NOVEL BY ORHAN KEMAL
THE COBBLER and HIS SONS
The Cobbler and His Sons -The Change and Dissolution
in Rural Towns
By Dr. Mehmet Nuri Gültekin
Translated by Academy Group
“The Cobbler and His Sons” has lots of hints to show the economic and
class impact of the social evolution, modernisation that takes place in
Chukurova and Adana area. In the development process, the population
movements, the effects of the old life, new enrichment manners and the
newly rich have been delivered with quite successful descriptions in the
affect of the mechanization in agriculture to the working conditions
that relied on traditional manual production and the effect of it on the
status of man could be easily seen in this novel. Both how the villager-town-dweller
relationships and the family’s are affected from the social and economic
change, and the radical effect of fast change processes on the people’s
lives can be followed in “The Cobbler and His Sons”. The family, whose
life is being described, is actually a symbol. It is not singular; with
the changes experienced, it represents many families. When looked from a
different angle, leaving the technicality aside, by starting out with
the changes within three generations, what is being expressed in this
novel is, the characteristic of the evolution in the Turkish society or
transition from labor-intense agriculture, which was prevailing
Chukurova, to the mechanized production, has caused deep effects on the
majority of the population. Big human masses pour down to the cities and
evolve from being farmers into unqualified unemployed bulks. On the
other hand, in the cities, parallel to the changes experienced, with the
collapse of the traditional handicrafts against the machine, a big mass
that lived in the cities, but has been left out of production, has
experienced the process of “becoming field workers” in the city.
Especially the long war years that the society has lived and
participated in every aspect, has caused many transformations. It
created sudden and serious changes in the characteristics of the
population in the cities. In Orhan Kemal’s writings, the phenomenon of
“becoming field workers” and becoming a mass of unqualified workforce,
so to speak, becoming poorer and breaking away from production in the
cities are being handled in an attentive way.
beginning of the novel is quite successful in describing the social flux
in Chukurova. The flowing of agriculture towards industry and within
this big chaos the position of a cobbler shop, which is becoming
outdated, is settled on a meaningful form.
Topal Eskici’s clash with the new generations is not only because of age
difference or a generation clash. At the same time, this situation is a
reflection of a change that is being experienced. The father and the
neighbors (other tradesman), are the actors of the change and history,
in the 1930’s and 1940’s of Turkish society. The old Eskici, is the
representative of a time, where in the base, nothing is done for money,
but the feudal prestige is the starting point of all actions. There is a
strong resistance against time and advancements. The clear opposition of
Eskici’s younger son is the result of the reflection of time:
the intervention point of his own life, the fact of “migration” is seen
in a different way. For Topal Eskici, a bond is built between not only
his customers being stolen, but also, between the technology that the
migrant is using and his job going bad. Now the old (at every aspect
Topal Eskici) is pushed aside:
problem of Eskici is, his being left behind in technique and his extreme
conservatism insisting on the old style. It is also one of the main
reasons of the tension between his younger son and him. Now, being part
of the capitalist market (“doing business with the wholesalers”), makes
it essential to do some changes:
the arrived phase, the tension and value-struggle between the actors of
the country’s history and the ones that have economic benefit takes
stage. But the tangible results are close to justify the ones that have
economic benefit. From the description of the tangible conditions lived
and delivered from the Cobbler’s mouth, a reality of Turkey is revealed
again. The quotations here show that Topal Eskici’s only problem was not
the government; it was also the “godly powers”. Because, with their
value in the traditional memory, government which was identified with
the caliph, has a “godly” character; but both of them are inadequate
against the ‘new’ reality. The old cobbler has become someone who is
made fun of and teased in every aspect.
