The Story Line / Plot Summary
‘Quality’ written by John Galsworthy in 1912 is about the German shoemakers, Gessler Brothers.
The story starts with the description of the boot shop; on top was the name plate ‘Gessler Brothers’ and a few shoes displayed on the window. They make shoes on order. The narrator then narrates one of his meetings with Mr. Gessler. He says it has not been possible to go to him much because the shoes he made have lasted very long and are the best of their kind.
One day the narrator goes to their shop to get a pair of Russian-leather shoes. Mr. Gessler retreats upstairs and comes back after some time holding a fine golden Russian leather piece. After the narrator’s approval he says he’ll get his shoes tomorrow fortnight.
One day the narrator goes to their boot shop and tells him that the last shoes he got from him creak. After a long pause Mr. Gessler asks him to bring the shoes to him. He assures that if he can’t repair them, he will give the money back.
Another day he goes to Gessler Brothers to order a new pair, wearing a pair of shoes which he bought due to some emergency from a big firm. Mr. Gessler at once recognizes that the shoes are not made by him. He touches a particular spot on the narrator’s shoe where it isn’t comfortable for the narrator and says that it hurts there. He expresses his contempt that those large firms attract customers through shiny impressive advertisements to sell their inferior quality products. Then the author explains to him under what circumstances he had to buy those shoes.
The new shoes lasted nearly two years. And in his next visit he receives quite a shock. When he enters the shop, he sees the younger Gessler brother who informs him of elder Gessler’s death. That day he orders several pairs. It takes longer to make them but the quality is even better than the previous ones.
Soon after, the narrator leaves for abroad and returns after over a year. The first shop he goes to is Mr. Gessler’s. Mr. Gessler, now seventy-five, is unable to recognize him at first. Narrator gives a huge order. The wait is longer than ever but the quality only gets better.
After a week, while passing the little street, the narrator thinks to go in and tell Mr. Gessler that the boots are perfect. But when he goes to the place where the shop was, the name plate is no longer there.
Disturbed, he goes into the shop and a young English face greets him. The narrator enquires about Mr. Gessler and comes to know of younger Gessler’s death. Upon hearing this the narrator is quite shocked.
The young man explains to him that Gessler died from starvation; he used to devote himself to shoe making so much that he used to forget about everything else. All the money went in the rents and leather. The fate was quite obvious from the beginning. But both the narrator and the young man agrees that the Gessler brothers made good quality boots.
Quality: A Commentary on the Story
“Quality” by John Galsworthy was first published in “The Inn of Tranquility: Studies and Essays” in 1912.
The story, written in first person narrative from an unknown narrator’s perspective, is a beautiful depiction of today’s cruel reality. The plot is set on the two traditional German shoemakers who did not compromise with quality and craftsmanship but met the sad fate of extinction in an age of marketing where success is determined “by advertisement, not by work.”
The story shows what our business world has become now: more the advertising, more the earning. No one pays attention to the poor traditional craftsmen who value art and quality of products. They have to suffer even though they don’t deserve that.
The main theme is commitment; commitment to one’s work, to one’s passion. Every worker is an artist if he loves his work and is immersed in it. The Gessler Brothers’ commitment towards their work is really touching. For them the struggles, the hardships are nothing as long as they keep doing their work.
There aren’t many characters in the story but those that are there are well portrayed, beautifully described and realistic.
The ending of the story is quite sad. There’s a sense of loss and grief. And that is what the author wants the readers to feel for those true craftsmen like the Gessler brothers who value quality, as the title suggests.