Thursday, November 18, 2010

Chestertonian Homework Help

I recently had an email from a young University student who thankfully is studying Chesterton. Since there aren't Spark or Cliff notes for Chesterton's work, students can feel at a loss for help with Chesterton assignments.

I'll post her question first:
We are to write about the moral discoveries that Father Brown made in “The Mistake of the Machine.” However, I am having a very difficult time since, as I stated above, I can not fully grasp what the writing means.
So here's my answer:
I guess I want to suggest reading it again, with some thoughts in mind. There are two very major themes in this story. One is that Man is NOT a machine, although Father Brown calls Man a machine several times, just to confuse you. But the contrast of Man and Machine is a theme. Can a machine tell one the truth? Can a MAN tell one the truth? Can a machine lie? Can a man lie? Can a machine read a man's heart (motives, for example)? Can a person act in a way contrary to his human nature?

The second theme is the assumption of who a person is based on appearance.

Both of these themes take place within the conversation between Father Brown and the Governor/Detective Greywood Usher, Greywood taking the "scientific" view point, Father Brown taking the more reasonable, faithful view point, the view point that allows for man to act as a man, and not as a machine (scientifically, in other words, science cannot explain a man's motives, his "heart") which was brought out in the beginning by talking about blood and circulation, etc. The word blood is repeatedly used, in both scientific terms and in terms of class "blue-blooded" etc. to emphasize the assumption that blood makes a man what he is, which science or even aristocrats may believe. But a rational person like Father Brown knows that blood is just blood, and tells one nothing about man's soul.

So, I hope I've pointed you in the right direction and given you some clues and hints to work from.

Chesterton is difficult. I totally understand that. When I had to read Chesterton in college, I really, truthfully, hated it, because I couldn't understand it. But hang in there, he does get better with time.
And the young student said it helped her write her paper. So there you go, we'll call them ChesterNotes.


  1. Wow! Good to know some school somewhere is TEACHING Chesterton! :-)

  2. I honestly don't get it. I've been reading Chesterton since I was 8 and his writing has enthralled and excited me since. Why is his English difficult to understand for native English speakers?

  3. Sorry for the double post but there was such fun irony after I tried to preview my comment when the website asked me, verbatim, in the captcha section to "prove you're not a robot"


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