This tragic situation is not that Eskici had to pay a toll, but it is
that he still is unaware of the reality and how the things work. It
would take a long time to realize that being a ‘veteran’ has no
importance. What happened is an anomic, singular strike, which has no
collapse of some big land owners in Chukurova and emerging of newly rich
people and new ways of getting rich caused the past, that is being
described in the quotation above to be erased. We see that Aristocrats
are somehow loosing ground and the ones that do not have the capacity
and ability to harmonize the qualities of the new political and economic
relationships become impoverished. As is seen, the values that Topal
Eskici is proud to have and all the values that he turned to in the past
life, are shattered into pieces and dispersed in the world of his son
who wants to “buy goods from the wholesaler and do business as apiece”.
reality, as shown by their pragmatic approach against the God, Eskici
hopes for a gain, by adding the ‘national’ next to their ‘nobility’; but
it does not work, the collapse has accelerated.
the Ottoman times, Topal Eskici’s grandfather has acquired big lands as
a result of transformation, barter and property changing hands. It is
remarkable that these similarities within the generations are lived at
different extends in the Republic period without even lasting a few
Topal Eskici’s past is far beyond from being a simple history of wealth,
it is important in point of showing the indicators of social dynamics.
condition of the agriculture and social life (capitalist), before being
completely articulated to the market, can be understood from the above
quote. At the times where the change is too slow, and the transforming
effect of the economy on the objective conditions was far, the feudal
values had a meaning; but the times Topal lived, the 1945s and 1950s,
limits the chance of these values (at least with the mechanized
agriculture in Chukurova) to live only in the traditional memories with
a proud towards the past. In many novels of Orhan Kemal, we face him
describing the little or no effect of this kind of phenomenon on the new
conditions with the term “being proud of the gravestones”. But here,
more than Topal being proud of the past, there is his acceptance of the
defeat and his complaining of not being able to be like the rest of the
members of the society. He also adds a meaning to the faith and prayer
in this sense. This situation is inevitably submittance of an
individual, who recognized the weakness and decline of his class.
Another generation clash and mentality change is also mentioned in the
novel. Multi-culturality becomes an important phenomenon in Orhan Kemal
novels. But in the sense of social class, without looking at the
individual moves, we can say that there is a fall in the social status
a “deviation” in the family history of Topal Eskici, his father, by the
help of his friendship with the Armenians in Adana, meets with the
technology, but since there is not anybody else at his foresight and
progress level, the regression we have been mentioning continues.
Another interesting detail is the meaning that the “Gülbenkyan” family
represents. While the Armenians became the pioneer of modernisation in
Adana, the muslim community that the writer describes as “native”
develops familiar reactions. From the perspective of the writer, the end
of the ones who were not “friendly with the machine” has come true, in
the figure of Topal. Foresight, technical information and modernisation
becomes a phenomenon pioneered by the Armenians.
could be seen from the quotation below the reproduction and continuing
of feudal values have a lot more priority for the big landowners of
agriculture, which is yet to be articulated to the capitalizm. Topal’s
grandfather Resul Aga establishes all his expectations from his son
according to the traditions and his son (Topal’s father) exists in the
history of the family as a deviation because of his wide worldly view
from education to the technical knowledge. Because the last
representative of the family or as the character in the novel Topal
Eskici’s physical conditions show that Resul Aga’s feudal values are
followed and they have been defeated by the advancements experienced.
The development of capitalist agriculture relationships in Chukurova
justifies the previous foresights; and actualizes it with various
Resul Aga’s son’s (Topal’s father) expectations from his son (Topal) are
modern. Topal’s father’s foresight, devotion to trade, interest to
technology, helps even after the Armenians. Topal Eskici learns to
repair the shoes from his father’s Armenian friends. In the shoemaking
business, when we pay attention to the terms, we see that, besides the
relationship of Armenians with the outer world, we can also understand
the connections of the technology in the shoe atelier.
Topal, who had an Armenian friend (like his father), learns the
shoemaking business at Dikran’s fathers shop. When we pay attention, we
see that he always describes Armenians with ‘science’, innovation,
technology or craftsmanship. This is not a simple reflection; because,
as mentioned in the quotation above, the Armenians in the Chukurova area
in the 19th century has a leadership in the communal life and have also
an open side to the technological advancements.
When Topal’s leg have been cut off in Tripoli, he remembers these events
that he and his family has experienced and now the conditions of the
1940’s he is living in, new economical conditions, machines and life
that is changing from it’s roots...Topal tries to rise out of this
weight by changing, shrinking and paying a lot more price; but it was
too late. Remembering his past and the conditions of the new life,
pushes Topal and the alikes to the edge of life.
is possible to see all the signs of a process that is experienced in the
life of an individual. At this stage there is no value of the sacrifices
or heroism. Everybody takes their share from the evolution experienced,
like many people who has been displaced and who has changed classes. But
what Topal Eskici tried to do is, to spend the money that does not exist
anymore and is not used in the new market, the currency has changed.
