Monday, August 16, 2004

The Reddleman

This post is about the reddleman, and it starts out slow; but--as is so with life--hard work and a bit of luck will hopefully churn out a worthwhile ending. The reddleman has come to me from Thomas Hardy, and from him, through me, he comes to you:

When he drew nearer he perceived it to be a spring van, ordinary in shape, but singular in colour, this being a lurid red. The driver walked beside it; and, like his van, he was completely red. One dye of that tincture covered his clothes, the cap upon his head, his boots, his face, and his hands. He was not temporarily overlaid with the colour; it permeated him.
The old man knew the meaning of this. The traveler with the cart was a reddleman--a person whose vocation it was to supply farmers with redding for their sheep. He was one of a class rapidly becoming extinct in Wessex, filling at present in the rural world the place which, during the last century, the dodo occupied in the world of animals. He is a curious, interesting, and nearly perished link between obsolete forms of life and those which generally prevail.

This is the reddleman.

During the course of Return of the Native, the reddleman is in constant motion, yet, he is unquestionably the most constant of the characters in the novel. He is a traveler and a wanderer by trade, homeless by choice. Nevertheless, he is a good man, with good morals, good intentions, good loves, and a good head. He sells reddle because he chooses to, and as soon as he chooses not to, he will cease to sell reddle and put his skills to another trade. He loves a woman, and remains in love with her throughout the novel - as he courts her, as she refuses him, as she marries another, and finally again, as she, once a widow, marries him. His love is not one of lust or greed; his allegiance is to her. His goal - her happiness. His actions - selfless. The reddleman is free. He travels where he wishes, he does what he wishes. He doesn't let other people's ideas and judgments limit his possibilities. He walks his own path, and finds it well. Parents sometimes tell their children that if they do not mind their elders, the reddleman will come to get them while they sleep, but this reddleman, despite his devilish appearance, harbors nothing at all to fear and brings nothing but help to anyone he can. The reddleman is good, admirable, strong, and smart.

Can I be like the reddleman?

But wait. There is more. The reddleman ceases to sell reddle. He becomes, slowly, white, once again. His reddle fades, but does his freedom fade with it? Can he remain the reddleman that I so admire without selling reddle? He has changed greatly, it would seem, he tells me, "You mustn't judge by folks in general...Still I dont know much what feelings are now-a-days. I have got so mixed up with business of one sort and t'other that my soft sentiments are gone off in vapor like. Yes, I am given up body and soul to the making of money. Money is all my dream." No reddleman, how wicked! But, he teases. Yes, the reddleman has dawned clean white, and fine clothes, and has endeavored to take up an "honorable" profession which yields great income, but has he truly changed? No. He has not. He tell me, "What a man has been he may be again." I think I know what he means.

What does the reddleman mean?

The reddleman tells me this, just as he tells the woman he has loved this, after her times of difficulty, after she has gained a baby and lost a husband, and would now, once more, make a perfect bride for the reddleman. He has made these changes because, while he does not care what society things, he cares for society, and society's thought is not so easy to bend as one's pursuits, which are, and ought to be, flexible, fresh, and changing. The reddleman ceases to sell reddle because it just wouldn't do to be unable to touch his bride on her wedding day for fear of smearing her wedding gown with red ochre. It simply wouldn't do for a child to be reared by a thoroughly red father. And primarily, it just wouldn't do for a family’s house to be made inside of a reddle-van. So, the reddleman takes up another trade. Yes, he has 'devoted himself to making money', but his devotion is not to money, but to love. One can hardly think that he will seek more money than such as his other devotion requires; and, because she is such a woman who, like the reddleman, lives most merrily when living modestly, the requirement is unlikely to be much. The reddleman teaches us that we are our own and do not belong to a profession. Rather, our profession belongs to us, or, at least, is one which we may possess for as long as it suits us.

Can I be a reddleman?

This may all be a bit obtuse, and, to be honest, if it is a bit difficult to follow and extract my meaning, it is because I am not entirely sure what meaning I am meaning to follow. But, something tells me there may be something the reddleman can teach me.

I am the reddleman.

A few days ago, I decided to put aside intentions of mainstream success, financial security, and the promise of something I could quite likely manage at reasonably well for something I am afraid of, both because I worry that I cannot do what it demands and because failure seems so easy and so costly. Today, NW asked me if I was still thinking about law school. I told him no. I told him I didn't want to be the person that would turn me into. But is that fair? Is that true? The reddleman is the reddleman, reddle or no. Can I not be the reddleman too, regardless of the which direction I head? Is this an option I should discount? Or is every option one worth considering? A few days ago, I was ready to put everything into learning English literature and then teaching it, and that is a commitment made without a great deal of confidence at all in my ability to succeed in such a calling. Today, I am reconsidering going to law school. I don't know why. My only comfort is that I think, if I remember him, the reddleman's lesson is that there is no trade that is inescapable, and no professional who cannot put himself above his profession. Does the reddleman deceive me? Am I deceiving myself? I promised a worthwhile ending, and hopefully, I won't disappoint, but, you will have to wait for that ending, because I don't know where it is, nor when it will come. I am without the reddleman's constancy, and I am without his confidence, but I may share a bit of his situation, I imagine that we all do.

Where is the reddleman?

I am lost. I can't very well hide it at this point, all I can do is call for help. So, from Postal Service:

Will someone please call a surgeon,
you can crack my ribs and repair this broken heart,
that you're deserting
for better company.


Twinny said...

So has your constancy proved true as a reddleman?

lawrenceb56 said...

Thank you for this. Beautiful!