Unlike Samuel Johnson who uses vague examples scattered through his writing, and Thomas Carlyle who uses specific, period-sensitive examples, John Ruskin supports his arguments with general examples and counter examples situated in every day life centered on feelings and positions he presumes the reader can relate to. For example, he describes familiar professions such as soldiers, doctors, lawyers and clergymen to demonstrate the need for merchants in society. He also compares parent-child relationships to master servant affairs. The following passage provides another instance where he chooses an example close to the reader's heart.

Obstinately the masters take one view of the matter; obstinately the operatives another; and no political science can set them at one. It would be strange if it could, it being not by "science" of any kind that men were ever intended to be set at one. Disputant after disputant vainly strives to show that the interests of the masters are, or are not, antagonistic to those of the men: none of the pleaders ever seeming to remember that it does not absolutely or always follow that the persons must be antagonistic because their interests are. If there is only a crust of bread in the house, and mother and children are starving, their interests are not the same. If the mother eats it, the children want it: if the children eat it, the mother must go hungry to her work. Yet it does not necessarily follow that there will be "antagonism" between them, that they will fight for the crust, and that the mother, being strongest, will get it, and eat it. Neither, in any other case, whatever the relations of the persons may be, can it be assumed for certain that, because their interests are diverse, they must necessarily regard each other with hostility, and use violence or cunning to obtain the advantage.

Invoking a situation empathetic to many readers, Ruskin explains his argument about economic theory and brings it closer to the level of ordinary people, at once allowing more of them to understand and relate to his argument while also supporting his own argument for the necessity of social affection


Many of Ruskin's sentences begin with multiple of the same word: Obstinately and obstinately, disputant after disputant. The word "it" appears three times in the first eight words of the paragraph. How does he do this without sounding repetitive and vague? What does this repetition do for his tone?

What is unique about Ruskin's choice of example? What does he gain or lose from using a familial analogy? How does he use it to make his point stronger?

Ruskin chooses to put certain words in quotation marks: "science" and "antagonism." Why does he choose these words, and why is this an effective writing tool for him? Why does he put them in quotation marks some places and not in others?

Thomas Carlyle uses specific events of his time to support his points while Ruskin uses non-specific examples to support specific points. How is Ruskin's example here of mother and child, and his use of examples in general, similar to or different from Carlyle's? What different purposes to they serve?

Victorian Overview John Ruskin Leading Questions

Last modified 14 March 2005