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And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. - 3 Genesis 17-19[1]

Work, as the biblical quote above suggests, has long been with us. But what makes it work? What differentiates the effort we put into work from that we spend in Pleasure?


Appearances in the class reading

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

  • In the first two chapters of Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith discusses the order and organization of labor and work. Work is divided into different jobs to make it easier on the workers and to create an end product more efficiently.
  • Smith states that it is more efficient for a worker to be specialized in one part of a process (such as nailing heads to pins) than to be specialized in the general creation of the product (the creation of nails). It takes a single specialist to make a certain amount of a commodity longer than it does a group of people, each person specialized and designated to a job, to create the same amount of the commodity.
  • Machines can reduce the time and effort a worker spends on a task. The adaption of machines can turn employees who spend hours doing a specialized job into workers who overlook the machines and their output.
  • Men are likely to work for the sole purpose of bettering themselves and their livelihoods, a drive fueled by encouragement and motivation and leading to a higher quality of life [2] .

Communist Manifesto

  • Chapter 1 of Marx's The Communist Manifesto describes a state of flux of the idea of work within the "bourgeois" dominated system of capitalism. He asserts that the subjugation of older, more stagnant, forms of labor to that of the bourgeois increased the productive capabilities of the bourgeois system. Marx examines labor through the system of control, stating that the social changes from the Middle Ages through future revolutions revolve around the question of who controls labor in society.
  • The creation and the success of the "bourgeois" class by self interest also created the class of the "proletariat". The proletariat "live only so long as they find work." [3] The bourgeois supply the proletariat with this work by supplying the factories that need tending to. Without one, the other cannot exist.
  • Marx’s sees work for private property as a means of enslavement[4] for the workers.

The Machine Stops

  • The Machine Stops reveals an interesting futuristic view of work in that all mundane physical work has been abolished. This leads to a society in which mental work through the formation of ideas predominates. Eventually, all meaningful labor ceases when the semi-physical labor of simply rearranging ideas replaced the mental work of thought. The disastrous results stemming from the elimination of labor, the mental deterioration of humans and physical decay of humans and their surroundings, hints at the necessity of labor and a possible definition work.

The Dispossessed

  • The Dispossessed focuses on the difference between the societies of Urras and Annares using mental and physical labor and their organization as a point of contrast.
  • There is a distinction between the work done on Urras and Annares. This is evident in the behaviors of students in the universities. On Urras, the students go to school to receive grades with the hope of receiving high grades, which leads to better jobs in the future. People of Urras emphasize the value of the title "Doctor." Work becomes a means to an end, a journey not a destination. On Anarres, there is no distinction between people of different levels of education, and people receive no higher education unless they are truly interested in an area of research. In that case, an individual may spend their entire life 'going to school'. Here work is an school work and study are an end in themselves, for there are no grades, no tests. The students do what they do because they want to. This creates a blurring between the clear cut lines of work and play found on Urras. On Annares work is play, the primary difference being the productivity and relevance of the activity.
  • Work on Urras and Annares are different from each other in many ways. One of the main differences between the two work environments is what the people doing the work are trying to achieve. On Urras, the people work for money, to support their families, for fame and distinction, and basically all the reasons that most people in reality work today. On Annares however, the people work to support each other and to help society. Many times throughout the novel, Shevek tells the people on Urras that on Annares all they have is each other, and that they must depend on each other to survive. On Urras, the people work for themselves, but on Annares, the people work for each other and survival.

Appearances in other media

  • The tv show Dirty Jobs explores the reality of less favorable tasks essential to humanity's continued level of civilization. The host Mike Rowe spends a day learning and actively assisting in the completion of a 'dirty job'. These jobs, typically physical in nature, are the most dangerous, strangest and disgusting forms of employment to be found. One would initial think that these occupations would be considered the worst form of work, on the opposite end of the spectrum from pleasure, but "Rowe frequently makes note of the cheerfulness of his hosts - the dirtier jobs are often filled by happier workers." [5]

Intersections with other Tropes

  • To be able to determine the boundary between work and play one must first have a concrete definition of the two. Generally, work can have one of three overall meanings. Work, or labor, can be defined as a task that one is obliged to perform in order to obtain money, fulfill a duty, or one of many other reasons. As such, the task that must be completed can be either enjoyable or not. Therefore, by this definition of work, labor and play can be mutually exclusive, but does not have to be. Work can be defined as any distasteful task, in which case labor and play are always mutually exclusive. Finally, work can be seen as a task that results in the production of something, either of a concrete or abstract nature. As with the first type of work, this work can and quite often does coincide with play. The act of creation involves a great deal of labor and work, but frequently it is performed by the creator for the purpose of entertainment. Taking this into consideration, the separation between work and play can be non-existent for some definitions of work.


  1. King James Bible. Retrieved from [1]
  2. Smith,Adam. [2]. p 3
  3. Marx, Karl The Communist Manifesto
  4. Marx, Karl. The Communist Manifesto. p 16
  5. retrieved April 23 2010
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