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In "Pity this busy monster, manukind," what does the speaker mean when he says that...

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mesquitefootball | Honors

Posted May 2, 2011 at 2:31 PM via web

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In "Pity this busy monster, manukind," what does the speaker mean when he says that "progress is a comfortable disease"?

How does it relate to Cummings' criticism of perceived scientific progress?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 27, 2011 at 2:07 AM (Answer #1)

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This is an excellent question! Like many works of the "modernist" period in American literature (which covered roughly the first half of the twentieth century), Cummings' poem satirizes the modern obsession with material "progress." Many writers at the time believed that modern people were so obsessed with making money and accumulating wealth that they had abandoned an interest in more lofty, more idealistic values.

It seems signifcant that the first adjective used in the poem is "busy" (1). This word implies the modern emphasis on work of all kinds, including physical labor in industrial settings but also including the work of appropriately named businessmen.

Therefore, by asserting that "Progress is a comfortable disease," the speaker of Cummings' poem seems to imply that an obsession with material progress is a kind of spiritual or psychological sickness.  It can make people financially "comfortable"; it can seem "comfortable" to those (especially the wealthy) who benefit from it; but ultimately it can also be somewhat soul-destroying.

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