbit, the handsome miner who courts her with Alice in Wonderland quotes. But when her aunt finds the letter to her friend detailing their little romance, Pringle decides to run away with her brother to Chicago to start a new life.

Seems like a hopping place... Hop right into the river, am I right, fleeing survivors?
She finds work as a nursemaid in the home of a labour newspaper publisher. But when their young male relative comes to visit, everything changes.

Oh, and Chicago burns to the ground.

So, why so grumpy Miss Corene?

Well, maybe because:

- Does Pringle really intellectually engage with the struggle of the workers? Nope. They are just a mass of threat to her family. Pringle hears about the working conditions and the mining disasters but doesn't sympathize or seek to understand what the unions are asking for. Why add the details to the story if you aren't going to engage with them?

- Why not tell the story from the point of view from an immigrant coming to the city? Or a child from one of those mines that Pringle's father owns who decides to leave that awful life for the city? Why did this story have to be told from a place of privilege and money? Does that help the story of the Great Chicago Fire? Pringle looses very little during the fire but what about the people whose lives were destroyed? Why not a story about picking up the pieces after the fire?

- Every person involved with a union is either charmingly childlike in their understanding of how the world works in compared with Pringle or treacherous, unreliable, dangerous jerks. That is all. Gwen and Peter Pritchard open their house to Pringle and her brother. They give them both lodging and employment. But the are portrayed as simplistic.However, Gwen's brother is revealed to be HIGHLIGHT FOR SPOILERS the murdering murderer of Pringle's parents and Rabbit. Rabbit is a murderer and he is the only person in the book actually involved in strike. FOR REALZ. So when this is revealed, the Pritchards kick Pringle to the curb and she wanders into the Great Fire to work out her sadness. And the Pritchards are portrayed as the villains. Damn working people sending rich girls to fiery deaths!

Let's all read Lyddie by Katherine Patterson instead.

Fighting for your right not to die of byssinosis
And Flesh & Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy.

Grumpily yours,
Miss Corene