In his speech "Traffic," Ruskin directly attacks his audience, criticizing even the very reason he has been invited to appear at this event. Ruskin shamelessly declares that he cannot tell these men how to build the Exchange because its structure must be a reflection of the society, which he goes on to state, is morally in shambles. Despite his many biblical references, Ruskin's tone in this speech is not religious. He is not accusing his audience of not being devout enough, but is rather reproving them for not applying the virtues of religion to their lives at large. Ruskin's criticism of the selfishness with which the wealthy overlook the downtrodden is manifest in his literal interpretation of the Bible. This is evident in his retelling the story of Jacob and the ladder:
And when he wakes out of his sleep, he says, "How dreadful is this place; surely this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." This place, observe; not this church; not this city; not this stone, even, which he puts up for a memorial — the piece of flint on which his head was lain. But this place; this windy slope of Wharnside; this moorland hollow, torrent-bitten, snow blighted! this any place where God lets down the ladder. And how are you to know where that will be? or how are you to determine where it may be, but by being ready for it always? [p. 238]
In this passage, Ruskin stresses that religion is not merely an ecclesiastical matter. He believes the morality with which man approaches his faith should be echoed in all his actions, precisely where Ruskin believes society deviates. His discussion of religion, architecture, morality, and social choices in this speech emphasize Ruskin's belief that each of these elements affects the others and that man must come to realize they are inseparable.
Ruskin makes reference to the Greeks, specifically drawing attention to Athena when stating, "For out of imperfect knowledge spring terror, dissension, danger, and disdain; but from perfect knowledge, given by the full-revealed Athena, strength and peace, in sign of which she is crowned with the olive spray, and bears the resistless spear" (p. 241). How does this reference to Greek myth tie back to his criticism of the modern state of society? Is Ruskin's tone optimistic or pessimistic in this speech?
In the Penguin Classics introduction to Unto the Last and Other Writings, Clive Wilmer states: "Ruskin is the master of the long sentence in English, the inclusiveness of the periods matching the range of his preoccupations" (p. 35). What key elements make Ruskin's use of the long sentence effective in his work? To what extent can his use of long sentences in "Traffic" be attributed to the fact that this was a speech and not a formal essay? Would the affectivity of such sentence structure change drastically if this were not a speech?
Ruskin often illustrates his points through parallels such as when he states, "what was play to you when boys, was not play to the sparrows; and what is play to you know, is not play to the small birds of State neither" (p. 237). Why is this text littered with such parallels and what role do they play in supporting his argument?
Last modified 29 September 2003