A universal ethics is for everyone, regardless of age, social status and class. These too have divided us. Greater knowledge, and a better understanding of the science, history, literature and art about age and class divisions can help us live more ethically, more fully, and shape a better world.
- The glory of young men is their strength, and the dignity of old men is gray hair. [The Bible, Proverbs, 20:29.]
- At fifteen I set my heart upon learning. At thirty, I had planted my feet firm upon the ground. At forty, I no longer suffered from perplexities. At fifty, I knew what were the biddings of Heaven. At sixty, I heard them with docile ear. At seventy, I could follow the dictates of my own heart; for what I desired no longer overstepped the boundaries of right. [Confucius, The Analects, 2:4]
By dint of nature, the young and the old are the most vulnerable members of society: least able to care for themselves by their own devices and least able to defend themselves. For that reason, their stories are important parts of the human narrative and their concerns are essential in the struggle to create a caring and ethical society.
Janusz Korczak risked his life and welfare to care for and protect orphans is a Warsaw ghetto during Nazi occupation. Here is a link to some books telling the story of this extraordinary man:
This is an update without Toggle.
- Betty Jean Lifton, The King of Children: The Life and Death of Janusz Korczak (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2006).
- Janusz Korczak, Ghetto Diary (United States Holocaust, 1978); text with introduction.
- Janusz Korczak, When I Am Little Again and The Child's Right to Respect (University Press of America, 1992); text.
- By dint of nature, the young and the old are the most vulnerable members of society: least able to care for themselves by their own devices and least able to defend themselves. For that reason, their stories are important parts of the human narrative and their concerns are essential in the struggle to create a caring and ethical society.
- Gay Courter, I Speak For This Child: True Stories of a Child Advocate (Crown, 1995).
- Ashley Rhodes-Courter, Three Little Words: A Memoir (Atheneum) 2008).
- Philip J. Greven, Jr., Spare The Child: Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991).
- Alice Miller,Spare The Child: Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Punishment (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990).
- Ian Gibson, English Vice: Beating, Sex and Shame in Victorian England and After (Aperture, 1980).
- David L. Ransel, Mothers of Misery: Child Abandonment in Russia (Princeton University Press, 1988).
- Cynthia Crosson-Tower, From the Eye of the Storm: The Experiences of a Child Welfare Worker ( Allyn & Bacon, 2007).
- Margaret Ellen Pipe, Michael E. Lamb, Yale Orbach and Ann-Christin Cederborg, eds., Child Sexual Abuse: Disclosure, Delay, and Denial (Lawrence Erlbaum, 2007).
- Lynne Curry, The Deshaney Case: Child Abuse, Family Rights, and the Dilemma of State Intervention (University of Kansas Press, 2007).
Here are some histories on children.
- Richard B. McKenzie, Home Away From Home: The Forgotten History of Orphanages (Encounter Books, 2009).
- Richard B. McKenzie, The Home: A Memoir of Growing Up in an Orphanage (Basic Books, 1996).
- Kim Michele Richardson, The Unbreakable Child (Kunati, Inc., 2009).
- Kristina Jones, Celeste Jones and Juliana Buhring, Not Without My Sister: The True Story of Three Girls Violated and Betrayed (HarperCollins UK, 2007).
- Cathy Glass, Damaged (Harper Element, 2007).
- Shy Keenan, Broken (Hodder & Stoughton, 2008).
- Jane Elliott, The Little Prisoner: How a Childhood Was Stolen and a Trust Betrayed (Element Books, 2005).
- Hugh D. Hindman, Ed., The World of Child Labor: A Historical and Regional Survey ( M. E. Sharpe, 2009).
- Cathryne Schmitz, Elizabeth K. Collardey and Deborah Larson, Eds., Child Labor: A Global View (Greenwood, 2004).
- Hugh D. Hindman, Child Labor: An American History (M. E. Sharpe, 2002).
- Ruth Wallis Herndon and John E. Murray, Children Bound to Labor: The Pauper Apprentice System in Early America (Cornell Univsity Press, 2009).
- Walter I. Trattner, Crusade for the children: A history of the National Child Labor Committee and child labor reform in America (Quadrangle Books, 1970).
- Peter Kirby, Child Labour in Britain: 1750-1870 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).
- Katrina Honeyman, Child Workers in England, 1780-1820 (Ashgate, 2007).
