On Umbrella Morals by A.G. Gardiner
In On Umbrella Morals by A.G. Gardiner we have the theme of honesty, morality, guilt, appearance, acceptance and social opinion. Taken from his Pebbles on the Shore collection the reader realises after reading the essay that Gardiner may be exploring the theme of honesty. For Gardiner there are two types of honesty. One in whereby a genuine mistake is made and one where an individual knows he is being dishonest. For the case of the essay Gardiner is discussing the former. An honest mistake can be made where a man takes another man’s umbrella. However this does not mean that the same man is pleased at what has happened to his umbrella. If anything he takes exception to the fact. Even though he himself (Gardiner) may not necessarily own the umbrella he is carrying. Gardiner also uses other incidents in the essay to highlight the morality of an honest mistake. Some people, may travel on a train without the proper ticket. These people are not to be scorned at as they are only doing what others might do. However it is unlikely that the rail company would see things in the same light.
Gardiner also appears to be exploring the theme of guilt or rather the lack of it. Particularly when it comes to the borrowing of books. The gentleman mentioned in the essay, who has died, and whose books are for sale. Has borrowed each of his books from libraries and not returned them. The effects of this are twofold. Firstly nobody else gets to enjoy reading the books and secondly the man’s actions are accepted by his peers as it is an institute (library) he has stolen from. No single individual, unless you consider other potential readers, has been affected. It is by accepting the nefarious activity of others that matters become acceptable. Surely there is no real crime in stealing another man’s umbrella. Merely you bring discomfort to the individual whose umbrella has been stolen. So really no crime has been committed among gentlemen. It is the same with hats. Gardiner’s hat is stolen and he automatically pictures the thief to be a Conservative rather than a Labour man. Basing his opinion on the appearance of the hat and nothing else. In reality Gardiner is not qualified to judge who may have robbed his hat or umbrella for that matter.
It might also be important to remember that Gardiner gets bitter about the loss of his umbrella. Even though he himself has taken other people’s umbrellas. In fact at the end of the essay there is a sense that Gardiner, who wants to put his name on an umbrella, will actually rob another umbrella rather than have his name on the broken cotton umbrella he has in his possession. If anything Gardiner is no different to the thief who stole his umbrella. There are no morals when it comes to umbrellas whether taking them by accident or otherwise. Which may be the point that Gardiner is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that when it comes to matter of borrowing umbrella’s there are not only no morals but there are no rules. Every umbrella and every person is fair game. Regardless of whether the individual might consider themselves to be a noble man. It is as though man cannot help but steal umbrellas, hats and books. They do not think they are really causing any harm to others.
Guilt is also a driving factor when it comes to Gardiner returning the umbrella at the end of the essay. He knows who owns it and knows that the gentleman is of noble stock. If anything Gardiner may be more concerned about others reaction to him having the gentleman’s umbrella. The reader suspecting that social opinion is important to Gardiner. However it is clear to Gardiner that the gentleman was not aware that his umbrella was missing. The only marking on the umbrella was the gentleman’s name. Something which triggers an idea within Gardiner. He intends to get another umbrella (possibly stealing it) and having his own name put on the umbrella. There is no lesson learnt in the essay. Gardiner will do as other gentleman will do and he will not feel guilty about it. Just as the man who has his umbrella doesn’t feel guilty about having taken Gardiner’s umbrella. Though some critics might not agree with it. Ethically and morally Gardiner is doing the wrong thing. Yet it sits comfortably with him.