Sunday, October 23, 2016

Reflection on an Excerpt from "On the Want Of Money"

William Hazlitt's "On the Want of Money" is a compelling piece that takes a look at how money, or rather the want of it, is dehumanizing as it takes away from the pleasures of life, leaving it barren and banal. The nineteenth century writer's purpose for writing this piece could've been to highlight the detrimental effect money has all on people, wealthy and impoverished alike. The tone of the essay can be characterized as satiric due to the fact that Hazlitt dismisses the human yearning for affluence as foolishness. For instance, on lines 18-19 he gives an exaggerated example of the lengths people would go to money. He says that to want money is to be willing to "marry your landlady, or not the person you wish. " This is quite the exaggeration and is clearly satiric as he is ridiculing human kind's desperate need for wealth. Additionally, Hazlitt utilizes diction to further establish his argument. In the phrase "to forgo leisure, freedom, ease of body and mind, to be dependent on the good-will and caprice of others" the employment of words such as "forgo" and "dependent" contribute to a sense of despondency as Hazlitt compares being poor to being powerless in life. He then employs the same rhetorical techniques to show that being wealthy is no better than being poor. For example, he uses words like "envy, back-biting, and false-hood" to show the type of response others will have about someone's wealth. Ultimately, Hazlitt makes an effective argument by utilizing word choice and satire to show that when it comes to wealth, the grass really isn't greener on the other side. This essay is applicable to the world today as it can serve as a reminder to people to slow down from their search for wealth, reassess their morals and live their life to the fullest.


  1. Hi Elizabeth! I agree with your analysis of William Hazlitt's essay "On the Want of Money". Like you said, Hazlitt is trying to "highlight the detrimental effect money has on all people, wealthy and impoverished alike." By comparing the life of both the wealthy and the impoverished Hazlitt was able to create a more complex argument that although money can't necessarily buy happiness, without money misery will prevail. For this reason people might go to extreme ends such as to "marry your landlady, or not the person you wish" in order to gain more wealth. Essentially, the greed people have for money may cause them to abandon their morals as well as happiness. Although I agree that Hazlitt uses diction to further establish his argument and connect the life of being poor to being powerless in life; I would like to add that the use of syntax also plays an important role. Specifically, with the entire essay being just three sentences long, Hazlitt was able to effectively create a tedious and never-ending feeling, similar to that of a worker. Specifically in the second sentence, Hazlitt simply lists the misfortunes a common worker must face. Some of which includes being “rejected with contempt”, “scrutinized by strangers”, and “neglected by friends”. By combining everything into this one long sentence it creates a sense of hardship for the poor, who have no breaks or pauses in their life and no time to rest. This is also true for someone with wealth. Even though their "hardships" are different as they are indeed influential people, like you said Hazlitt "uses words like 'envy', 'back-biting', and 'false-hood' to show the type of response others will have about someone's wealth. This shows that people will only truly care about the money and not the person who owns the money. Ultimately, Hazlitt uses many rhetorical devices to portray the struggles of being too poor or too rich. Even though this essay was written in the 19th century, many claims still hold true today. For instance, getting a job; many people often look at the salary of a job before looking at what they are truly interested in. Do you think that a job earning more money will make a person happier in the long-run as opposed to a job that makes inadequate amount of money (despite the work interests of the person)?

    1. Hi Jennifer! Thank you for your response and your very interesting look at Hazlitt's use of syntax. I think you nailed the symbolism behind the long second sentence of the essay when you said that it represents the life of the poor "...who have no breaks or pauses in their life and no time to rest." I think its very important to recognize these aspects of writing as they can tell you just as much about the authors purpose and position as the actually piece itself. To answer your question, I think that most people confuse making money with being happy - they think that happiness is defined by their material affluence. So I guess measuring someone's happiness just depends on the type of person they are and what they want in life. Some could earn a lot of money from a job they don't like and still be happy doing what they like on the side. Others could make their life about passion, they could choose to live through the hardships that come with a low paying job but they wouldn't care because they would be doing what they love and that would be enough.