2 min read

Hogswatch charity

From page 205 of Terry Pratchett's Hogswatch, a scene where a king and his page have just burst into an old man peasant's hut. They're offering the leftovers from the king's feast despite protests:

"And I expect you're pathetically thankful," said the page. "I expect we've brought a ray of light into your dark tunnel of a life, hmm?"

"—yes, well, o' course, only I'd been savin' 'em for weeks, see, and there's some bakin' potatoes under the fire, I found 'em in the cellar 'n' the mice'd hardly touched 'em." The old man never raised his eyes from knee level. "'n' our dad brought me up never to ask for—"

"Listen," said the king, raising his voice a little, "I've walked miles tonight and I bet you've never seen food like this in your whole life, eh?"

Tears of humiliated embarrassment were rolling down the old man's face.

"—well, I'm sure it's very kind of you fine gennelmen but I ain't sure I knows how to eat swans and such like, but if you want a bit o' my beans you've only got to say—"

"Let me make myself absolutely clear," said the king sharply. "This is some genuine Hogswatch charity, d'you understand? And we're going to sit here and watch the smile on your grubby but honest face, is that understood?"

It's amazing how ungenerous this king's generous offering is. He spells it out: It's about what he wants to get from the old man. It's transactional, and not even a decent transaction. Give me the good feels of Hogswatch Charity and I'll give you what I feel like giving you. I'm sure it's better than whatever you could put together for yourself. The page goes on to prompt the old man for gratitude.

The king and his page remark on the man's poor circumstances constantly. They humiliate the man for what he can do in his situation: "pathetically thankful," "ray of light in your dark tunnel of a life," "I bet you've never seen food like this in your life," "your grubby but honest face." They insist the old man see himself the way they see him: As lower than dirt and incapable of providing for himself.

Death tells them off for giving him "what they want to give him" instead of "what he needs," but to me insisting on their point of view is worse. His self-respect is valuable, and one of the few things he has. The king and page demand he trade it for table scraps.