When we all gather around the table with friends and family for Thanksgiving or Christmas, we feel joyful and thankful to be surrounded by such good people and blessings. During this time, we celebrate and share our blessings—the fruits of our labor, born of struggle and effort.
In 1943, Norman Rockwell captured this joy and thankfulness in his painting, “Freedom From Want,” also known as “The Thanksgiving Picture,” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” A family gathers around the table to partake in the wonderful fruits of their labor. This picture radiates with the warmth, joy, and gratitude that make such a meal so special.
All members of this family have a smile brightening their faces. A grandmotherly figure brings out the turkey while an older gentleman stands behind her at the head of the table. The elderly couple represents the living tradition of American ideals, which set the mold, security, and path for later generations. The others all lean in towards each other with excited faces, giving their full attention to those around them. A man in the bottom right corner looks directly at the viewer; he welcomes us into his world, free from want and full of gratitude and gladness.
In 1943, as World War II waged on in Europe and the Pacific, The Saturday Evening Post commissioned Filipino novelist and poet Carlos Bulosan to write an essay to accompany Rockwell’s painting. In his short essay, “Freedom From Want,” Bulosan tells us that the joy and gratitude for the fruits of one’s labor cannot exist without the freedom from want. When we want for things—material and immaterial—we lack true peace, security, and joy in our lives.
Bulosan says that, in order to obtain and enjoy the fruits of our labor, we must work to bring the good things of nature into our lives and to diminish the fear that surrounds us in our daily lives. When we work for the fruits and pleasures of our labor, we win security and peace for ourselves, our neighbors, and our country.
This security and peace uphold the “dignity of the individual to live in a society of free men.” In American society, all men are equal, regardless of race, religion, or rank, and all men have the right to be free from want.
There are those, however, who would take away what we have harvested from our labors, creating a society of want. These totalitarians wish to create “a world of slaves,” to make us work for them and not for ourselves. Today, as during the last world war, tyrannical regimes hate when we challenge their objectives and demand a freedom that respects the dignity of the individual.
When our history and freedoms are taken away or distorted, the end result is want. This means that we must work constantly, not for ourselves, but for those who have enslaved us. We become slaves to fear, hunger, and want. We lack the ability and energy to enjoy the freedom that respects the dignity of the individual.
As part of the plan to enslave a free people, Bulosan says that there are also those who seek to “falsify American history—the forces which drive many Americans to a corner of compromise with those who would distort the ideals of men that died for freedom.”
These tyrannical regimes would have us forget the battles that our ancestors fought to win back freedom for themselves and later generations. Bulosan warns us that, if we do not respect and continue the traditions of our predecessors, we will lose the American ideals that give us “something to hold on to” and a secure path to follow.
“The significant thing is that we march on without turning back. What we want is peace, not violence. We know that we thrive and prosper only in peace,” Bulosan says. When the author penned this essay, the war was ongoing. People across the sea were starving and fleeing from conflict. Everyone wanted peace.
In peace, we are free from want. In peace, abundance allows us to seek higher thoughts and virtues, and to obtain a better future for ourselves, our children, and our country.
In a land that created abundance for itself and much of the world, we work for that freedom from want, obtaining peace and security from fear and hunger. We have the chance to create a world that was the dream of our founders, one in which we can truly pursue health of mind, body, and soul. We perpetuate a tradition that lives in each of us and supports the “living spirit of free men.”
When we sit down to our Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, we can celebrate our freedom from want and enjoy the abundance which frees us from fear and hunger. On that occasion and during the whole year, we can faithfully preserve and pass down this freedom and the traditions of our ancestors to our children.