- David Parker, Before Their Time: The World of Child Labor (Quantuck Lane, 2007).
- Russell Freedman, Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor (Perfection Learning, 1998).
- George K. Behlmer, Child Abuse and Moral Reform in England, 1870-1908 (Stanford University Press, 1982).
- Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Growing Up in Coal Country (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 1996).
- Mike Echols, Brother Tony's Boys: The Largest Case of Child Prostitution in U.S. History: The True Story (Prometheus Books, 1996).
- Alyson Brown and David Barrett, Knowledge of Evil: Child Prostitution and Child Sexual Abuse in Twentieth-Century England (Willan Publishing UK, 2002).
- Siroj Sirojjakool, Child Prostitution in Thailand: Listening to Rahab (Routledge, 2002).
Here are some histories of the difficulties faced by the elderly.
- Georges Minois, History of Old Age: From Antiquity to the Renaissance (University Of Chicago Press, 1989).
- Tim G. Parkin, Old Age in the Roman World: A Cultural and Social History The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).
- Thomas R. Cole, The Journey of Life: A Cultural History of Aging in America (Cambridge University Press, 1991).
- Pat Thane, Ed., A History of Old Age from Antiquity to the Renaissance (Getty Publications, 2005).
- Pat Thane, Old Age in English History: Past Experiences, Present Issues (Oxford University Press, USA, 2000).
- Helen Small, The Long Life (Oxford University Press, USA, 2007).
- Bonnie Brandl, Carmel Botondi Dyer and Candace J. Heisler, Elder Abuse Detection And Intervention: A Collaborative Approach (Springer Publishing Company, 2006).
- Lisa Nerenberg, Elder Abuse Prevention: Emerging Trends and Promising Strategies (Springer Publishing Company, 2007).
- Susan Jacoby, Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age (Pantheon Books, 2011).
- Penelope Lively, Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir (Viking Adult, 2014): a distinguished author reminisces.
- Pamela Druckerman, There Are No Grown-Ups: A Midlife Coming-of-Age Story (Penguin Press, 2018): “How does it feel to have your sexual currency depreciate so fast . . .”
- John Leland, Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old (Simon Crichton Books, 2018): “John Leland’s book uncovers the unlikely virtues of aging.”
- Gail Collins, No Stopping Us Now: The Adventures of Older Women in American History (Little, Brown and Company, 2019): “ . . . a chronicle of the herky-jerky nature of older women’s journey to progress in the United States over the years.”
Narratives on life stages between young and old:
- Patricia Cohen, In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age (Scribner, 2012): “. . . a lively, well-researched chronicle of the social and scientific forces that brought midlife America to its current befuddled state . . .”
Histories on class differences:
On the Indian caste system:
- David Gilmour, The British in India: A Social History of the Raj (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2018), stories of individual lives, comprising an apolitical history of British rulers in India: “What interests (Gilmour), in this book at least, are not the larger questions of politics, or economics, or the global position of Britain — all of them factors that helped determine the country’s imperial stance — but instead the often gritty, colorfully distinct stories that constituted the individual British experience. He is also fascinated by the social relations among and within classes, and how mores changed over a vast era that ended with independence, partition and the birth of Pakistan in 1947.”
- Urmila Pawar: The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs (Columbia University Press, 2009).
- Arjun Dangle, Poisoned Bread: Translations from Modern Malathi Dalit Literature (Advent Books, 1992): compilation of poetry, fiction and non-fiction on the caste system.
- Bama, Karukku (1992): an autobiography by a Dalit woman
- Kancha Illaiah, Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy (1996).
- Viramma, Josiane Racine and Jean Luc Racine, Viramma: Life of an Untouchable (Verso, 1998).
- Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent (Random House, 2020): “Wilkerson’s book is about how brutal misperceptions about race have disfigured the American experiment.”
Documentary and Educational Films
Documentary films on age:
- Where Soldiers Come From, about military recruits from Michigan’s upper peninsula
- Faces Places: two artists, widely separated in age, find common ground in their art.
Documentary films on class:
- As Goes Janesville, a documentary about an economically troubled town in Wisconsin
- The Chicago Maternity Center Story, a documentary about attempts to keep it open after a corporate takeover
- Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?
