Recurring Theme: Honest Work

In “Digging”, Andre Dubus writes about his distanced relationship with his father and living inside his own head versus what he truly experienced. All his life, Andre Dubus has been pushed around by people. As a schoolboy, bullies pushed Andre around because they knew that Andres would never fight back. Even as an adult he lives in his father’s shadow, dominated by his presence and fearing his anger so much that he does not dare to question him or disagree with him.

Even during typical scenes of father-son bonding , like fishing trips, hunting, and other outdoors activities, Dubus and his father are distant, and there is no discourse or tenderness between them. Dubus reveals himself to be very subdued and resigned. He does things that he does not want to do because he is too shy or afraid to express his feelings. He shows this when he mentions that he does not wish to work with the carpenter, digging trenches but does so at his father’s request. Even when his own health and comfort are at stake, Dubus does not have the courage to express his feelings. On his first day at work, Dubus realizes that doing physically laborious work is not right for him physically, and is “Certainly not in [his] soul” (p. 76). Even after he feels sick and vomits, Dubus refrains from telling anyone but his fellow workers about it. Dubus fears failure, especially disappointing or angering his father. Dubus feels deeply inadequate, and does not believe “[he is] as good at being a boy as other boys were…and now not with a man’s work” (p. 79). However, he continues working in the trenches with the other construction workers and comes to realize how fulfilling his work is, and thanks his father for pushing him to value hard work rather than appease him.

This essay as a whole reminded me of the American social more of honest hard work and the satisfaction with which it fills you. In this way, Dubus’s essay reminds me of “Shipping Out” by David Foster Wallace. Both authors value the hard work and disdain people who just want to sit back, relax, and be pampered. I find a common theme in both of these works: that the most satisfaction comes from the fruits of one’s own labor, and that passive pleasure is toxic, addictive, and morally wrong. Both Dubus and Wallace perpetuate the idea of the Protestant work ethic, of hard honest work, and of the American Dream as a whole. Dubus’s father in “Digging” encourages his son to work hard physically, earn an honest living, and to pull himself up by his bootstraps. His fatherly instincts on one hand tell him to nurture his son and coddle him, but he knows that it is better for Dubus to find his place and become “a man among men” (p. 81). In this way, Dubus’s father is the embodiment of the American Dream and the rugged individualist that is so revered in American culture. Wallace similarly disdains the “un-American part of [himself] that craves pampering and passive pleasure” (p. 51). Both authors promotes the idea of being independent, working hard, and contributing to society–and that doing this is simply the American way.

“Digging” also reminded me of the general concept of parents who push their children to work hard and become successful. Dubus’s father wanted to make his son into a man, and he did this by throwing him into a difficult and physically laborious job, digging trenches for a construction company during the hot Louisiana summer. Maybe he did this not only because he wanted Dubus to succeed, but also because he saw so much of himself in his son. Since we are talking about the idea of family and the relationships that we have with out family members (and how they influence us to be the people we are), I found this interesting article that talks about a research study that has found patterns in how much parents push their kids and how that correlates to their trying to live vicariously through their children. It is an interesting topic in psychology and sociology, and I thought you guys might be interested.

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3 Responses to Recurring Theme: Honest Work

  1. This was an interesting article you posted, and I believe a lot of parents should be reading it! Especially here at Stony Brook, I feel that a lot of students are pressured in a Pre-health track from parents or siblings; rather than out of the joy or desire in choosing their future.
    As a soccer trainer, I see this quality a lot from parents. Rather than being proud with their child’s performance – more and more parents find a way to critique their children. Especially at a young age this criticism is devastating. It crushes how the children envision themselves, makes them feel inadequate, and discourages them from trying. Parents need to come to the realization that although they did create this individual, the individuality that comes along is not something they can merely “create”.

  2. larissarios2013 says:

    I agree with Stephanie. Though my dream is to become a veterinarian, I feel as though my parents EXPECTS me to achieve that goal. Sometimes I think to myself that the dream seems so far away and I feel as if I won’t ever achieve it. It’s hard work and I get anxious and doubt myself. My parents don’t seem to understand that. However, they are very supportive of me and I know they want nothing but the best from me.

  3. helensc says:

    I found the idea that parents are pushing their children to live vicariously through them very intriguing. Growing up in China, I have met a handful of tiger moms (many of whom had shown disdain towards me, since they always viewed me as an unpleasant influence on their oh so perfect children). They would write books about how they raised their kids to become Harvard, Yale, MIT, or ____(insert prestigious school name here)_____ graduates. I always thought this was due to the fact that many of these mothers were born to less fortunate circumstances, and that article you shared certainly reaffirmed this idea.

    Another instance of living vicariously through children is that my strict father would always, ALWAYS let me have fried rice noodles from the street vendor whenever I wanted them. While he often said no to my other requests, rice noodles were a strange soft spot of his. As a child, he never had pocket money to buy those noodles. He could only stand across the street and smell the delicious aroma and envy those kids that were waiting in line to buy the noodles 😛

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