On Doing Nothing by J.B. Priestley
In On Doing Nothing by J.B. Priestley we have the theme of peace of mind, laziness, envy, desire and very early on in the essay the reader realises that Priestley may be exploring the theme of peace of mind. Priestley while on the moors with his friend finds a sense of calmness and peace of mind. Something that he does not find in the city and which he is grateful for. He believes that others too would benefit from doing nothing or being lazy for a period of time. With an example referring to WWI being given and how things might have turned out differently should those who were involved in WWI have taken a break from politics in July 1914. Similarly those who were involved in the peace conference of 1918 might have served themselves better by taking a break from their normal duties. If anything Priestley appears to be suggesting that society as a whole would benefit from taking time out from their everyday work and being lazy for a period. Mankind would benefit. It is also difficult not to disagree with Priestley particularly when he makes reference to WWI.
Priestley also believes that some people might feel envious of those who are considered to be lazy. Their detachment from the world is envious and something to be likewise sought or admired though not necessarily stated as such. Selfridge being a prime example of those who might feel envious of those who are considered to be lazy. Selfridge appears to thrive on admonishing the lazy yet he may very well be aware of the fact that he himself, should he allow for it, would benefit from taking time out from the world. Which is often the case. Those who admonish an idea or practice often long to be able to perform the same practice that they admonish. Such is human nature and the desires of mankind. Priestley may also be suggesting that there is nothing better than taking time out from the world. There is nothing that it can be compared to particularly in a world where man tries to escape so often yet is unsuccessful. Those who chose not to escape or be idle for a period of time have the reader’s sympathy and most likely Priestley’s as well.
It is also noticeable that Priestley draws on religion to emphasis his point. Believing that those who partake in religious conferences might serve their time better being idle for a period. This might be important as Priestley might be suggesting that there are some who are overzealous when it comes to their beliefs. Not only religious beliefs but on their beliefs with regard to society and how it functions. In reality Priestley is highlighting the benefit of being lazy or idle with regard to a large multitude of society. There may be less wars and reasons for man to be in constant conflict with himself. Though Priestley may be in the minority he still does not let go of his belief that others would benefit from being idle. If anything society may have found itself in a bind by being so active. Something that is clearer to the reader by Priestley referencing WWI. Priestley also criticizes America for its belief that laziness is the primary sin. This too may be important as by introducing America into the story. Priestley may be attempting to highlight the good and bad of the American dream. A dream in whereby it is believed a man (or woman) by hard work can achieve anything. When the reality may be that a constant effort in chasing the American dream may not necessarily be needed. A person after all needs time to relax.
The end of the essay is also interesting as Priestley draws on Wordsworth to back up his opinion on laziness. This may be significant as Wordsworth would be a leading English poet and Priestley may have an English audience in mind when he wrote the essay. Though it is noticeable that Priestley also draws on the American poet Walt Whitman who Priestley suggests may have had a lazy streak and as such this may have contributed to his success. The last sentence of the essay ‘And he would be right’ might also be significant as it suggests that Priestley is totally dedicated to the idea of being idle for a period of time. That there are proven benefits to being so. As to whether the reader themselves agrees is really left to each individual reader to decide. Some might suggest that laziness is indeed the primary sin while others may very well be exponents of the idea of having periods of idleness.