In Lit, Who Best Represents Each Job?

Ford Madox Brown, “Work” (1865)


I’ve set myself the challenge in today’s post to name the best literary depictions of different professions. It’s one of those exercises that’s more useful for spurring conversations than providing definite answers, but what else is this blog for? Feel free to add more professions to the list as well as weigh in with alternatives to my choices.

College Professor – William Stoner in John Williams’s Stoner (runner-up: Vivian Bearing in W;t)

Teacher – Lucy Snowe in Villette

Intellectual – Dr. Faustus

Scientist – Victor Frankenstein

Author – David Copperfield

Farmer – The Joad Family in Grapes of Wrath

Farmhand – George and Lenny in Of Mice and Men

Cowboy – Gus McCrae in Lonesome Dove

Governess – Jane Eyre

Doctor – Doc Daneeka in Catch-22

Veterinarian – Doctor Doolittle

Nurse – Nurse Ratched

Lawyer – Tulkinghorn in Bleak House

Legal clerk – Bartleby

Ship captain – Marlow in Heart of Darkness

Sailor – Billy Budd

Whale harpooner – Queequeg

Fisherman – Hemingway’s Old Man

Carpenter – Adam Bede

Politician – Marc Antony in Julius Caesar

Dairymaid – Tess Durbeyfield

Military Commander – Othello (runner-up: Macbeth)

Enlisted Man –  Rat Kiley in The Things They Carried

Enlisted Woman – Mary Anne Bell (a.k.a. Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong)

Warrior – Homer’s Achilles

Private Eye – toss-up between Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe

Detective – Sherlock Holmes, of course

Gentleman Detective – Sir Peter Whimsey

Banker – Scrooge

Thief – Moll Flanders

Prostitute – Sonia in Crime and Punishment

Courtesan – Madame de Merteuil in Liaisons Dangereuses

Fence – Peachum in Beggar’s Opera (runner-up: Fagan)

Highwayman – Mac the Knife (runner-up: Alfred Noyes’s highwayman)

Housewife – Emma Bovary (runner-up: Mrs. Dalloway)

Factory owner – Bounderby

Factory worker – Boxer in Animal Farm

Landlady – Mistress Quickly (runner-up: Mrs. Hudson)

Squire – Darcy

Minister – Parson Adams in Joseph Andrews

Nun – Mother Superior in Doubt

Salvation Army missionary – Major Barbara

Realtor – the entire office of Glengarry Glen Ross

Salesman – Willie Loman

Send in your own favorites.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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