There is neither the old Ottoman who sent him to the war and caused him
to lose a leg, nor the previous relationships and wealth that was owned
once. One of the reasons for people not to be able to accept the
class-decline and be so conservative against the social life is the
friskiness of the traditional memory.
What Topal has experienced since he came back from the war to Adana and
afterwards is actually a short history of a community. The ones who
left, the ones who changed and newly comers (migrants) are the
reflection of the realities of the changing conditions, apprehensions,
people’s consciousness as much as a fictional reality. Here, the
loneliness of the old cobbler is far more than a physical loneliness, it
is the loneliness of not being able to have a space at the social
structure, not being able to help in the new economic and social
relationships and not being valid-profitable. It is the loneliness of
not being able to harmonize with the new occurances and regression. As
an emblem of the outdated Ottoman, the cobbler symbolizes a
‘anachronism’, whose time has passed.
Another interesting point is the town-dwellers (however it was an
agricultural town, Adana) had a multi-cultural life. In many of Orhan
Kemal’s novels, this aspect is always emphasized. Existence of a living
together as a community culture is described as a fact of the community
in places other than Istanbul and other big cities. But the
multi-culturality or the values of the town in the changing social life
often faces a mutation because of the wars and enforced migrations. Now
Topal Eskici is an ‘excess’ in the new social life. All the values that
he defends without practicing, has a piece in this ‘excessiveness’.
Because none of the values he defends and the feudal culture he
represents has a value in this new social structure. Agriculture,
industry, machine etc. the confusing advancements justifies Topal’s
farseeing, ‘factory’ ambitious father. But what Topal has represented
and defended with his grandfather and all the feudal and irrational
values are inevitable to collapse and dissolve in the tangible Chukurova
things that left the social life of the cobbler; citizenship, feudal
values and the craftsman Armenians, reinforce his being pushed aside.
What is experienced is not just loneliness of being old or disabled, it
is the loneliness, reduction, collapse and being consumed away which is
caused by still defending the values of 50-60 years ago, while being in
the process of becoming upside down in Chukurova at the end of the
1940’s. In this sense, in the spook of the 40’s, no one has an issue of
remembering and valuing the communal events of ‘far’ dates like
1911-1912. And now, among the noises of the ‘factory’, no one has the
possibility or necessity to hear Topal Eskici:
There is the phenomenon of ‘war riches’ at almost every era in Turkey,
and it is possible to encounter it here too. From the quotes below, it
is possible to see the change of social facts and parallel to that, we
can see the class changes and the functioning of value criterias.
Topal Eskici leaves Adana for a while and works as a smith for tools
like plough, pickaxe etc. in villages. But this doesn’t last long
either. After the 2nd World War, the mechanization in agriculture brings
the balances upside down and that accelerates the ‘factory’ era more
which, the Gülbenkyan’s have anticipated in the 19th century. While this
fact has increased the quality and quantity of the agriculture, it
transforms the people, solves the old traditional land relationships
Topal Eskici leaves the smithing he did in the villages which had earned
him good money at first for a short time, after the mechanization and
return back to his cobbler shop. But the collapse has started once and
the transformation is sweeping away all the people, jobs...that belonged
to past; and Topal Eskici belongs to this people and jobs group.
scenery has changed quite a lot in the city that he has left for a
can see that getting rich only works for a limited minority and where
the richness reflects to. While becoming poor is always left as a fact,
the way and form of earning wealth has transformed but, it did not cause
a qualitative change on the poverty in Chukurova. Herein, it could be
said that many factors are determinative from the relationships in the
possession of land to the variety of the product.
Again, another situation that we understand from the novel is, the
status that Topal Eskici had when, at the beginning he brought a
know-how to the rural-village areas (at the beginning he could have a
place in the social structure), after the mechanization and
modernization the value he has lost. While tractor was causing deep
changes in the Turkish agriculture and country life, it rolls over the
old jobs and occupations like a cylinder. The occupations and people
that are excessive in this operation are pushed out of the system.
