The Superannuated Man -Critical Analysis- Charles Lamb
Charles Lamb’s “The Superannuated Man” is one of the finest autobiographical and personal essays in the arena of English essay. In this essay “The Superannuated Man’, Charles Lamb has described the state of his mind after his retirement from his office. There is a fine blending of wit, humour and pathos in the essays which leaves a lasting impression on the readers.
The Superannuated Man -Critical Analysis- Charles Lamb
Lamb wrote his essays under the pseudonym of ‘Elia’. He has been rightly called as the ‘prince of English essay’. Charles Lamb has been entitled to a unique place as an essayist besides Montaigne, Ricard Steele and Joseph Addison. No other writer has kept the book of his life wide open for his readers than Charles Lamb.
THE SUPERANNUATED MAN
Lamb took delight in observing the hustle and bustle of the city of London. In “The Superannuated Man”, Lamb has expressed his love for the city of London in these lines. He says:
“I miss the cheerful cries of London, the music, and the ballad-singers – the buzz and stirring murmur of the streets. Those eternal bells depress me. The closed shops repeal me.”
Charles Lamb recalls the holidays on Christmas, Easter and on Sundays. But he could not enjoy his Sundays because it’s a holiday and on Sundays he could see only the closed doors of the shops and there was no hustle and bustle on the streets of London. He felt depressed when he found everything at rest in London.
Lamb liked the cheerful atmosphere of London: the music, the ballad-singers and the articles displayed in the shop windows. For him, Sunday was a day of gloom and sadness, he could not really enjoy on Sundays. We come to know that the writer was fond of excitement, stir and cheerful surrounding of the city of London. Most of Lamb’s essays are deeply personal and autobiographical. Lamb uses the essay as a vehicle of ‘self-revelation’. Charles Lamb has artistically described his state of mind on Sundays.
He says: “The phantom of the next day, with the dreary five to follow, sate as a load upon my poor Sabbath recreations. What charm has washed the Ethiop white? what is gone of Black Monday?
When Charles Lamb was still working at the office, he could not enjoy the Sundays as holiday because it would be followed by six days of tedious labour at the office. The joy of Sunday was marred by Monday. Formerly, every Monday was a sad and boring day for Lamb as it followed the Sunday. The thought of Monday would trouble the writer to great extent and would spoil the pleasure of Sunday as a holiday.
But after his retirement from the office, Monday is no longer a dreadful and boring day for him. Monday is now become as much a holiday as Sunday. The ‘blackness’ or sadness of Monday has now wiped out by some magic. It has become ‘white’ or attractive to Lamb.
Comment on Lamb’s style in ‘The Superannuated Man’
Charles Lamb’s essay “The Superannuated Man” is highly subjective and autobiographical in tone and it contains the essayist’s observations which are the outcome of his experiences. “The Superannuated Man” contains Lamb’s past memories and experiences of his retirement from his post where he worked for eight to ten hours with no holidays. No doubt, he had Sundays and a week’s holiday in summer but it seemed to pass too soon without enjoying it.
Lamb always felt a dislike for his office work though he attended it on regular basis. His life was a drudgery and he used to have terrible dreams in his sleep when he was fifty. The directors of the firm proposed that Lamb should retire and accept a pension for life equal to two third of his salary. Charles accepted the offer with gratitude.
Charles Lamb has described his condition after his retirement. He has now enough Time to himself as if he has been released from a jail. For the first few days after retirement, Lamb felt like a man who is suddenly released from a prison after an imprisonment of forty years.
Lamb says: “I was in the condition of a prisoner in the old Bastille, suddenly let loose after a forty years’ confinement. I could scarce trust myself with myself. It was like passing out of Time into Eternity – for it is a sort of Eternity for a man to have his Time all to himself.”
But soon, he began to feel that he now had more time than that he could manage. From an over-busy man, he had become a man with too much leisure. He had no sense of hurry now. In fact, he felt that he needed an adviser to suggest to him how he should utilize his time.
Lamb felt liberated from the clutches of Time after his retirement. He had now passed into a state of timelessness-Eternity. Time has ceased to bother him now because he has all time to himself. He felt like a prisoner who has got released from a jail after his retirement. Lamb has compared his days in office with Time spent in a prison where there was no freedom.
Lamb humorously says, “I have indeed lived nominally fifty years, but deduct out of them the hours which I have lived to other people, and not to myself, and you will find me still a young fellow.”
Lamb here states that though his age at the time of his retirement was fifty, yet from one point of view he was still a young person. He thinks that the time after getting retired is the true time which a man can properly call his own.
The time which a man spends for himself is the true time. As he has served people in the office, he has spent a vast amount of time for other people. Lamb felt himself to be still a young person in this sense. He adds that from the thirty valuable years of his past life, the time which he had spent for the other people should be deducted because he did not spend that time for himself. There is a fine mingling of humour and wit in these lines.
Charles Lamb has a strange feeling after his retirement that a vast period of time had passed since his retirement. Somehow, he could not believe that he had retired only for a short time before. It seemed to him that he had left the office ages ago. Charles Lamb has given vent to his pent-up feelings after he got retired from the office.
He says: “I missed my old chains, forsooth, as if they had been some necessary part of my apparel.”
Lamb says that after his retirement he had lost something important. He had the same feeling as a prisoner after his retirement from the office. He was accustomed to the tedious work for years; he missed the discipline and order which he had observed for years.
The feeling of drudgery and boredom in the office had become inseparable part of his life. He could not forget it even after his retirement just as a prisoner’s chains and fetters become the part of his dress during his imprisonment. In brief, after his retirement, Lamb felt that something was missing.
He even felt that the directors and the clerks were as dead to him. To get rid of this feeling, Lamb visited the office once or twice to meet his old colleagues. But he could not recapture the charm and spirit of the old times when he visited them. An exchange of old jokes with them seemed to have something artificial and stale about it. The old desk was now somebody else’s. Besides, Lamb felt somewhat guilty of having deserted his colleagues.
After a long interval of retirement, Lamb describes the confused state of his mind. He was now free to do what he liked but time stood still to him. He had lost all distinction of seasons and he didn’t even recall the day of the week and date of the month. In the end, Lamb asks why people have to work so hard, what is it all for?
Lamb says that he is in favour of the contemplative life. If he had a son, he would name him as ‘nothing-to-do’. These lines make the readers recall the two children Alice and John in his essay “Dream Children: A Reverie”. He wishes that an earthquake would swallow those cursed factories which keep workers so busy. He has done all that he came into the world to do. He has done his duty.
The essay “The Superannuated Man” is written in a mood which is a combination of a feeling of relief and a feeling of regret and melancholy. The feeling of melancholy arises from the writer’s inability to forget the laborious life that he has lived while the feeling of relief flows from the unlimited leisure which are not subjects for mere speculation. They have to be lived and understood. The only solution for all problem is to know ‘readiness is all’.
“The Superannuated Man” is one of the finest autobiographical essays by Charles Lamb. There is a fine blending of pathos, humour and wit through which Lamb has unveiled the account of his life after his retirement from the office in an artistic and realistic manner.
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