Heller’s protagonist, Jim Stegner, is an unschooled but talented painter who struggles with drink, with womanizing, and with his temper. These traits have led him to be a killer, although Heller goes to great pains to let us know these acts are not premeditated. They’ve also, in accordance with these United States’ innate streak of violence, allowed him to be a cult figure - a talent around whom one feels it necessary to walk on eggshells. (For what it’s worth, this trait is to this reader and social observer the cause of a hollowness within the national psyche.) Stegner wants atonement for his acts, but he doesn’t know how to go about that. So Heller must allow Stegner to be the subject of retributive violence, which allows the painter, as might happen to a pre-adolescent child, to have atonement forced on him. Stegner is as a person and as a literary creation, a mess. Perhaps Heller intends him to be a faux Hemingway: hard drinking, bullying and a crybaby when those tables are turned on him. Stegner doesn’t seem to have the backbone about which an anti-hero’s fatal flaws can be built, though; he’s too much at the whims of fate for that. Heller tries to create philosophical depth for Stegner, but these attempts ring hollow. What he has created in Stegner, however, is a depiction of an instinctive artist, something the American psyche always seeks: talent and success untrammeled by subjecting that psyche to training and the lessons of culture and history. That Stegner is, in the end, a talented but pitiful figure, should tell the reader something very important: instinct that refuses at least a small measure of acculturation eventually become debased.
Enforcement of this Act by the Painter-Stainers Company was sought up until the early 19th century, with master painters gathering irregularly to decide the fees that a journeyman could charge, and also instigating an early version of a job centre in 1769, advertising in the London newspapers a "house of call" system to advertise for journeymen and also for journeymen to advertise for work. The guild's power in setting the fee a journeyman could charge was eventually overturned by law in 1827, and the period after this saw the guild's power diminish, along with that of the other guilds; the guilds were superseded by trade unions, with the Operative United Painters' Union forming sometime around 1831.
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