- Hauling: a documentary about a man who makes a living collecting other people’s garbage
- Land of Widows: a documentary about women struggling to survive after their men were killed
- Children of Mini-Japan, about children used as cogs in the wheel of post-WWII Japan
- Mass E Bhat, about poor children living and working together in Bangladesh
- Meena, about sex trafficking in India
- Tears in the Fabric, about the catastrophic effects of a natural disaster on its survivors
"My cake tires me. It is stale." "Don't you want any more of it?" "No." The father pointed to the swans. "Throw it to those palmipeds." The child hesitated. A person may not want any more of his cake; but that is no reason for giving it away. The father went on: "Be humane. You must have compassion on animals." And, taking the cake from his son, he flung it into the basin. The cake fell very near the edge. The swans were far away, in the centre of the basin, and busy with some prey. They had seen neither the bourgeois nor the brioche. The bourgeois, feeling that the cake was in danger of being wasted, and moved by this useless shipwreck, entered upon a telegraphic agitation, which finally attracted the attention of the swans. They perceived something floating, steered for the edge like ships, as they are, and slowly directed their course toward the brioche, with the stupid majesty which befits white creatures. "The swans [_cygnes_] understand signs [_signes_]," said the bourgeois, delighted to make a jest. At that moment, the distant tumult of the city underwent another sudden increase. This time it was sinister. There are some gusts of wind which speak more distinctly than others. The one which was blowing at that moment brought clearly defined drum-beats, clamors, platoon firing, and the dismal replies of the tocsin and the cannon. This coincided with a black cloud which suddenly veiled the sun. The swans had not yet reached the brioche. "Let us return home," said the father, "they are attacking the Tuileries." He grasped his son's hand again. Then he continued: "From the Tuileries to the Luxembourg, there is but the distance which separates Royalty from the peerage; that is not far. Shots will soon rain down." He glanced at the cloud. "Perhaps it is rain itself that is about to shower down; the sky is joining in; the younger branch is condemned. Let us return home quickly." "I should like to see the swans eat the brioche," said the child. The father replied: "That would be imprudent." And he led his little bourgeois away. The son, regretting the swans, turned his head back toward the basin until a corner of the quincunxes concealed it from him. In the meanwhile, the two little waifs had approached the brioche at the same time as the swans. It was floating on the water. The smaller of them stared at the cake, the elder gazed after the retreating bourgeois. Father and son entered the labyrinth of walks which leads to the grand flight of steps near the clump of trees on the side of the Rue Madame. As soon as they had disappeared from view, the elder child hastily flung himself flat on his stomach on the rounding curb of the basin, and clinging to it with his left hand, and leaning over the water, on the verge of falling in, he stretched out his right hand with his stick towards the cake. The swans, perceiving the enemy, made haste, and in so doing, they produced an effect of their breasts which was of service to the little fisher; the water flowed back before the swans, and one of these gentle concentric undulations softly floated the brioche towards the child's wand. Just as the swans came up, the stick touched the cake. The child gave it a brisk rap, drew in the brioche, frightened away the swans, seized the cake, and sprang to his feet. The cake was wet; but they were hungry and thirsty. The elder broke the cake into two portions, a large one and a small one, took the small one for himself, gave the large one to his brother, and said to him: "Ram that into your muzzle." [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume V – Jean Valjean; Book First – The War Between Four Walls, Chapter XVI, How From a Brother One Becomes a Father.]
- Cinderella, a folk tale.
- Thrity Umrigar, The Space Between Us (William Morrow, 2006): exploring the relationship between two classes through the lens of mistress and servant.
- Chigozi Obioma, An Orchestra of Minorities: A Novel (Little, Brown and Company, 2019): “ . . . this is a story about class, and male rage, and the strangling of opportunity.”
- Jill Ciment, The Body In Question: A Novel (Pantheon, 2019): “Another of the many pleasures of this novel is how knowingly but matter-of-factly Ciment depicts class distinctions.”
- Scarlett Thomas, Oligarchy: A Novel (Counterpoint, 2020): “The privileged teenage girls in “Oligarchy,” attending a dysfunctional, third-string boarding school in the countryside north of London, get caught up in a mass-psychogenic, contagious version of anorexia nervosa.”
- Sarah Moss, Summerwater: A Novel (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2021) “Makes an Intimate Study of Social Class Out of a Long, Rainy Day”.
- Ayòbámi Adébáyò, A Spell of Good Things: A Novel (Knopf, 2023): “. . . the lives of a working-class boy and a wealthy young doctor converge to expose the precarity of the social order.”