Being effected in the city starts with the entering of technology in
every aspect of life; but in time traditional family relationships
receives its split from the modernizing outcomes. Depending on the
technology being included in the production, the hold of individual
family members in the extended family becomes hard and shortly, this
extended family dissolves. With the determination and enforcement of the
outer forces, the functioning cogwheel of the extended family starts to
become stiff. This is what came true in the family of Topal Eskici.
Underneath of all the behavior’s of Topal Eskici’s younger son, there is
the old cobblers authority and traditional power which was not supported
by the new economic values. While turning his back to production methods
that considers the necessities of the technology and the market makes
the cobbler firm and conservative in the sense of conservation,
dialectically, it forces him to change and collapse by reducing his
power within the family. In the economic sense, when the old citizens
that produced with the simple hand crafts resist change, they become
weak to resist the outer pressures, lose their power and go rapidly
towards changing class.
Topal wants his older son to quit the shop they work together and find
his own job. But since traditional and emotional ties do not change as
fast as the economy, instead of saying this directly, he wants to do it
in a softer way and asks his younger son to communicate this to him.
Changing technological and economical conditions changes the consumption
habits and expectations of the society. The inevitable relation between
reaching the tools like refrigerator, radio, pressure cooker which have
already been a part of daily life and economic condition, causes
especially the female members of the family to question their own
status. This is what happens in Topal’s family.
impossibility of meeting the changing economic and social necessities
with small hand crafts is experienced. Family decides to go to the
countryside for the second time; but this time, it is different than the
first time when he left as a smith in both economic and status aspect.
His status when he went for the first time as a smith is higher than the
villagers and he had knowledge, but now, at his second time in the
countryside, there is a development that changed place; there is a
changed and different village and land. The return of the family to the
countryside, who was once the owner of an immense amount of land and
downgraded to handcrafts and moved to the town, is an indicator of
collapse in every sense. This situation of the family who could not
articulate to the new job opportunities in the town and had a loss
becomes a development that accelerates the dissolving. In other words,
the family that could not have the harmony to move to machine production
from the handcrafts become field workers. They have to go cotton picking;
they draw some advances and spend part of it. This shows that the family
is in another exploitation cogwheel.
After the decision of his sons to become cotton workers, Topal Eskici
accepts that the era he has been having difficulties in submitting has
changed; but his traditional habits prevents him to do the necessities
of the poverty. The perception of Eskici from outside is appropriate to
the conditions of the period. He is only tolerated and pitied in the bar
rooms. Thereafter, everything carries on as it should be.
expected, what has accelerated the dissolving in the Eskici family is
the sons who do not have a job that brings an economical yield. Despite
the traditional behaviors of the father, the decision of the sons to go
cotton picking arises from the necessity of their objective conditions.
Earning money averts the traditional manners. Compared to their father
it’s for the sons to make rational decisions, who have not experienced
the wealthy times of the family. This consciousness is seen as a must of
the physical conditions of life.
see that the physical conditions experienced like mechanization,
workforce move etc. averts the obligations and individual social status
anxieties and the traditional behaviors can not resist this pressure of
change. While in the changing agricultural conditions the enrichment
rate does not move much, but only, the place where the capital
accumulates moves more towards the big landowners instead of the cities.
This enrichment is not something that expanded to the base or a more
balanced growth, instead it is sudden growth caused by the effect of
a social relations system where the market is the determinator of the
production and values, all the behaviors and attitudes are formed around
it. In a not too much logical structure where the traditional values
like friend, comrade, family or neighbors are concentrated, ‘profit’ or
everything having an economic ‘value’ may seem far; but in Chukurova,
where these events are told, what Eskici has understood so late is
instead of all the traditional relationships, ‘self-interest’ has been
dominating for quite a long time.
Topal Eskici’s decision of going for picking cottons with his family has
been responded with a competition for his shop by the other tradesmen.
Everybody was trying to take an advantage of the situation; and the race
to grab Eskici’s shop and machines starts.
While all these were happening, parallel to the status of the family,
the necessity of the women to adapt the hard working conditions arise.
