Isaac Gordon (b.1927): Life and Labour, part one

 “It must be that they get cheap labour from Jamaica,
  and if you’re any trouble they send you back.” (13)

Isaac Gordon’s memoir focuses on the work that he does all over the globe, all of the jobs that he does throughout his life are cheap manual labour jobs. I will focus two posts on talking about Isaac’s life and labour, taking you on a journey of accomplishment, troubles, laughs and hardship.

Image that Isaac included in his memoir of an Orange tree at the farm he used to work at.h

Isaac takes pride in the first job that he got working on the farm with his Father immediately after he left school. He says that “farm work is very hard” and that he used to be “walking and sleeping” on his way to work (6). This shows that although this job was extremely challenging and tiring, Isaac was fully dedicated to his work and not letting his Father down. Isaac says later in his memoir that he liked working on the farm the most because he was able to sustain himself without needing any money. Many of Isaac’s other jobs were incredibly low paid, and he struggled with money throughout his whole life. He was shocked when he first went to England and saw sweet potatoes being sold for “3 or 4 shillings” as at home his Father would “go the field and dig it,” (20). This shows that Isaac was fully aware of the economy and that he enjoyed being back in Jamaica a lot more than when he was forced by his family to live and work in England.

When Isaac’s Father first moved to England for work, Isaac had to find other means of income and he “stayed with [his] cousin in Trelawney. Here, Isaac did “building work” and worked “with a white man” building tourist’s houses “in the sea.” (7). Isaac said that when he was doing this work with his cousin that he “did happy at that time.” (7). The fact that Isaac was happy in this job shows that family was central to him, as discussed in my earlier post about home an family. When Isaac is working alone in Scarborough, he does not seem to be as happy with his life, compared to when he is working with his family.

Image Isaac included in his memoir of him weighing yam for the market.

Isaac uses many images of himself doing various jobs and him in various places in Jamaica, in order to show the reader what he has experienced as well as telling us. Gustav Klaus said, “The photography of the 1930’s also bore the vivid hallmark of social documentary interests.” (1985, 144). This book by Klaus suggests that images were a key part in writing in order to show what cannot be expressed through words. Isaac uses his images to show the exact nature of his farm work, he includes captions to his images too. For example, when he shows the reader an image of him weighing yam he captions it “Weighing the yam to go to the market.” (5). These images used by Isaac do help his narrative progress and gives us a deeper insight into a world of work that we would not usually be exposed to.  

Finally, to conclude the first instalment of Isaac’s life and labour, he references the differences between going to church in Jamaica and going to church in England. He says that “the church back home is more enjoyment than here” and that he “used to like the church” (9). Isaac believes that the church in the West Indies is “more Christian” than those in England because “them are more worthier over there than over here.” (9). This passage from Isaac shows that he is committed to his religion and that his dislike for England is growing, not only because of the low paid work but now because of religion too

Image of the parish in the hear of St Ann, where Isaac stayed for a while with his mother.h

Works Cited:

Gordon, Isaac. Going Where the Work is. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection Library, vol. 2.327.

Klaus, H. Gustav. The Literature of Labour: Two Hundred Years of Working-Class Writing. Brighton: Harvester, 1985.

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