- Naoise Dolan, Exciting Times: A Novel (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2020): “Jealousy and obsession, love and late capitalism, sex and the internet all come whirling together in a wry and bracing tale of class and privilege.”
- Stefano Massini, The Lehman Trilogy: A Novel (HarperVia 2020), “lives on the page because of its human moments: the wooing of spouses; the scandals and feuds; the perilous attempts to climb the class ladder.”
- Xander Miller, Zo: A Novel (Knopf, 2020): “Love Must Overcome Class Difference and Disaster”.
Fictional writings illustrating the Indian caste system:
- Perumal Murugan, Seasons of the Palm (Penguin Press, 2017).
- Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance (Vintage, 1997).
- U.R. Ananthamurthy, Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man (1976).
- Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable: A Novel (Hutchinson International Authors, 1935).
- Premchand, The World of Premchand: Selected Short Stories (Indiana University Press, 1969).
- Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist (1838).
- Nancy Werlin, The Rules of Survival: A Novel (Dial, 2006): “. . . a thought-provoking exploration of emotional abuse, self-reliance and the nature of evil.”
- Jordan Sonnenblick, Notes from the Midnight Driver: A Novel (Scholastic Press, 2006): “16-year-old Alex decides to get even. His parents are separated, his father is dating his former third-grade teacher, and being 16 isn't easy . . .”
- Daniel Torday, Boomer1: A Novel (St. Martin’s Press, 2018): “Set in 2011, the novel reimagines the Occupy movement as an explicitly intergenerational conflict: millennials hitting back at the profligacy of baby boomers in a campaign of “domestic terrorism,” waged largely online and coalescing around one bitter, balding man whose mother still makes his sandwiches.”
- Jonathan Coe, Middle England: A Novel (Knopf, 2019): “The most pertinent information about the characters is their ages, and how their generational reflexes create political tensions among them.”
- Gu Byeong-Mo, The Old Woman with the Knife: A Novel (Hanover Square, 2022): “. . . a brisk narrative that offers a thoughtful reflection on societal attitudes on the aging process in Korea and elsewhere.”
Film and Stage
Films on class:
- Black God, White Devil (Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol), a Brazilian “contemporary allegory fulminating darkly against miseries inflicted on the poor by landowners and the Government”
- In Le Grande Illusion (The Grand Illusion), filmmaker Jean Renoir “is primarily concerned with the way people treat each other, and especially with how class and nationality inform human relations.”
- A Love in Germany, about a relationship forbidden by class difference
- Major Barbara, a comic treatment of rich and poor
- Zangiku monogatari (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums): a Japanese tragedy of class and gender
- Live-in Maid: (Cama adentro), a film about a one-time socialite whose relationship with her housekeeper changes when her own circumstances change
- My Man Godfrey: a 1930s screwball comedy in which the new butler turns out to be from a wealthy family
- The Second Mother: The maid’s daughter does not accept her role, or her mother’s. Eventually the maid catches on, and breaks toward redemption.
Films on age:
- The Ballad of Narayama, the story of a woman planning her death as she approaches seventy
- Umberto D: a retired Italian man, in his seventies and living on a pension, confronts his despair.
- Make Way for Tomorrow, on caring for the elderly, or not
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
In his Piano Concerto in C Major, Op. 39, BV 247 (1904) (approx. 67-75’), Ferruccio Busoni wrote five movements, one each to express a particular mood and stage of life. (Top performances on disc are by Johansen & Schmidt-Isserstedt in 1956, Ogden & Revenaugh in 1957, Donohoe & Elder in 1988, Ohlsson & Dohnányi in 1989, Banfield & Herbig in 1993, Massa & Malzew in 2008 , Gerstein & Oramo in 2017. Here is a live recording by Hamelin.) In these progressive movements, we can also hear the stages of life:
- 1, the sweetness of childhood. Prologo e Introito (Allegro, dolce e solenne): The concerto begins with a simple statement of hope from the orchestra, followed by the first fresh sounds of innocence from the soloist. After the soloist tests his wings and the orchestra affirms him, he begins to step out on his own. Soon he asserts himself with his parents' proud and happy support. Growth continues. Soon the child is the leader and center of attention.
- 2, the merriment of youth. Pezzo giocoso (Vivacemente, ma senza fretta): Adolescence and early adulthood have introduced more complicated elements into the presentation, which are addressed with the seemingly limitless energy of youth. The youth toys with love and then with life. A challenge emerges, which the youth quickly dispatches but he is aware that something more is to come.