Because while an average craftsman in a traditional structure or his
kids are working, the woman generally deals with the house work and the
kids. With a regression and decline from this status, by becoming a
field or agriculture worker, women will also be working in the same
environment with men and will be in the system of exploitation.
this sense, from Zalha’s view, the daughter of Topal Eskici, it is
possible to see the change, the hopes of a collapsed family.
While the pressure of the objective conditions destroy all the values,
we witness that there is still a tension between the stands and
behaviors of the people. Because, going for cotton picking is seen as an
opportunity to reattain the status that was lost in the city or being a
field worker is perceived as a temporary job. However the physical
conditions worked differently and the decline will continue until the
tools of communal mechanism is possessed and there will be a
transfiguration. Although the personalities, especially the cobbler is
far from understanding this, the sons know everything has changed.
the family to go for picking cotton is a “must” as the physical
condition. And this is the condition that will determine everything.
This obligation can be seen as the pure result of all the advancements
in the family life.
the end the family goes to the lowland for cotton picking. But now the
toughness of the working conditions and life show itself harder this
time. Because of many reason like the flies, the heat, the laziness,
maleria and not knowing how to work on the land, the hopes of the family
towards this job starts to diminish.
Topal Eskici is a representative of confusion of mind or consciousness
in a rapidly changing, modernizing social structure. Against the
advances, pragmatically he embraces religious values. Although he knows
he cannot get a ‘benefit’ out of it, he still falls into contradictions.
Instead of understanding the objective social conditions, he questions
more of intangible values.
result Topal Eskici reaches by evaluating his conditions shows a defeat
in every aspect. While he is very weak in bar and wine issues, him
trying to give ethical lessons of this kind clarifies his
expected, his family who isn’t used to agricultural work, can not manage
to work properly, while trying to struggle with heat and malaria. The
younger son and grandson catches maleria. His daughter gets sick. Health
problems which were not accounted for appear.
Another character that needs to be mentioned here is Ünal, who is the
helper on the truck. This young lad that the family met when they came
to the cotton field represents the virtue of sharpness, success, being
able to do everything when an individual has ‘technical knowledge’ or
knows how to use a vehicle or tool that Orhan Kemal mentions at his
novels. He saves the family from deaths. Ünal has all the features of
the ‘technical type’. Another position that Ünal obtained in the family
life is be on Topal’s side against his sons, by ‘currying’ favour with
him. Therefore he causes a serious decomposition in the mechanism of the
Because of strong malaria attacks, the cotton-picking business is left
in the middle and they return back to the city. But this short time span,
causes serious fractures in the family’s, especially the cobblers
consciousness; in his opinion he became conscious. As one of the most
important advancement, his relationship with the ‘migrant cobbler’
starts to change. His understanding of the importance of hardship or
poverty in evaluating people is the first sign, which shows that Topal
started to perceive the objective conditions.
Because of the stiffness of the economic conditions, as it always
happens, people attack the easily pier cable features of the ones that
are “weak” like themselves, when they believe they do have enough power
to defeat them, in order to show their anger or reactions and the
cobbler is doing this. Because, the migrant cobbler is a tangible target
right in front of him, who is relatively the weakest and powerless.
the other hand, at the cotton picking business there is again failure.
There is a family type which is ‘in between’, where it neither fully
belongs to the city, nor to the countryside. The effort and work
represented by the family is a fact that needs to change and does not
belong to the city. It became inevitable to determine a direction
towards the work forms, which are accepted by the era and the social
Later on, the events continue with the transforming power of life.
Topal’s daugther marries the Truck helper Unal and his younger son
marries a girl he meets at the cotton field. One by one the children of
the cobbler slip off the feudal relationships that do not work anymore.
a result, this novel shows us a very serious social disintegration, and
the other face of modernisation from the start to the end, beginning
with Topal Eskici’s father. Changing economic relationships,
mechanization in agriculture give rise to a class of newly poor, field
workers and laborers. While these are happening, everything belonging to
the past, be it jobs or community values, has a deep-rooted shock,
transformation and change. Therefore it seems possible for the actuality
of the novel, to follow the social activity from Topal’s life and the
resolution of his traditional family, in the duration from the end of
the 19th century through the 1950s.