In the first half of the fifth chapter of Making Money, Moist tests out his new money and then decides to take things much, much further. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
You know, I never really took for granted that money, in its standard forms in the US, has always just been there. I mean, I have witnessed the change our world is making away from physical money and to the age of digital wallets. I can pay most of my bills automatically, and sometimes, I go weeks without taking a credit or debit card out of my wallet. But through this book, I get to experience people encountering a dollar bill for the first time. A single dollar bill! That’s all Moist produces to Mr. Proust at the opening of this chapter to get him to consider a different way of running his business and existing in the world of Ankh-Morpork. A bill of promise, signed by Moist and the chairman, that is “worth” a single dollar. Well, even that gets up-ended later, but I’ll get to that. I’m struck by how pure this all felt. It’s relatively simplistic, and yet, look at the profound effect it has on the people of the city in just twenty-four hours. Proust takes his dollar, and he spends it in Natty Poleforth’s shop, who then takes that same piece of paper and spends it at the butcher’s place, and that tiny amount of money suddenly doesn’t seem so tiny, does it? That one piece of paper travels so far and accomplishes so much, and that’s exactly what Moist wants.
Which does not mean that Pratchett makes this easy for him. That’s hardly the case, and Moist immediately has to contend with a number of complications. First of all, all these vendors are comfortable using dollars, but only if, at the heart of it, it is backed by gold. That’s the promise made, but we see it from two sides. First, that’s from the point of view of those who are using the bank’s money, and later, Mr. Bent will note how vital it is that the bank’s money is only metaphorically backed by gold. How is a system like that sustainable? What happens if people actually ask for that gold? I feel like Pratchett is really trying to examine the nature of worth and how it’s all constructed by people. It’s not a natural thing! There’s not a “natural” value to gold; it’s all what we make it. These same men who were willing to use a dollar also believe this:
“Oh, yes, you’ve got to have the gold,” said Mr. Drayman.
There was a general murmur of agreement, and Moist felt his spirits slump.
“But I thought we’d all agreed that you don’t need the gold?” he said. In fact, they hadn’t, but it was worth a try.
“Ah, yes, but it’s got to be there somewhere,” said Mr. Drayman.
“It keeps banks honest,” said Mr. Poleforth, in the tone of plonking certainty that is the hallmark of that most knowledgable of beings, The Man In The Pub.
But can any of them actually explain WHY it keeps banks honest? Not really. So it’s an arbitrarily assigned meaning that’s stuck around due to tradition. How can Moist change that?
Well, if that was his only problem, I might have a theory. Changing the minds of everyday people? Moist can do that. It’s what he was born to do. But then we’ve got the Lavishes, and in this chapter, that’s specifically Pucci Lavish. First, she tries to ruin Moist’s reputation by catching him in her coach while she is scantily clad. (I learned what the word “dishabille” means!!!) Then, Moist pisses her off when he expertly leaps out of the coach’s window and crashes in the iconographer she had paid to follow them. So, by the time the big confrontation happens at the bank itself, she was ready for BLOOD. Pucci had played dirty, had lost INSTANTLY, and thus, she tries… well, let’s get to that in a bit. Can I also just state that I am very touched by Gladys and her attempt to understand what it means to be a woman in Ankh-Morpork? She’s trying so hard!!! She wanted to help relieve Moist’s stress! Yes, she nearly broke him in two, but it’s the thought that counts, right? PROTECT GLADYS AT ALL COSTS, Y’ALL.
Anyway, let’s discuss Moist’s promises and Mr. Bent. Y’all, I really, really loved this whole sequence because Pratchett managed to accomplish a whole lot with like… ten pages. First of all, there’s the humiliation of Pucci Lavish. I didn’t expect her to be able to sway all the people who crowded the bank, I should note. It feels obvious that the city mostly sees the Lavishes as corrupt, super rich, and completely out of touch with everyone who has less money than them. So yes, she had a lot to overcome, but even then? She screwed up BADLY. She doesn’t care about stamps or the post office, but Moist uses that to his advantage as he does… well, nothing. Nothing at all! And I said this on video, but I love that he holds up a dollar, and then Pucci’s inability to read the room leads her to doing everything Moist was supposed to do. She proves his point for him: that people assign meaning to what they want. Knowing that Moist’s stamps frequently fetch obscene prices, these people know that a first-run dollar will one day be worth a ton, disproving Pucci’s claim that the dollar is worthless. It’s BEAUTIFUL to watch, but I loved this line the most:
She had no idea how to handle people and she tried to make self-esteem do the work of self-respect…
What an incredible insult.
But there’s another layer here to the spectacle. And this is a spectacle because while Moist has made significant moves in his plan to modernize the bank, he still has a long way to go. This was a very flashy and memorable moment. Amidst this, though, there’s Mr. Bent, who is quickly becoming the most interesting character in this book. I don’t really seem him as an antagonist, even if he presents as a constant conflict for Moist. And in this chapter, there’s a stunning rawness to his characterization. Pratchett initially seemed to be invoking the comedy trope of pairing the straight man with the wacky one, and there’s lots of head shaking and finger wagging to go along with it. There is a proper way to do things! Why is this person flouting all the rules?!?!?!
Except then there’s this:
“I do not make people laugh, and this is not my world. I don’t know how to smile like you do and talk like you do. Don’t you understand? There must be something which has a worth that goes beyond fashion and politics, a worth that endures.”
It’s a striking moment, isn’t it? Mr. Bent is honest about how Moist is now forcing him into a place that’s… well, is “uncomfortable” even the right word? No, it’s more like Moist is trying to make him exist in a place that is counter to his whole person. (Which also makes me very curious about Mr. Bent’s past. I feel like there’s something there that would tie his character traits up neatly.) Mr. Bent likes order and dependability. He likes the certainty of the system he’s been a part of. Where is that certainty in the world Moist is creating? Is Mr. Bent going to be left behind when that world comes to fruition?
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