Alice Paul’s Leadership for Women’s Rights in Eric Hoffer’s Novel, the True Believer

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The desire to fulfill a cause one feels strongly about is enough to motivate that person to the ends of the earth. However, for the cause one that one may not be willing go alone, instead they attach on to others who feel the same eagerness to join the mass movement. For example, Alice Paul led the Nationalist Women Party toward the common objective of universal women suffrage, she inspired all many people with her fanatic will to act on impulse to get what she wanted. Women were driven and encourage to find the same passion and love that Paul showed. In Eric Hoffers, The True Believer, their fight would be referred to as a nationalist mass movement. Paul and all the members of NWP, had to stip themselves of the norm that was established for women, who they were told they who they had to be, and set out a new goal: to fight for something more, together. Hoffer discusses how in order to begin a mass movement one must become part of a unifying group, and show case fanantism. Nevertheless, economic status matters little.

According to Hoffer, upon forming the movement, people such as Alice Paul had to find all makings of individuals. Logically, it would make sense to have members of all class systems on board with the aspiration to change. The common ground each individual must bring to the table is discontentment, “No real content or comfort can ever arise in their minds but from hope.” (Hoffer, 15.) Women of the 1900s were discontent, more so frustrated with the lack of being allowed the privilege of voting, but they all sought a hope for a future in the political system. In order to fully allow oneself to commit to a mass movement they have to seek to change the status quo. The Nationalist Womens Party went after just that, they advocated their concerns by staging a parade on Washington “Five thousand women, sporting purple, violet, and gold banners, had united under the leadership of suffragist Alice Paul to march through Washington in demand of their right to vote.”(PBS 2013.)With a leader, as Hoffer refers to, ‘A man of action’ starts to build the tension and allows people to become aware of the problem facing them. This is what Alice Paul was doing when organizing the banners, and outfits for the march on the parade.

One of the major emphasis Hoffer touches on in his novel, is the fanatic. The fanatic is explained in three of the four parts of the book. Fanatics are those who are willing to fight with everything they have inside of them to get what they want. “It is the true believers ability to “shut his eyes and stop his ears” to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy, (Hoffer, 80.) Carrie Chapman Catt took a more moderate stance approaching women suffrage. She was reserved and taught her followers to be the same way. Alice Paul was more radical, irrational, “We tend today to exaggerate the effectiveness of persuasion as a means of inculcating opinion and shaping behavior,” (Hoffer, 105.) Paul took means into her own hands and select faithful followers, they set out of the presidents house. Outside they held banners and began chanting everything they thought the president was doing wrong. Their long term goal was to amend the 19th amendment, and Alice would stop at nothing to achieve it. She took her group of fanatics that were now being enjailed and fought from the inside. “Alice Paul had become not only the face of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, but also a symbol of strength, hope, and perseverance for women across the United States, (Reiter, 2013.)

Paul was quoted in saying, “ I always feel the movement is a sort of mosaic. Each of us puts in one little stone, and then you get a great mosaic at the end.” NWP took note of the unifying agents, and exhibited persuasion to get other females to leave their households to join the movement. Women were brought together by their equal hatred of being treated as if they were lesser than men, only allowed in the kitchen rather than out in the political playing field. The most significant agent of unification for this movement was leadership. Upon receiving jail time Paul began a hunger strike. Ladies in the cells took by her example and begin to neglect the food that was offered to them. Paul did not create the want for women suffrage, the want was established before she took her stance to become a leader. “Once the stage is set, the presence of an outstanding leader is indispensable. Without him there will be no movement.” (Hoffer, 90.) When all is said and done and the leader is taking their stance as a movement, action is taken. NWP action was to fight till there their stomach physically hurt from the lack of food, and the lack of filling accomplished. Their deprecation of the present was upheld in high regards that nothing would stop them from continuing to hope for a future with a phenomenal outcome from their actions.

Naturally, Hoffer offers a few solid points on how a mass movement should take place and what the rising agents are that resort to the cause being challenged are. Although most of his arguments hold substantial weight, his one track mind only focuses on the different types of poor joining a mass movement. For the case of women suffrage, more than just the financially distort women joined the movement, in fact some were even in charge of managing the family business while the husband was away. Women were not necessarily, at an economic crisis during the movement. There may have been what Hoffer describes as “The New Poor” or the “Freely Poor” or even the “Abjectly Poor” but it was not this that drove women to join. Women were not focused on better their social class status of finances but rather on the inner drive to push forward.

Hoffer pulled the readers attention in large to the forms of poors, misfits, and selfish in the second part of his novel, saying that it was these walks of people who tend to make up mass movements. However, a selfish person, or one who had been a criminal, or who was just downright poor does not make a movement. Instead what makes a movement is what the ladies behind women suffrage showed, enthusiasm and will to die for what they were advocating for. They were hardcore fanatics who displayed fanaticism throughout the entire novel. They fight for everything they want and they do not give up.

Eric Hoffer made numerous arguments that one cannot help but agree are the stepping stones of a mass movement, and one that lacks in reasonable theory. Through the example of the fight for women suffrage, we saw ‘Men of Words’ as the beginning of the movement, Alice Paul simply talking to ladies across America about the importance of the movement. To the middle of the pyramid, where fanaticism came into play, the ladies putting their life on the literal line for the cause they believe in fully. Their actions expressed irrationality and desire but above all, passion. And the consolidation, of the ‘Men of Action’ was see the overall outcome of the movement, which goes without being said, women were granted suffrage and thus satisfied with the outcome as this is the people with fulfilled purpose.

Hoffer expresses what it takes to make a mass movement and what he views as the trends for people to join such movements. Real life mass movements take into play the factors Hoffer announces, but not every mass movement goes word by word, action by action of what the author suggests. In fact mass movements are what the leader and their followers make of its end goal. For Alice Paul and her ladies, the mass movement acquired the will to persevere and show great fortitude in the tough situations, but ultimately to stick together and fight like hell for what they knew they deserved, for their unified agent.

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Alice Paul's Leadership For Women's Rights In Eric Hoffer's Novel, The True Believer. (2022, Apr 15). Retrieved December 8, 2022 , from
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