- 3, the seriousness of middle age. Pezzo serioso: Introductio and Prima Pars (Andante sostenuto, pensoso; Andantge, quasi adagio): The concerns of life have arrived.The youth has matured. Now he is directing his life with calm assurance but he can still riff. He finds a theme, his theme of life at least for a while. Altera Pars (Sommamessamente): A new phase of life begins, perhaps a new career or new location. Again, the protagonist handles it like a virtuoso. The man wrestles with life's challenges and emerges temporarily shaken but intact. The emotional skies clear and he regains control. Ultima Pars (a tempo): The movement ends with a statement of self-assurance and control.
- 4, the dance of maturity. All’ Italiana (Tarantella) (Vivace; In im tempo).
- 5, the seriousness of old age. Cantico (Largamente).
Other works about age:
- Gaetano Donizetti, Don Pasquale (1842) (approx. 110-130’) (libretto), is a “tale of an old bachelor and the loved ones who trick him into doing the right thing . . .” An old man arranges to marry a young woman as a result of a conflict with his nephew; the young man wins the day. Performances are on video, conducted by Erede in 1955, Muti in 1994, Raimondi in 2006, and Santi in 2012. Top performances on disc are by Badini & Poli (Sabajno) 1932, Corena & Kraus (Erede) 1963, Capecchi & Rizzoli (Molinari-Pradelli) in 1955, and Sills & Gramm (Caldwell) in 1978.
- Gerald Finzi, A Young Man’s Exhortation, Op. 14 (1926) (approx. 29’): you can read the lyrics here.
Works about class:
- Stanisław Moniuszko, Halka (1847) (approx. 120-135’) (libretto): marriage by economic class is a main theme in this opera. Swiecicki conducted a staged production, on video. Performances on disc are conducted by Chmura and Satanowski.
- Allan Pettersson, Barfotasånger (Barefoot Songs) (1945) (approx. 57’): this autobiographical song cycle is about Pettersson’s childhood in poverty.
- statue of Janusz Korczak and children of the ghetto
- Paul Klee, Three Ages of Woman (1905)
- Paul Klee, Senecio (1922)
- Giorgione, The Three Ages of Man (1510)
- Domenico Ghirlandaio, Old Man with a Young Boy (1480)
O span of youth! ever-push'd elasticity! / O manhood, balanced, florid and full.
My lovers suffocate me, / Crowding my lips, thick in the pores of my skin, / Jostling me through streets and public halls, coming naked to me at night, / Crying by day, Ahoy! from the rocks of the river, swinging and chirping over my head, / Calling my name from flower-beds, vines, tangled underbrush, / Lighting on every moment of my life, / Bussing my body with soft balsamic busses, / Noiselessly passing handfuls out of their hearts and giving them to be mine.
Old age superbly rising! O welcome, ineffable grace of dying days!
Every condition promulges not only itself, it promulges what grows after and out of itself, / And the dark hush promulges as much as any.
I open my scuttle at night and see the far-sprinkled systems, / And all I see multiplied as high as I can cipher edge but the rim of the farther systems.
Wider and wider they spread, expanding, always expanding, / Outward and outward and forever outward.
My sun has his sun and round him obediently wheels, / He joins with his partners a group of superior circuit, / And greater sets follow, making specks of the greatest inside them.
There is no stoppage and never can be stoppage, / If I, you, and the worlds, and all beneath or upon their surfaces, were this moment reduced back to a pallid float, it would not avail the long run, / We should surely bring up again where we now stand, / And surely go as much farther, and then farther and farther.
A few quadrillions of eras, a few octillions of cubic leagues, do not hazard the span or make it impatient, / They are but parts, any thing is but a part.
[Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1891-92), Book III: Song of Myself, 45.]
- Jenny Joseph, “Warning”
- William Shakespeare, “All the world’s a stage”
- William Wordsworth, “To an Octogenarian”
- Edgar Lee Masters, “Alexander Throckmorton”
- Seamus Heaney, “Follower”
- Faiz Ahmed Faiz, “Let Me Think”
- John Keats, Sonnet: “The Human Seasons”
Books of poems:
- Derek Walcott, White Egrets: Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010). “. . . an old man's book, craving one more day of light and warmth.”