Before moving forward with the story, one needs to understand the meaning of the standard political terms we regularly use in our conversation.
Socialism – “The political idea that is based on the belief that all people are equal, and that money and property should be equally divided.”
Capitalism – “Capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit.”
Communism – “The political system in which the state owns and controls all factories, farms and services, and aims to treat everyone equally.”
It is necessary to understand these terminologies as the book revolves around these concepts several times in one or other ways. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a book focusing on exploiting the underclass people in the British Society. It showcases the ignorance and negligence accepted by the working-class people without defending their rights for being happy.
Robert Noonan wrote The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists in 1914 under the pen name Robert Tressell. The book is an ordinary fictional book and a semi-autobiographical novel based on Robert’s life experiences. The book was published after the death of the author and gained recognition several years later. Several literary critics regarded the book as an example of differences in a society based on political and class power. As of 2003, it had sold over one million copies. Even George Orwell described it as “a book that everyone should read.”
Robert Noonan was a famous Irish house painter who spent most of his adult life in South Africa. While working in Johannesburg, he started taking an interest in labour organisations along with socialist politics. Experiencing the reality firsthand, Robert wrote the book “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists”, explaining employment exploitation due to capitalism, corruption, and internal politics. During that time, it was believed that safety and security are only dependent on charity and workhouses.
In the book, Roberts created a hypothetical situation that shows exploitative capitalists’ real faces and corrupt councillors. He later introduced the main character, Owen, who has socialist views and tries to tell the underclass people about their fate and poverty. He tries to reason with them while telling them the real issue being a capitalist economy.
Most of the book’s contexts include a conversation between Owen and other people, or Owen educating them about capitalism and socialism. When the novel was written, most underclass people believed that being happy and having a better life is not for them. Due to this reason, along with many others, Robert named the book “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists”.
In the title, he referred the working-class people as “philanthropists” who worked for countless hours without any breaks to make profits for their bosses.
One line of feedback is standard in most of the reviews posted online. In not so many words, the input states that the book has a dark backdrop, but surely did open their eyes towards several aspects of one’s professional lifestyle. It shows how society treats people with less power then and maybe now too.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a much-acknowledged work in the classic literature. Still, one will be surprised to know that three publishing houses rejected the manuscript while Robert was alive, which only made him more depressed and disconnected from society. He threw the manuscript away it to be burned, but it was saved by his daughter so that humanity can see their faults in the way they work.