Give a character sketch of Mr. Gessler as depicted in John Galsworthy’s short story “Quality”.
Mr. Gessler in Galsworthy’s short story “Quality” is a traditional German shoemaker who values quality of the shoes he makes. He is the younger of the two Gessler Brothers and is the protagonist of the story.
Mr. Gessler, a little, short-statured man with “his yellow crinkly face, and crinkly reddish hair and beard, … his guttural and one-toned voice” is described as “as if made from leather”. This kind of physical description of the man is not without purpose though. The words “as if made of leather” indicate that Mr. Gessler is “stiff and slow of purpose” like leather. He is as dependable as the quality of leather he uses to make his shoes, though he is slow in execution. Moreover, Mr. Gessler’s ideal of being a perfectionist was reflected in his gray-blue eyes which, the narrator comments “had in them the simple gravity of one secretly possessed by the Ideal”. As a hard-working shoemaker tirelessly making boots since his youth, Mr. Gessler’s mission in life seemed to make quality shoes as per the demands of his customers.
To Mr. Gessler, shoe-making was not a mere profession, but a sacred vocation, an art of which he was a passionate artist. Once the narrator asked him whether his work of shoe-making was awfully hard. Gessler answered with a smile –
“Id is an Ardt!” (It is an art!)
Gessler’s passion for shoe-making is evident from the fact that he performed all the activities himself like working on the leather, taking measurements and stitching the shoes. The narrator also says that when he had to leave his work to attend to the customers, he appeared as if he had been awakened from some dream of shoes or like an owl, who felt surprised in daylight. In fact, it was his passion for his work that he continued his efforts to maintain excellence in his work despite all the hardships, including the death of his elder brother.
Mr. Gessler was a perfectionist. That is why he used to make shoes only on order, according to the needs of individual customers. He was against mass production. He made sure that the shoes he made were not only durable but also comfortable. He would take longer time rather than delivering sub-par quality shoes. Quality was more important than quantity to Gessler brothers.
Gessler had a command over his work. He was so well-versed in his vocation that he could tell whether the shoes were made by him or somebody else by simply looking at them. Moreover, he could understand where the shoe might be hurting the wearer by just looking at them. When the narrator once went to the Gesslers’ shop wearing a shoe bought from another large firm, Gessler simply pressed the shoe on the place where it was not quite comfortable.
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Gessler’s devotion and commitment towards his work was evident in the fact that he spent all his time, energy and money in shoe-making. He didn’t even allow himself enough time to eat and rest. All the money went in rent and leather. “Slow starvation”, as the doctor called it, was what he suffered from in his pursuit to make best quality shoes. A determined man, he would prefer to face hardships and would starve, but still won’t compromise on quality.
Mr. Gessler’s was sad seeing the degradation of the sacred art of shoe-making by the entry of large firms which had sophisticated machinery and huge capital to advertise their products. This sadness is quite evident when he regrets –
“… dey get id by advertisement, nod by work. Dey dake it away from us, who lofe our boods.” (They get it by advertisement, not by work. They take it away from us, who love our boots.)
“… beople do nod wand good boods, id seems.” (People do not want good boots, it seems.)
In an age of marketing, where success id determined by advertisement and not by work, a traditional shoemaker like Mr. Gessler faced tough competition and challenges from those big businesses, but his struggling spirit never yielded to them. To the last days of his life, on the verge of extinction, he continued making quality shoes. That is why, both the English young man and the narrator had to agree that “he made good boots”. And even after his death, Mr. Gessler remains alive in the heart of his loyal customers like the narrator.
Gessler was so lovable and respectable a character with all his craftsmanship, devotion and honesty that his death by slow starvation evokes a sense of pity in the readers’ mind.