Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 368

In 2008, Marquette University Press released Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day. By juxtaposing her recurrent diary concerns against Loaves and Fishes, we can more readily discern some of the themes underlying Day's thinking as she headed the Catholic Worker movement that she describes in her book.

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A recurrent theme in the diaries, which appears in more muted form in Loaves and Fishes, is the sheer physical difficulty of living amid the poor. For example, on September 22, 1935, she writes in her diary of:

the foul smell of unwashed bodies . . . Lack of privacy. But Christ was born in a stable.

At fifty, for all her years with the poor living in a tenement, Day still recorded in her diary her feeling of distance from the poor. Knowing this, we can see more clearly in a book like Loaves and Fishes her desire to close that gap. Day wrote in her diary of never knowing what it would be like, in reality, to be the poor mother of three, six, or ten children (112). Much of her life's work, as exemplified in Loaves and Fishes, was to enter into the skin of the downtrodden, not just to know them, but to understand what it is like to be them.

Certain quotes became sustaining touchstones in Day's life. Day was an avid reader as well as a doer, and she returned over and over to Dostoevsky, especially the words in The Brothers Karamazov that "Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams." This concept informs Loaves and Fishes, in which Day never backed away from describing the hard elements of loving deeply flawed humans.

Powering books like Loaves and Fishes is a life of both contemplative reading and fearless action. For Day, it was never an either/or choice between thought and action: the fully realized life, lived well, requires both. Therefore, threaded throughout a lifetime of active engagement and struggle with the world was the reading life that sustained Day. Beyond only the Bible and religious books, Day constantly returned to Dostoevsky, Dickens, Tolstoy, and Jane Austen as touchstones. She leaned into literature to support her through a life of suffering, joy, and service.

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