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Anonymous asked in Arts & HumanitiesBooks & Authors · 1 decade ago

Help understanding C.K. Chesterton's "The Man Who was Thursday"?

What is the message he is trying to make and what is the allegory of the book?

What does Sunday represent?

1 Answer

  • 1 decade ago
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    That's G.K. (not "C.K.") Chesterton, by the way.

    The book is an allegory of one particular view of human existence and the struggle against evil. The problem it confronts is that, at least according to Christian doctrine, God is the creator of the whole universe and therefore, in some sense, can be regarded as responsible for evil as well as for good.

    Sunday, who describes himself in the last few pages as "the Sabbath" and "the peace of God," is both the organizer of the supposed anarchist group and the recruiter of each of its members to be a double agent within that group. All of them are apparently participating in the ongoing, necessary evil of human existence, but each is also seeking to undermine and convert that evil, and they are unaware that their fellows are also doing so.

    Sunday is plainly revealed as representing Jesus Christ by the transfiguration at the end, where the question, "Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?" is a direct reference to Matthew 20:22. In Christian theology, Jesus is both an agent of Creation ("All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made." John 1:3.) and the rescuer of humanity from the dominance of evil.

    Frankly, this whole view of the human condition and the conflict of good and evil makes me a bit uncomfortable. Judging from the debates in the Religion & Spirituality section of Answers, it affects a lot of other people the same way. I prefer to think of evil as arising, not so much as the result of some trumped-up dramatic tension for the purpose of developing human character, but as the consequence of genuine freedom of will. (In fairness to Chesterton, I must note here that there is also a real anarchist in the story in addition to those playing double-agent roles: evil is not entirely dismissed as a shadow play.)

    This difference of viewpoint might be a matter of historic trends. I'll supply three quotes in the source section. One is perhaps Chesterton's best statement in behalf of the ideas in this book. I think it makes a good case that, despite its not being my preferred way of looking at the matter, it does bring out some valuable thoughts.

    The other two quotes, from Christian writers over three decades later, discuss the free-will view. They are sufficiently similar, and sufficiently close in time, to make me think the preferred view might be a matter of social trends.

    Source(s): "Why does each thing on the earth war against each other thing? Why does each small thing in the world have to fight against the world itself? Why does a fly have to fight the whole universe? Why does a dandelion have to fight the whole universe? For the same reason that I had to be alone in the dreadful Council of the Days. So that each thing that obeys law may have the glory and isolation of the anarchist. So that each man fighting for order may be as brave and good a man as the dynamiter. So that the real lie of Satan may be flung back in the face of this blasphemer, so that by tears and torture we may earn the right to say to this man, 'You lie!' No agonies can be too great to buy the right to say to this accuser, 'We also have suffered.'" -- G. K. Chesterton, "The Man Who Was Thursday" (1908) Now, the mere fact that the choice of the "right" word is a choice implies that the writer is potentially aware of all the wrong words as well as the right one. [...] He is free, if he chooses, to call all or any of those wrong words into active being within his poem—just as God is free, if He likes, to call Evil into active being. But the perfect poet does not do so, because his will is subdued to his Idea, and to associate it with the wrong word would be to run counter to the law of his being. He proceeds with his creation in a perfect unity of will and Idea, and behold! it is very good. Unfortunately, his creation is safe from the interference of other wills only as long as it remains in his head. By materializing his poem—that is, by writing it down and publishing it—he subjects it to the impact of alien wills. These alien wills can, if they like, become actively aware of all the possible wrong words and call them into positive being. They can, for example, misquote, misinterpret, or deliberately alter the poem. -- Dorothy Sayers, "The Mind of the Maker" (1941) If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will—that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings—then we may take it it is worth paying. -- C. S. Lewis, "Mere Christianity" (1952, from talks first given in 1942)
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