A Reflection on Chesterton’s Book: Tremendous Trifles
By Cara Ruegg
So, I am planning to do a bit of a commentary for sections on Chesterton’s book: Tremendous Trifles.
Chapter I: Tremendous Trifles
Here, Chesterton introduces his concept of pride vs humility with a story; two boys Peter and Paul come into contact with a fairy. Paul with “business-like abruptness” (an interesting choice of adjectives, might I add) said he wanted to be a giant to shorten his journey to far-off lands that he wished to see. The fairy granted his request, but Paul’s wish was quickly proven foolish for he realized these great places were now suddenly small and insignificant compared to his massive size, and he grew bored and laid down to sleep. Unfortunately for him, he fell asleep outside the hut of a backwoodsman who came out at that moment with an axe and a book of Neo-Catholic Philosophy. In this book, Chesterton is sure to make a point which leads to this story’s moral: “It can be maintained that the evil of pride consists in being out of proportion to the universe.” (Ch1, p.I) So, with that being said, the backwoodsman decides to cut the giant’s head off. Paul chose wrong when he made his wish. He wanted to be large, massive, bigger than the biggest things so as to make trips so short they’d be nearly instantaneous. He chose abruptly, too; he did not reflect. His pride led him to boredom, dissatisfaction. He saw himself as the biggest thing and so nothing held any wonder for him.
In contrast, Peter, as one might guess, chose instead to be small -- a pigmy half an inch tall. Once he became small, he realized ordinary grass appeared extraordinary and it was like he was in a jungle. So, unlike Paul, Peter was humble. He did not strive to enlarge himself but to shrink. So it is with the saints. Their happiness increases in proportion to their level of humility; they are too focused on the largeness of God.
Chesterton then claims that Peter and Paul are representations of two primary influences in European literature of his time period. He also adds that he is the pigmy.
“The only excuse for the scraps that follow is that they show what can be achieved with a commonplace existence and the sacred spectacles of exaggeration…The other great literary theory… moderns are to regain the primal zest by sprawling all over the world growing used to travel and geographical variety, being at home everywhere, that is being at home nowhere.” (ch 1, p.4)
Chesterton’s point is that, while some have this notion that in order to write about things well they need to go travel and experience many different cultures, he, on the other hand doesn’t think it’s necessary and wishes to talk about very small affairs in big language (ch 1. P.4). He also adds, in a quirky way, that while it may appear to some that he is making molehills into mountains, they are mountains to someone as small as a pigmy. In today’s society, this is a very important point. So many things that shouldn’t be enlarged and exaggerated are, and so many things that are really very important are basically downtrodden. For instance, being a stay-at-home mother. In today’s society, that is looked down upon. The world pushes its women to work, to be doctors and lawyers, to sell houses, to conduct business, anything but to stay home with their children; be a stay at home mom! – that’s a waste of time; that’s a pointless existence. Meanwhile, today’s society is falling to pieces and people wonder why. Easy, the heart has been taken from the home. Family life has been destroyed. The world talks about women’s rights, while at the same time making her into a sex object by its filthy portrayal of her in the media. The world sees money as a measure of success, when really it is not that at all. The most successful jobs are not the ones that bring in the most money, but rather the ones that lead you and others to your ultimate end: heaven.
Chesterton also makes mention of the “Alpine guide”, also known as the devil, and alludes to the time he tempted Jesus in the mountains, as he (the devil) overlooked the “kingdoms of the world” (Matthew 4:08). Chesterton states, he doesn’t wish to go to the peak of the mountain like the devil had in that instance, but rather lift up his eyes from the hills where comes his help, alluding, it would seem to psalm 120: “I have lifted up my eyes to the mountains, from whence help shall come to me. My help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth”. He doesn’t want to look down upon the world as the giant did, but upward not as a ruler, but a humble servant, upward to heaven, to God.
“The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” – this is Chesterton’s triumphant ending to his first chapter, and it is a beautifully profound line. There are many beautiful things in this world, many things to lift our souls to God. The problem lies not in anything that is lacking around us, but rather what is lacking within us.