Utopia & Utopian Literature By Sir Thomas More Summary and Analysis Book II: The Discourse on Utopia: Occupations

Summary

In addition to knowledge and training in agricultural activities, which is shared by the entire population, each man and woman practices a special trade — such as cloth-making, masonry, carpentry, or blacksmithing. Women are chiefly occupied with making cloth and sewing, men with heavier types of work. Each family makes its own clothes, which are practical, plain, and uniform in color and cut. Sons frequently follow their father's trade and are trained for it at home, though this is not an invariable rule.

Syphogrants act as overseers to make certain that everyone works diligently at his trade, but the work day is only six hours. This schedule allows ample time for study or relaxation. Most citizens are fond of reading, and, in addition to public lectures, there are parlor games similar to chess for pastime (though they do not gamble, obviously).

Hythloday explains how it is that their six-hour work day is adequate for supplying the needs of the community. Everybody is engaged in productive labor, Syphogrants and priests only excepted. He contrasts this arrangement with that in Europe, where one class of persons performs all of the necessary labor while a considerable number of persons perform either no labor or are occupied with frivolous services that cater to the vanities of the rich.

A very select group is exempted from working at a trade because of a special aptitude for intellectual pursuits, to which they apply themselves wholly; from that group are chosen the magistrates, priests, ambassadors, and even the Prince.

Analysis

The trouble with modern European society lies in the fact that a considerable segment of society, the leisure class, fails to contribute significantly to any necessary productivity. That is a cardinal point in Hythloday's complaint against the class system in the first book of Utopia. The Utopians, he tells us, have found the answer. Everybody works (well, nearly everybody) at a productive trade, and the result is that they get the work done in a six-hour day.

Their manner of passing the time after working hours sounds agreeable, certainly, and innocent, though somewhat limited, according to the patterns devised for amusement in the present century. It is interesting to reflect on their not gambling. That fits into their attitude on other moral issues, but the fact is that it is difficult to gamble without money.

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